Cover Photo: Franz Navarrete / Courtesy of Kernel Furniture

Minimalist at heart? Kernel Furniture offers a curated selection of Japanese brands and its own take on stylish flatpack furniture

There’s been an explosion of interest in interior design, especially as more homeowners have become more discerning about how they decorate their own spaces. For entrepreneur Jason Song, building a furniture brand isn’t just about championing a specific aesthetic but offering a variety of well-made options that appeal to consumers who value design and craftsmanship. The result is Kernel Furniture, a Singapore-based company that offers both a curated selection of Japanese brands as well as its own collection of in-house designed pieces.

One could say that Song was born to be in the furniture industry, given that his father Dexter Song founded VHive, a well-regarded furniture manufacturer in Singapore. His journey, however, took a few twists and turns. In 2011, he quit his advertising job to create a branding agency called Acre with partner Zheng Tianyu. A few years later, he established another company, Kaizen Architecture, a collaboration with architect Melvin Keng.

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Acre and Kaizen Architecture worked on a few projects together, then jointly created Cactuss, a multi-concept store in Chengdu and Kunming in China. In 2020, after Cactuss won a Good Design Award for interior design, Song decided it was time to take another plunge. “You tend to worry about different things other than your own ambition once you’re responsible for the livelihood of others, but you always remember what you want to do above all else. For me, that was always furniture,” says Song.

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In June 2021, Song, Zheng and Keng launched Kernel Furniture. They see it as a way to democratise access to well-made furniture while deepening the consumer’s connection to the creative process. They’re introducing hand-picked brands to the Singapore market, beginning with Ishinomaki Lab and Matsuso, both from Japan. “Whether it’s born out of the adversity of the Tohoku earthquake, as with Ishinomaki Lab, or a traditional furniture maker like Matsuso that uses age-old Japanese joinery techniques, we enjoy telling the stories behind each design and of course, the dedication of the craftsman that brings the pieces to life,” says Song.

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Song’s deep appreciation for Japanese craft and creativity was ignited during a visit to Saga prefecture in Japan arranged by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). “I learned that before you spot a defect, Japanese makers would address the mistake already. Such was the integrity and perfection that stuck with me, so much so that I named our architecture practice after the Japanese philosophy of “kaizen”, which means continuous improvement.”

Towards the end of 2021, the company is also planning to launch Kernel+, an in-house line in collaboration with architect Keiji Ashiwara that focuses on flat-pack furniture, an area of expertise of Song’s father’s manufacturing business. “Our homes have become the default restaurant, workplace, and childcare centre,” Song says. “Spaces that were not always designed for flexibility of use are now being re-looked at. This shift should see a boom in demand for the furniture industry.” | Showroom at 87 Jalan Kelabu Asap Singapore, 278275 by appointment only

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