Outram's furniture shop

Outram's furniture shop

From the outside, it is hard to tell that the 15-storey Tan Boon Liat Building (below) in Outram Road is actually a hot spot with local furniture hunters.

The building is a no-nonsense light- industrial complex, with the uniform design of old HDB flats.

Inside, it is a different story.

There are more than 10 boutique showrooms, selling well-curated pieces from modern, European luxury to one-off pieces sourced from a junkyard in northern India, earning the building the reputation of being Singapore's unofficial "Furniture Mall".

For contemporary furniture, lighting and home accessories, you could go to Pomelo and Make Room.

Vintage-lovers can browse shops such as Singapore Trading Post, which has a century-old Rajasthan mirror with a carved frame for $1,900.

No wonder that customers from all over the island are driving there to check out the eclectic mix of shops.

Ms Constanze Hohmann, 43, a former customer who now runs FairPrice Antique on the ground floor, offering products with a touch of chinoiserie, says Tan Boon Liat is a good alternative to mainstream furniture shops.

The German expatriate, who bought over the store in January, says: "These brands cater to different tastes and budgets. Home owners often go to furniture chain Ikea for basic furniture, but they'll come here for the highlights."

Furniture brands are attracted by the cheaper rental and spacious units which can range between 2,000 sq ft and 6,000 sq ft.

While tenants declined to talk about their rental rates, Mr Eugene Lim, key executive officer at real estate firm ERA Singapore, says "asking rents are $3 to $3.50 a square foot a month" - much lower than the monthly $20 to $30 a square foot at the nearby People's Park area in Chinatown.

The attractive rental is continuing to draw newcomers.

New tenants include Singapore Trading Post, which was previously in Pasir Panjang and moved in last November.

Bode Fabrics & Furnishings, a fabric store that used to operate out of owner Jenny Lewis' home in Eng Neo Avenue, will open at the end of next month with a space for rug specialist Vantage Concept.

Mrs Jo Harrison, 47, who started Singapore Trading Post with business partner Rob Pendergrast in 2013, says she was drawn to set up the 1,200 sq ft shop because of the growing group of similar businesses there.

"Coming here is like going on a treasure hunt. You have to start on the 10th or 11th floor, then make your way down.

On some levels, you might find something interesting; other levels, you might find nothing at all. It's not like going to a mall. It's kookier and more fun."

Apart from furniture and accessories labels, The Providore draws foodies to its 4,500 sq ft retail-cum-warehouse space on the fifth floor, while creative- technology lab The Ching Chong Group on the 11th floor and design studio imajin one level above lend a creative vibe to the space.

Details of the building's origins are scant. The land owners received permission in 1971 to build a flatted factory with offices and stores. It drew furniture stores early on.

For example, back in 1994, Straits Curious, which offered colonial and ethnic South-east Asian antique furniture, set up a showroom there.

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