Locally made, locally grown: Where to buy sustainable, made-in-Singapore timber furniture

PHOTO: Unsplash

Nothing expresses warmth and timelessness like wood. And furniture made of it can last for generations. Since wood comes from trees and trees need space to grow, you don’t necessarily think of Singapore as a timber producer.

But Singapore does produce tree logs, albeit unintentionally. However, these are cut fresh and so have limited peak times before they rot.

They are usually by- products of our insatiable developments and city-in- a-garden vision, with parks built all over the island and connected by a network to create one large, lush garden.

Local timbers are resilient tropical hardwoods to boot, and include angsana, tembusu, rain tree and African mahogany. But, being a thoroughly urban city, Singapore has a preference for importing wood and lacks infrastructure to process tree logs into usable forms.

As a result, there are multiple sawmills in Singapore with stockpiles of abandoned logs.

“More than 100 logs arrive each day, with no immediate purpose other than to be turned into wood chips or shipping pallets someday,” share Morgan, Lincoln and Ryan Yeo, the founders of Roger&Sons. Around 15,000 more trees are slated to be felled over the next 15 years.

A number of local furniture makers have been turning this untapped resource into desirable objects while others have explored more sustainable options like bamboo and rattan. Here are some of them. 

1. Urban Salvation

PHOTO: Facebook/Urban Salvation

Urban Salvation operates from a 2,000 sq ft workshop and showroom at Tampines Industrial Park A.

“The name Urban Salvation was derived from our belief of a sustainable approach to creating artisanal furniture that utilises quality reclaimed material to reduce waste,” says company founder Ahmad Habshee, who established the company in 2015.

PHOTO: Facebook/Urban Salvation

Today, it employs eight craftsmen and produces bespoke pieces, ranging from TV consoles, dining sets and bookshelves to coffee tables and many more.

Urban Salvation uses mainly sustainably grown teak from Indonesia and a sizeable amount of locally reclaimed solid wood and other materials. “These quality materials together with our expert craftsmanship allow us to build unique products that last a lifetime,” shares Ahmad.

The industrial-style Shaf TV console, for instance, combines a solid wood slab and expertly crafted metal base. The company also takes pride in its holistic service, which involves the client in every step of the process to create a product both are happy with.

PHOTO: Facebook/Urban Salvation

The larger pieces from Urban Salvation range between $1,500 to $3,000; small decor items start at $200.

2. The Table Guy

PHOTO: The Table Guy

The Table Guy comprises a team of five operating a workshop, a showroom and a stockroom in three adjacent units at Richfield Industrial Centre. It produces solid wood furniture, ranging from slab tables and bed frames to cabinets and storage.

And, while all the solid wood carpentry is done in the workshop, the company engages material specialists in Singapore (like cement, glass, metal, so on) to help create projects requiring additional materials.

PHOTO: The Table Guy

The Table Guy sources its mahogany locally and buys other woods from around the region such as rain tree wood from Indonesia and white oak from China. The suppliers share a common trait: Environmentally responsible practices and proper treatment and respect for the material.

“These come from our natural environment. To waste the wood through improper management and storage is a crime,” says chief marketing officer (CMO) Samantha Zhuang.

The company is also a wood slab concierge, whose mission is to hunt and curate specific solid wood slabs based on clients’ requirements. It considers solid wood slabs artworks as the grains are one-of-a-kind, and believes every client should take the time to find the exact slab that resonates with them.

Each custom-made piece is tailored to a client’s space.

PHOTO: The Table Guy

The design of one bed headboard, for instance, was modified accordingly once The Table Guy realised that the client’s original design did not allow them to fit it in without first having to knock down some walls.

Slab tables range from $1,600 to $4,000 while commissioned pieces can go up to $10,000, depending on materials and hardware. Prices typically include delivery and installation. 

3. Zhen Feng Object Workshop

A multidisciplinary design- and-build studio founded by husband and wife, Chun Kaifeng and Gan Zhenyi, Zhen Feng Object Workshop (ZFOW) operates from a 1,076 sq ft workshop at Ubi Techpark.

The compact workshop runs around a CNC machine that enables the company to cut and carve complex designs out of wood.

Although ZFOW mainly designs, produces and retails a unique line of small-batch furniture, the company also offers customisation and modifications of their objects as well as custom artworks and signage to fit clients’ needs.

Engineered bamboo composite panels are ZFOW’s signature material sourced from Anji, a designated ecological zone in China.

PHOTO: Facebook/Zhen Feng Object Workshop

“We try not to use solid wood and contribute to deforestation,” says Kaifeng. These panels have excellent tensile strength and flexibility, and their density and hardness are well suited for CNC machining. These properties have allowed ZFOW to be explorative with its furniture design.

PHOTO: Facebook/Zhen Feng Object Workshop

Some of its most popular products are the rustic yet comfortable Fixture Armchair and the Multipurpose Stackable Low Stool. The latter can double as a low table for snacking that is well-suited for compact HDB flats.

The armchair retails at $880 and the low stool at $136 while a range of coffee tables starts from $480. 

4. Roger&Sons

Helmed by three brothers, Roger&Sons is a 21-strong team of designers and craftspeople operating a studio and showroom in the Jalan Besar area and a production workshop in Woodlands.

The company produces all sorts of objects, from furniture pieces to small accessories, using sustainable materials and production methods.

“We push boundaries on what we can build, focusing on practical functionality before form,” share brothers Morgan, Lincoln and Ryan Yeo. “With our knowledge in design and fabrication, we are able to advise clients on different approaches in the fabrication process, and to help them utilise different woods to improve on the overall aesthetic to elevate their design.”

Featuring floor-to-ceiling carpentry and a myriad objects made of wood salvaged from local trees, Roger&Sons’ studio is a testament to the team’s woodworking expertise and robust business ethics.

PHOTO: Facebook/Roger&Sons

One of its recent creations is a levitating shaver, featuring a base and a shaving brush crafted from local raintree wood and embedded with magnets. The company’s The Local Tree project is an ongoing effort to salvage trees destined to die to make space for new developments.

PHOTO: Facebook/Roger&Sons

Roger&Sons works with all sorts of sustainable timbers. However, whenever possible, the team recommends timber salvaged from these felled local trees. Some of its salvaged wood furniture can be seen in the public spaces at the Singapore Zoo.

PHOTO: Facebook/Roger&Sons

The Yeos plan to release a line of furniture and objects made from local timber early next year that will be available to buy online. It also plans to become a fully sustainable company in the future, which embeds sustainability in all of their processes and uses all sustainable materials, including adhesives and finishing.

5. Arthur Zaaro

Arthur Zaaro is well known for its Sustainable Singapore Wood cutting boards handcrafted from locally felled trees. What’s not so well known is the fact that it was founded way back in 2006 by American carpenter Aaron Arthur Foeste as a restoration and custom furniture company.

PHOTO: Facebook/Arthur Zaaro

Arthur Zaaro works with designers and architects, as well as direct customers for custom objects. The company sources 90 per cent of its timber from Singapore while the remaining 10 is from Indonesia and elsewhere, depending on the clients’ needs.

PHOTO: Facebook/Arthur Zaaro

Today, the company operates a showroom and a workshop in the Eunos area, as well as a space in Kranji where it receives, processes and dries the freshly cut trees. We asked Aaron to share more: 

How did the idea of using locally felled trees come about?

We’ve recognised for years that the trees being cut during landscaping, road maintenance and construction projects in Singapore are some of the world’s finest tropical hardwoods. But we didn’t have a way to use the wood because Singapore doesn’t have a timber-mill industry.

PHOTO: Facebook/Arthur Zaaro

The wood is usually cut up and shipped out, made into chips for fertiliser or disposed of.

The logistics are complicated and expensive as the big slabs need to dry for a couple years after they’re cut. But I decided it’s worth it to incur the extra expense and time to use local wood after I became unsure of exactly how sustainable the imported wood really is.

And why waste fuel and packaging to import wood that’s not even as high quality as the trees being cut here?

Tell us more about your woodworking studio.

Our workshop and showroom are next to each other in Eunos, convenient for customers who want to the see work in progress. Our team consists of dedicated craftsmen and women. Most have many years of fine carpentry experience and several have attended design programmes offered at LaSalle and such.

What's your bespoke furniture service like and do you accept walk-ins?

We are trying to work on an appointment basis to ensure there aren’t too many people here at one time. And, yes, you can walk in with no plans and be inspired by what you see here, and what we can collaborate on to produce.

What creations are you most proud of?

PHOTO: Facebook/Arthur Zaaro

Our Sustainable Singapore Wood cutting boards! Everyone can enjoy them, regardless of the size of their flat. On the other end of the spectrum, I am very proud of some of our large Singapore rain tree and Singapore African mahogany dining tables.

Also, the complicated book match joinery, epoxy resin work and the hand-sanded and -finished one-of-a-kind art pieces.

What's the price range of your products?

Cutting boards start at $45. These are a labour of love and not a huge money maker, but we don’t want to stop making them. Desks, coffee tables and side tables start at around $500 while larger pieces are in the $8,000 range. But don’t let that scare you off.

Those are, like, 5m-long conference tables and more. A typical dining table is in the $1,500 to $3,000 range. 

6. Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture

Temasek Polytechnic student Valerie Ong with Chen Foon Kee, owner of Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture. PHOTO: Valerie Ong

We can’t talk about sustainable furniture without bringing up rattan. The family of climbing palms takes just five to seven years to harvest. Since it needs hardwood trees to climb on, its cultivation could contribute to the survival of forest ecosystems in its origin countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

And did you know that Singapore has a rattan furniture shop that’s older than the country itself.

Located at the end of an HDB corridor in Bukit Merah, Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture has been making and selling handcrafted rattan chairs, tables, shelves and accessories since the 1920s. It is still run by its founding family, and helmed by 72-year-old rattan furniture craftsman Chen Foon Kee.

Besides selling furniture and accepting orders, Chun Mee Lee also restores and repairs vintage rattan furniture. 

This article was first published in Home & Decor.