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Southeast Asian furniture takes on a modern twist

Singapore brand Commune joins the home furnishing fray dominated by US and European franchises
/ 05:02 AM May 16, 2018

The lights become the focal point in the Scandinavian inspired setting. Graphic pillowcases evoke the mid century.

The aroma of coffee, the sight of calamansi pies and ube cakes, the mood lighting and the patterns of the pillowcases on the sofas will lure you to the Commune home store at the East Wing of Shangri-La Plaza.

Commune’s fresh woodsy scent wafts in the air. The eyes lead to a well-made, black tufted leather sofa with a price tag of P143,990, nearly half the price of similar merchandise in other stores. The solid olive walnut queen-size bed frame is P103,980, while the gray sectional sofa is tagged at P220,990.

Commune is a Singaporean brand developed by millennials. Its selling points are the design and workmanship of the furniture.

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Another special feature may be the ethically sourced woods, low carbon footprint, and low amount of volatile compounds or lead contact for surface treatments.

Stylish but affordable

Commune’s sales and marketing director Gan Shee Wen observes that young urban professionals look for stylish but affordable furniture.

The choices are extreme, says the Singapore executive. The high-end Natuzzi or Bo Concepts are for deep pockets while the mass-market Ikea is ideal for people who have the patience to assemble furniture.

To fill in the niche for a mid-range brand, Gan and his cousins, brothers Julian and Joshua Koh, veered away from the family’s furniture manufacturing and ventured into retail.

In 1972, his grandfather had established Koda, the furniture manufacturing company whose clients include global and Philippine brands. The global recession in 2008 forced the family to refocus the business on untapped markets in Asia.

The new tack was to create a recognizable brand and a concept lifestyle store. Commune sources lamps, pillowcases, vases and rugs to complete the look.

“Our proposition is that you mix and match furniture and accessories,” Gan says. “Julian, an industrial designer, travels to feel the California lifestyle, the New York loft and English colonial, and adapts them to Asian customers’ aspirations.”

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Millennial team: Commune designer Cheryl Wong, Filipino partner and brand manager Audrey Ngui, sales and marketing director Gan Shee Wen

The latest collection, conceived by Julian, Commune’s creative director, pays homage to the past. Some of the light oak finishes are a nod to signature Scandinavian blonde woods.

In the retro section, the mid-century window frame is translated into the loop legs and open backs of the walnut chairs. The mid-century pieces are characterized by rounded profiles. One of the salable styles, the industrial look, adapts the metal straps from wine barrels. The warmth of wood contrasts with the sleekness of powder-coated steel strips.

Colonial but modern

Designer Cheryl Wong points out that Commune still injects its signature without making the furniture look too literal. For instance, the Bruno collection makes use of British colonial herringbone patterns on tables and cabinets. The look is modernized by streamlined brass handles and legs.

Gan says the Commune design tends to be masculine. Still, Wong points out, you can set off the look with playful seasonal pieces such as tribal-printed pillowcases or knitted poufs.

The designs were born out of focus-group discussions in Singapore and China. Gan notes that millennials could relate to the retro look because their parents or grandparents grew up in those settings. Well-traveled executives favor the industrial style. Young parents feel secure with the retro style because the furniture pieces seem child-friendly with their smooth surfaces and rounded edges. In the end, the collections follow the next big thing.

The Tusk Collection is inspired by oak wine barrel straps,with the furniture caught in strips of powder-coated steel for an industrial look. The wood and metal table is complemented by the fabric armchair. –PHOTOS BY NELSON MATAWARAN

Commune’s Philippine distributor, the Ngui family, has been into furniture assembly and distribution for three generations. Filipino brand manager Audrey Ngui says she was attracted to Commune because the styling and furniture settings evoke a sense of community.

Audrey’s mother, Ann Margaret, explains that the coffee shop invites people to sit and have coffee or fruity iced teas, to study or chat.

The Nguis ventured into furniture retail to help condo owners. One of Commune’s free services is the three-
dimensional visualization service and styling to eliminate the stress of moving in. Customers bring the specs of their space and have Commune’s pieces plotted in the computer. The customer can see how the furniture pieces fit into the given space.

“Once we lay out the space, you can walk through it with the the 3-D glasses,” Audrey says.

Commune Home is at Level 6, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza Mall. Call 6540888; visit my.thecommunelife.com

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