Cover Handcrafted metal baskets by The Heritage Baskets

From string chairs to wire baskets, these local artisan brands are mining our rich local heritage for inspiration and creating a fresh perspective of familiar archetypes.

MAD3 Studio

Remember those ubiquitous chairs and stools using steel and woven PVC cords found in many a Malaysian home in the 1960s? They're getting a refresh by MAD3 Studio, a design collective comprising of Tang Mun Kian, Desmond Phang and Bernard Chong. While these seats still utilise traditional techniques to craft them, they're given a contemporary spin with new shapes, colour combinations and weaving patterns.

"We grew up surrounded by steel/PVC cords and rattan furniture. They are comfortable, flexible, light-weight and strong," explains Chong. "We love seeing these pieces around, so we thought why not make it contemporary, more fun and cheerful to suit our needs and tastes.

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Working with local artisans mainly from around the Klang Valley, the collective has also taken to using woven rattan in loungers and stools, in the hope of reinvigorating the vanishing cane furniture trade. Their growing range is marketed through social media, their online store, Tribecartisan and Singapore retailers, Naiise SG and The Artling. Chairs are made to order and the string colours can further be customised based on their range of colour cords. Colourful, quirky and full of character, these once humble seats are not just generating new job opportunities for traditional craftsmen and artisans, they're introducing a new generation to vernacular Malaysian furniture.

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The Craftsmanty

Constantly exploring the connection between the past and future, The Craftsmanty creates handcrafted wooden furniture that brings modern and classic designs together. The Craftsmanty is the brain child of erstwhile award-winning creative director, Ng Teck Yew, whose passion for interior and furniture design compelled him to leave the advertising industry. His pieces are inspired by mid-century modern design and showcase the clean lines and utilitarian spirit of that era while incorporating unexpected twists in the application of material. The pieces are suffused with a whimsical touch, which adds an appealing playfulness to the rigour of the typology.

See also: Singaporean Label Ong Shunmugam's Rattan Furniture Are Made In Malaysia

 

Ng takes great pride in working with furniture artisans around Malaysia. He favours local materials like solid nyatoh wood and uses them to create furniture which has a distinctly retro aesthetic.

Apart from designing furniture, he also sources and works on custom builds for clients. "Our furniture makes a definite design statement while complementing your personal style. They do not try to be the centre piece of attention, rather we allow our works to become part of its environment through control and order," he enthuses.

"We also love to implement local materials into our products and are often inspired by local materials when working on design concepts because we believe culture has a big influence on the way we feel about a design."

 

The Heritage Baskets

The Heritage Baskets started as an Instagram account that sisters, Eleen and Elizabeth Cho, put up for their father David Cho's handcrafted wire baskets. David, who grew up in a family which sold handcrafting metal wire skimmers, strainers and baskets to kitchenware shops in Kuala Lumpur. David and his siblings moved on to other careers in adulthood and no one in the family carried on the craft until about six to seven years ago when David started crafting baskets again with his mother, to help keep her hands active and occupy her time. After her passing in 2017, he continued making baskets on and off, committing more and more of his spare time to the craft towards the end of 2019.

These steel wire baskets were more common in Malaysian households in years past and considered mundane utilitarian objects then. As David rediscovered his knack for crafting them, he was driven to elevate the idea of these nostalgic steel carriers into a mode of artistic expression. So while his current baskets are fully handcrafted in line with traditional methods, his basket profile designs are unique to his creative vision and independent of past archetypes. An exception being his remake of his father's egg basket which is a faithful reproduction.

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Inspired by historic and nostalgic homeware as well as organic forms in nature, David begins by drawing on paper, exploring different possible profiles and features for each basket. After coming up with a design he is happy with, he makes a draft at 1:1 scale which he uses to guide his crafting. The baskets on The Heritage Baskets are available for direct purchase and baskets are also available at retail shops in KL and Melaka, including ILHAM Giftshop, Badan Warisan Malaysia, Bendang Artisan, and Bendahari Markets. Custom orders are also a possibility.

Since David works solo on every piece from start to finish in his free time (he is not yet retired from his primary occupation), his daughters have opted to grow their online profile in a slower and more organic way, allowing him to continue crafting at an unrushed pace. He has also been guiding some family members in the craft, in particular Elizabeth who is slowly honing her skill in hopes of crafting her own baskets in the future.

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The Tiffin Company

Founded by Christina Kaw, who is of Nyonya heritage from Melaka, The Tiffin Company embodies her interest in local traditions and heritage expressed in the tiffin carrier. Known as tengkat in Melaka, Kaw was concerned that something which was so widely used had fallen out of favour. She also realised that the tiffins carriers available in the market were either very expensive antiques or very plain looking.

As a result, The Tiffin Company was born to revive the tiffin tradition while creating something beautiful to look. Functional and eco-friendly, and inspired by her rich, colourful Peranakan heritage, Kaw embarked on a journey to make the tiffin carriers an integral part of the home again with colourful hand painted tiffins referencing traditional motifs while adding a modern twist to the design in line with today’s lifestyle.

See also: Who Are The Chettis Of Melaka? And What Is Hindu-Peranakan Cuisine?

Tatler Asia
The Tiffin Company's special NYFW collection in collaboratiom with The Mod House
Above The Tiffin Company's special NYFW collection in collaboratiom with The Mod House

Kaw first decides on the shape and size of the tiffin before the basic stainless steel tiffin carrier is sourced. Designs are hand-painted layer by layer until the desired outcome is achieved. 

When creating a design, Kaw draws inspiration from nature, hence most of The Tiffin Company's designs are based on flowers, birds and colours of nature. Kaw then looks at a heritage element to focus on. For example, one of The Tiffin Company's most popular designs is Signature Peonies. The striking green background colour on this tiffin design, is widely used in Nyonya kitchen ware and it was combined the peony flower, one of the oldest flowers featured in eastern culture and art symbolising ‘riches and honour’.

Another example is the hibiscus, Malaysia's national flower which Kaw created to symbolise delicate beauty and grace: "Behind every one of our tiffin designs, there is a story to tell. Drawn from inspiration from the many different local cultures and objects of nature, it is my take on the stories which I want to impart."

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