The furniture industry has become an increasingly competitive industry.
Apart from physical neighborhood stores and Swedish furniture giant IKEA, Singaporeans are also spoiled for choice with e-commerce sites options.
Now you can ship furniture directly from countries of origin like China to create your ideal Scandinavian or Japanese tea room vibe at home without spending a bomb.
Despite such intense competition, Scanteak, a local furniture brand, has persevered by selling only solid teak wood furniture with a clean design.
In fact, Scanteak’s design and craftsmanship is also inspired by “Scandinavian ideology, where simplicity and functionality come first”.
Despite the price, Scanteak remains one of the leading furniture brands in Singapore.
So what is its appeal and more importantly why is Scanteak furniture worth the money spent?
We caught up with her second-generation owner, Jamie Lim, to find out more.
What makes Scanteak furniture unique?
People looking for teak furniture like the ones sold at Scanteak appreciate the strength and durability of these hardwood products.
The natural oil content of the wood helps prevent termite infestation and repel water.
Additionally, Scanteak has been using sustainably sourced teak wood to produce its furniture since 2014.
This teak wood from Indonesia is verified by its national timber legality assurance system called Sistem Verificasi Legalitas Kayu, or SVLK for short.
While “sustainability” is a buzzword today, it wasn’t when Lim made the decision.
“[The change] was very difficult,” Lim admitted as Scanteak had to break its partnership with a few long-time suppliers.
“But we felt it was important for what we believed in,” she added, as it aligns with the company’s mission to create a safe space where people feel at home with his furniture.
As the movement to go green spreads, some of these suppliers have returned after obtaining certification of their timber supply as coming from legal plantations.
In addition to betting on sustainability at a time when the majority of consumers don’t care as much about the environment, Scanteak also conducts rigorous formaldehyde testing on their furniture and ensures formaldehyde levels meet CARB (California Air Resources Board) regulations.
Formaldehyde is a common chemical used in household products, including furniture.
The colorless gas can be recognized by its pungent odor and may cause skin, eye and nose irritation in some people.
Singapore does not have strict formaldehyde regulations, unlike countries like the United States, Taiwan and Japan, but Scanteak has made an effort to keep formaldehyde levels low for the benefit of its consumers.
Incorporate ideas from Taiwan and Japan
You might be surprised, but this local furniture brand has established itself in countries like Taiwan and Japan over the past 40 years, with over 100 outlets around the world now.
Eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed Scanteak’s appearance on the popular Netflix show “Alice in Borderland.”
Scanteak’s furniture designs have also been inspired by the needs of the people in the countries where she sets foot.
Lim shared some interesting insights like how Taiwanese people like their wood to be strong: “They like to be able to see to feel to carry what they need to know that when buying teak wood furniture for the home, it is substantial.”
For Japanese people who live in smaller homes, they like their furniture to be “sleek, thin and airy, but they like wood.”
That’s how Scanteak comes up with clever furniture designs like this bench inspired by the Japanese lifestyle.
Users can simply rotate the backrest to face the TV in the living room after dining in the dining room or kitchen.
As for the Singaporeans?
“Singaporeans are very diverse,” Lim explained.
That’s why you can still find both chunky pieces of furniture and those favored by younger generations – thinner, lighter pieces with rounded edges – at their Singapore outlets.
His faith in local talent
Lim doesn’t just look abroad for ideas, she also breathes new life into Scanteak by collaborating with local brands and talent, including students.
And after years of working with young Singaporeans, Lim has some interesting stories to tell, too.
One involves that she overheard interns criticizing Scanteak’s Instagram account in the restroom without knowing she was in one of the stalls.
Lim said they were young and forgot walls had ears when they heard them say, “Wah Scanteak’s Instagram account can’t make him really ugly, you know. No wonder he doesn’t there are no subscribers.”
Needless to say, when Lim came out of the bathroom stall and asked “Very ugly meh?”, the interns jumped.
“Their faces were white,” Lim laughed.
Contrary to what the trainees expected, Lim took no offense at what they said.
Instead, she tasked the interns with helping improve Scanteak’s Instagram with an allocated budget, and they did.
The students were even treated to a good meal at the end of their internship.
Lim’s support for local brands and talent is evident in their new experiential showroom along Henderson Road.
From poufs to candles, the furniture is accompanied by lifestyle products from local brands.
The entire space was also designed by students from the Ngee Ann Polytechnic School of Design.
Scanteak had also worked with students from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) to design furniture which they marketed and even sold in Taiwan and Japan.
“I was like a naughtier kid last time around, so I feel like I can relate to some of the younger ideas. I don’t mean I’m very old. It’s just that they have a We work with consultants but when these young students give us new ideas, we can integrate them into what we would like to do to stay relevant.”
Lim added that his next step is to bring local brands overseas, using Scanteak’s overseas outlet space to showcase local designs and products, much like the one on Henderson Road.
“I believe in local talent,” she said firmly.
“There is an audience for everything”
If everything you’ve read so far still doesn’t convince you, Scanteak’s furniture is worth its price, that’s fine.
Maybe at some point in your life you will appreciate Scanteak’s furniture more, just like Lim herself.
“There’s an audience for everything,” Lim said.
She admitted that she was into IKEA products when she was a student because that was what her budget allowed.
However, after having three children and a dog, she now appreciates durable, beautiful and solid furniture.
Maintaining good quality furniture at home is very simple and you probably don’t have to change furniture once every few years.
With that, here’s a final pitch from Lim to current and potential homeowners looking to buy furniture:
“I would say, give us a chance, you can consult us. If you want to use this piece of furniture for more than two years, three years, four years, five years, and you put the cost together, I think our prices are pretty comparable.And we can only do that because we use economies of scale, which means we buy a lot of parts and sell to hundreds of stores, that’s how we can try to maintain competitive prices.
Top image by Andrew Wong