March 3, 2007

Platform and function

Reactions to Platform - a new avenue for furniture designers to turn their ideas into commercial reality - have been mixed, but many in the industry still laud the initiative


PORKIE PICK: He's no tooth fairy, but junior designer Edmund Wong's white tooth-like Porkie stools are bringing on the smiles at the International Furniture Fair Singapore. -- ALAN LIM

MIX AND MATCH: Combining teak and stainless steel is the signature of Jarrod Lim's range of outdoor furniture, called Apex. -- ALAN LIM

EGG HIM ON: Imagine eggs half-submerged in water - that's how the Egg Table by NUS' Gabriel Tan looks like. The individual vessels come with removable wooden bowls that double as wine chillers and pots. -- ALAN LIM

SELF EXPRESSION: If you are looking to express yourself through furniture, check out the works of Design Metaphyz's Kelvin Teo. They use shapes, patterns and colours for an unusual twist. -- ALAN LIM

THREE white stools that each resembles a giant tooth have been making visitors' heads turn at this year's International Furniture Fair Singapore/Asean Furniture Show, now on at the Singapore Expo till Monday.

The seriously silly seats have brought on giggles and aahs from visitors because of their bulky but cute appearance.

Called Porkies, they were designed by Mr Edmund Wong, 27, a junior designer with a local furniture firm.

His creations are part of more than 70 furniture prototypes by 67 young designers on display as part of a new idea for promoting up-and-coming talent.

Called Platform, this talent showcase has been organised by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC). The aim is that furniture manufacturers might see potential in a design, and buy the prototype, taking it from show talking-point to shop floor.

And what a Platform for a career kickstart it is: Over 17,000 manufacturers, buyers and designers from Singapore and around the world are doing their rounds at the furniture fair.

The idea is one of the initiatives under the furniture council's Local Enterprise and Association Development (Lead) programme aimed at enhancing industry and enterprise competitiveness. It will be held annually in conjunction with the furniture fair.

Platform will raise the profile of locally made products in the global market and brand Singapore as a furniture design hub, says Mr Simon Ong, chairman of SFIC's design development committee.

The 67 who made the final cut were chosen from 80 applications by a selection committee comprising designers and manufacturers. Most are local designers.

'We picked those that showed potential for growth,' says Mr Ong.

Fair-goers can see unusual furniture such as a stool made from metal mesh, a wavy coffee table-cum-magazine holder and a red chair that resembles a lobster.

Platform was open to art and design students, architects and independent designers. Products had to be new prototypes for the home, office or outdoors. Manufacturers were not allowed to participate. And to guarantee opportunities for newcomers, participants can take part in Platform only twice.

'We want to bring young designers into the market,' says Mr Ong, adding that there is a gap between the creative and manufacturing sectors.

'The designers are trained as designers but not as entrepreneurs. Platform will play matchmaker between designers and manufacturers.'

Indeed, SFIC is funding 70 per cent of local Platform participants' rental costs to hire booths at the five-day fair. Booths are either 12 or 20 sqm and the cost before SFIC funding is $486 to $810. Foreign participants pay $2,400 to $4,000 and don't get a helping hand with costs.

Still, industry sources say it can cost $20,000 to exhibit at overseas trade exhibitions such as the Milan's prestigious Salone Satellite.

The fee is a small price to pay, says local designer Kelvin Teo, 30, of Design Metaphyz, a design firm he set up with two other partners. He exhibited a honeycomb-shaped coffee table.

Another participant at Platform is final-year industrial designer student Gabriel Tan, 25, from the National University of Singapore. He is exhibiting a coffee table and hopes to get manufacturers to buy the prototype for production.

Mixed reactions

INDUSTRY players that Life! spoke to have mixed comments about Platform.

Ms Sabrina Long, head of the school of visual arts at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, says Platform is a good move to give young designers a place to display their creativity to an international audience.

'But the industry must also be willing to accept new talent that is available locally. This is the first step,' she says.

Although local furniture retailer Barang Barang does not have its own manufacturing plant, its purchasing manager Li Lishan says if the designs and prototypes fit its corporate philosophy and product mix, the firm is open to taking on such products.

Mr Jerry Tan, managing director of local firm Jaco Singapore which makes garden furniture for export, says Platform will allow firms like his to source local design talent.

'At least there will be a pool of furniture designers to choose from,' he says.

Local furniture manufacturing and retailing firm Air Division says Platform will suit manufacturers who are new in working with designers.

Its design director, Mr Nathan Yong, says the selection committee 'may or may not have the credibility to choose a good designer to begin with'.

With his seven years of experience in designing and manufacturing furniture, he would rather pick designers who call the firm up for work. His company currently has three inhouse designers.

'We like the go-getters,' he says.

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