By celebrating their local roots, these furniture firms and homegrown talents have created collections that marry a passion for the craft with an eye for good design

1. E. Murio

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Above Tisha de Borja, creative director of E Murio


Known for its distinct style and innovative bamboo and rattan designs, E Murio is a family-run workshop now led by the second generation. At the helm is Tisha de Borja, the brand’s creative director. Unlike most furniture makers with a standardised production line, she is particularly drawn to out-of-the-box custom projects.

“One of my favourite things is to do entire rooms, particularly powder rooms,” says de Borja. “The room is small enough to treat exquisitely, almost like a jewel box, with many layers to discover. Going through our archives, we’ve discovered many pieces that almost seem like rooms in furniture; goods that were made for very specific objects or functions. You don’t see many of these anymore as contemporary life seems to force multi-tasking on everything.”

De Borja is deeply passionate about the purity of materials, and even if she explores newer, more modern designs, she believes in upholding the integrity of natural materials. “I think the joy we feel from working with these materials is expressed in the care each piece receives,” she explains. “The raw materials in themselves are abundant and inexpensive, but the end product is a culmination of so many hands and events—the amount of rain the plant received, the fungi that settled on and marked its skin, the length of the summer season, to the particular twists and turns used by each maker to bend the stalks, and the final sanding and finishing.”

Rather than simply painting or varnishing its pieces, E. Murio is known for unique finishes. “We have a special finish where the raw material is rubbed for hours, eventually producing a very deep reflection that cannot be replicated by paints or varnishes; a subtlety that is always in danger of being cast away as unimportant. But it is the difference between a piece that is made to endure versus one that is eventually discarded.”

Images courtesy of E. Murio

2. Philux


Once a backyard production of rattan furniture, founded in 1980 by Max and Zelda Kienle, Philux has now blossomed into a dynamic brand with an expansive workshop and seven showrooms across Manila. It is currently spearheaded by the couple’s two daughters, Stephanie Kienle-Gonzalez and Jessica Kienle-Maxwell; elder sister Stephanie is the firm’s chief operating officer while Jessica is the company’s head of design.

“In recent years, we have been spending more time in focusing on research and development to find new and innovative ways to design, construct, and highlight Filipino craftsmanship in our pieces,” says Kienle-Maxwell. “We are consistently studying how to reduce our environmental impact with more conscious engineering, and the sourcing of raw materials, upcycling and the like.”

Moving away from rattan, the firm now offers a wide selection of sustainably sourced wood mixed with stone, brass, leather, local weaves and other natural materials. “The Philux design ethos has always been ‘creating conscious luxury, crafted locally’,” adds Kienle-Maxwell. “I am extremely proud of how many of my father’s original designs have stood the test of time. We are constantly searching for new local materials and techniques to further develop our designs, improve our quality and engage our local workforce.”

Philux has also started to move beyond furniture into the realm of interior decoration. “Born out of the growing creative needs of our clientele, we recently soft-launched Philux Spaces,” shares Kienle-Gonzalez. “We believe that creating and designing a space should be a collaborative and personal experience. Whether a client is seeking a simple, effortless fix for an unfurnished space, or a fully bespoke service that takes them from the beginning to the end of their design journey, our team of design professionals will find a package that fits best and work to bring their vision to life.”

Images courtesy of Philux

3. Schema

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Above Celia Gamboa-Jiao, founder of Philippine design brand Schema


“Our material focus has really been metal; more specifically, metal wire,” declares Joseph Jiao, Schema’s head of marketing. “The malleability of the raw material makes it such that we are able to transform it into any shape we desire. We liken metal wire to thread, employing fabric-weaving techniques that allow metal wire to appear differently from traditional methods.”

Schema began as a spinoff of Kalikasan Crafts, a family-run business producing holiday decorations, founded by Joseph’s mother, Celia. Fascinated by the possibilities of galvanised metal wire, her experimentation resulted in the signature wire mesh Schema is known for.

“Our passion for design is simple, with minimalism at the heart of our products,” says Jiao. “We continue to explore how we can create lighting and furniture that has an integral shape, and further elevate those shapes using the patterns of weaving we have developed throughout the years.”

Schema has also began to use iconic Philippine objects as inspiration for its designs. “An example of this is the Petiole suspension lamp we collaborated on with industrial designer Stanley Ruiz,” he says. “We took the shape of a traditional abaniko fan and started to play around with it.”

However, what truly appeals to the brand’s clients is the unmistakably sustainable quality of its products. “Metal can also be broken down to its original form, allowing for scrap material to be melted and reformed into other shapes. This understanding of the material allows us to reduce waste and renew the material, letting us create more products which our customers love.”

Images courtesy of Schema

4. Akar de Nissin


Ever since its inception, the distinctive cross-cultural direction of Singapore-based furnishings brand Akar de Nissim has become its hallmark. “Our clients share an appreciation of well-made pieces that feature a distinct design and bring a sense of lightness to the surroundings,” says Jasmine Ng, who helms the company as the chief operating officer (COO).

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Above Jasmine Ng, COO of Akar de Nissim

Akar de Nissim’s stunning creations feature premium materials and an assiduous attention to detail, which Ng credits to her team of craftsmen in Vietnam. “The consistent quality in our woodwork stems from the dedication of the craftsmen, the selection and preparation of raw materials, and the specific know-how of fine lacquering—an age-old skill which our Vietnam production team excels at,” says Ng. This deft expertise has enabled the brand to make its mark with elegant and timeless pieces that boast a strong personality.

Read more: How a Minimalist Local Furniture Brand Combines Its Asian and European Influences

In the future, Ng aims to infuse upcoming pieces with a more marked local flavour. “As we progress to expand globally, we want to continue our collaborations with Singapore talents,” she says. It is also her wish that more customers turn their attention to locally designed pieces. “In this field, there can be an underwhelming recognition of what is created at home or close by. The grass could be just as green on our side; it is up to one’s own appreciation and perception of what is deemed ‘valuable’.”

Art direction by Charlene Lee, assisted by Cheryl Lai-Lim; Photography by Jasper Yu / JYU Studio Photography, assisted by Evan Kong and Cheryl Lai-Lim

5. Aureole Design


Apart from technical considerations, a lighting designer needs to grasp both the tangible and intangible forms that light takes, with the latter being the effect of illumination. Tan Wei Ming of Kuala Lumpur-based Aureole Design has mastered both, with her elegant lamps showcasing an understanding of materiality and the subtlety light can bring to a space.

Established by Tan in 2013, Aureole Design takes its poetic name from the circle of light surrounding a head, a term often used to describe the halo in artworks. Trained in typography and having practiced graphic design, she decided to explore her love of lighting and furniture design after being part of a design collective in 2007, which produced custom furniture, lighting and interior pieces for projects.

In Case You Missed It: How The Lamps From Malaysian Studio Aureole Design Celebrate Its Asian Roots

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Above The Dǒugǒng collection draws inspiration from traditional Chinese architecture

Since then, Tan’s small but considered product range has seen her collaborating with traditional craftsmen and exploring heritage techniques and materials; her collections are offered online by The Artling, a Singapore-based art and design platform. Highlights include her Dǒugǒng collection, which adapts the interlocking wooden brackets of traditional Chinese architecture to create a design motif repeated for her lighting pieces, standing mirrors, and a side table and bench. The Geometry line features delicate “origami folds” of terrazzo and her Line series is a minimalist interpretation of Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns.

Poetic yet rigorous, Tan’s modern take on tradition has created compelling products celebrating craftsmanship with the refinement of fine art.

Images courtesy of Aureole Design

6. Commune

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Above Commune chief design officer Julian Koh in the Alt.o section of Commune’s Millenia Walk showroom


“Creativity has always been in my blood,” says Julian Koh, chief design officer of local furniture brand Commune. Koh grew up with fond memories of visiting his family’s factory, surrounded by beautiful furniture. His grandfather founded local manufacturer Koda in 1972, which produces furniture for brands such as Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn.

Even as a teenager, Koh was already a regular attendee at the notable trade fairs Salone del Mobile Milano in Italy and IMM Cologne in Germany. In 2011, he co-founded Commune with his brother Joshua and cousin Gan Shee Wen, with the desire to start a brand they could call their own.

“We make use of Koda’s factory capabilities to produce solid wood furniture, and our strength is in tying up different materials such as metal, wood, leather,” he says. “We push our craftsmen to learn new techniques and to better understand the wear and tear of different items to make our furniture viable for residential and commercial use.”

Commune has since opened over 80 stores in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, including three showrooms in Singapore. Its sister label Alt.o, made its international debut at the Maison&Objet fair in Paris last January. “For Alt.o, our furniture sizes are bigger to cater to landed properties, with detailing in marble, stainless steel, brass and higher-grade leather,” says Koh of the differences between the two brands.

The Commune brand aims to target European consumers next; it’s currently working with Scandinavian studios on new collections. Koh is also a firm believer in creating a holistic experience—the brand has its own home fragrances line, runs a cafe within the Millenia Walk showroom, and is planning to open other restaurant concepts furnished with its collections. “We always try to do something different. That’s our tagline: to defy the norm. We create products with subtle details and focus on invigorating all of our senses.”

Also read: How Local Design Brand Commune Builds On Its Family History Of Furniture Making

Art direction by Charlene Lee; Photography by Jasper Yu, assisted by Evan Kong and Cheryl Lai-Lim; Grooming by Lydia Thong and Chris Siow of the Makeup Entourage, using Keune hair cosmetics and YSL Beauty

7. Scene Shang


The path to entrepreneurship is often never straight. For long-time friends Pamela Ting and Jessica Wong, the seed of an idea began during their internships in Shanghai and eventually came to life upon their return to Singapore. In 2013, the duo established Scene Shang, a brand that marries “traditional craftsmanship with modern functionality”. Their interest in Asian culture and heritage was the foundation for their unique design codes, and they embarked on a backpacking trip around China to meet craftsmen with the intention of focusing on handmade pieces in limited quantities.

Read more: How Local Brand Scene Shang Brings Modern Sensibilities To Traditional Crafts

Their clever mix of old and new resulted in almost instantaneous recognition among the design community. One of their early success stories was the Shang System—a concept that revolves around stacking the Deng stool, He drawers and Pan tray—which won a special commendation at the President’s Design Awards 2014. Recently, they developed the Xuan table, a mahjong table that can be converted into a console.

Over the years, Scene Shang has brought production closer to home to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore in a bid to showcase the richness of Southeast Asian craftsmanship. “I think people care about where things are made. We’re excited to see where we can take our designs and make them with regional materials, like our rattan range,” says Wong. “Producing locally allows us to form a relationship with the craftsmen here. It’s quite meaningful for us as it helps us to preserve culture in a contemporary way,” adds Ting. They’ve also worked with local textile makers such as Onlewo and Minor Miracles to infuse their designs with even more colour and wit.

While their two brick-and-mortar stores are seeing lower footfall, their adoption of digital strategies allowed them to thrive last year, as more people were working from home and looking to spruce up their spaces. They hope to resume their plans to bring their ingenious designs abroad soon: “We’ve been receiving online orders from around Asia and Europe, where sometimes the shipping cost is as much as the piece itself!”

Art direction by Charlene Lee; Photography by Jasper Yu, assisted by Evan Kong and Cheryl Lai-Lim; Grooming by Lydia Thong and Chris Siow of the Makeup Entourage, using Keune hair cosmetics and YSL Beauty

8. Poh Sin Studio


Founder of Poh Sin Studio, Pamela Tan, creates immersive installations that just beg to be experienced. Blurring the boundaries between architecture, design and art, her complex creations range from murals, models and spatial installations to interactive sculptures—multilayered extravaganzas that are as thought-provoking as they are enchanting.

After obtaining her masters in architecture from the University of Greenwich, the architectural designer returned to Malaysia. Her work thus far is grounded in profound concepts with an accessible aesthetic appeal. These include Eden, a nature-inspired installation commissioned by a developer that eschews lush greenery for an all-white “garden of delight”. A maze of intricate wrought-metal “vines” and luminous glass spheres invites visitors to rediscover how nature can be experienced by magnifying subtle details through its organic structures.

Read more: This Malaysian Studio Designs Art Installations For Homes And Music Festivals

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Above "Aura Aurora" is a sculptural installation that was designed for the atrium of a family home

Just as complex but evoking is the completely different response Projection: Kite, a work created for the Good Vibes Music Festival 2019 held in Genting Highlands, Malaysia. A spatial installation comprising colourful woven strings, the playful piece lets visitors experience “a visual portal of lightness and transparency”. Eden won the Bronze award in the Design for Asia Awards 2020 in the Environmental Design category, while Projection: Kite took home the Merit award.

It’s heartening that the Malaysian design landscape has space for Tan, whose work defies easy categorisation; what lies ahead for this bright young talent looks as intriguing as her creations.

Images courtesy of Poh Sin Studio

  • WordsStephanie Zubiri, Cheryl Lai-Lim, Jennifer Choo, Hong Xinying, Kissa Castañeda,
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