1007 Eunos Ave 7
01-45 Singapore 409578
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IT started with a child's rocking chair. A cute elephant-shaped seat that Loh Jian Hao fashioned out of 2D cut-outs he made with a precision laser-cutting machine. It proved a hit not just with his niece whom he made it for, but with his friends and it spurred him on to create a whole new way of making furniture.
Mr Loh, 32, and his partner Pan Yi Cheng, 33, are the architecture graduates behind Produce - an indie design workshop in Eunos which specialises in furniture made with just geometric cut-outs and clever joinery. Think of paper cut-outs or thin wooden discs that can be assembled into different shapes. It's a technique that the men developed using a piece of machinery originally designed to cut flat, two-dimensional forms, such as signboards. But Mr Loh adapted the machine - a computer numerical controlled (CNC) laser cutter - to cut shapes that he made into a chair for his 2005 graduation project. His professor liked it so much he even acquired it after Mr Loh's graduation.
It's no small compliment, given that Mr Loh and Mr Pan studied (albeit in different years) at the Architectural Association (AA), the oldest independent school of architecture in the UK, and one of the most prestigious and competitive in the world.
Although Mr Loh went to work in finance instead of architecture, he decided to set up Produce a few months ago with Mr Pan, a top honours graduate of AA who was selected as one of the top eight graduates in the UK in 2006. Prior to Produce, Mr Pan directed the design for Xtra's Herman Miller shop-in-shop at Park Mall which won the best retail building of the year award at the 2012 World Architectural Festival.
At Produce, the duo's forte is in functional but design-led furniture and the re-envisioning and effective use of space.
One of their most iconic is the skeletal wavy sofa which is in fact an assembly of CNC-cut pieces of wood into a sofa frame. "We're still exploiting the full potential of the machine, as its current design scope is very limited," says Mr Loh. It takes design and also many calculations to get the measurements right, but essentially, the way to rethink the capabilities of the machine is to assemble furniture from 2D-cut shapes and profiles.
"It's been fun experimenting with it, and translating a computer design into the physical objects," declares Mr Loh, adding that one of the challenges was to cut at a slant, and it took several trials to reach the right calibrations.
In the quest for functionality, especially for shrinking spaces, their furniture collection is turning out "smart" furniture which also looks good. Examples include a three-legged console that can fold out to become a mahjong table. A coffee table made up of four parts lean against each other, so that it can be collapsed into four lounge seats. "The way we live is changing, so we must think more about how to live in compact spaces," he adds.
But saving space is not just about expensive mechanisms, insists Mr Pan. "We're steering away from gadgets, but working towards the same result of smart use of space," he says.
Produce currently has six pieces in their furniture collection which they plan to launch next year; and they have completed a few interior projects as well. One of them is a "garden" courtyard within a skyscraper, for EGE Carpets, Europe's largest manufacturer of carpets. For a private client for their home, Produce created a six-metre plywood feature wall spanning the length of a living room which seamlessly becomes the TV console as well as the shoe cabinet.
The two agree that designing "decorative" things is not their focus. The larger ambition is for Produce to make an educational impact on the community.
Because it works primarily with the CNC machine in their studio and workshop at Eunos, Produce believes it's the only company that has integrated design and furniture production within a single space in Singapore.
In the second phase of their business, the duo also plan to start something they call "Produce Therapy" - by conducting workshops for those who want to create their own furniture or wood objects.
"The idea for Produce Therapy is that exercising creativity and making craft is therapeutic," Mr Loh, who believes that Singaporeans would have a better appreciation of craft when they roll up their sleeves to learn how it's done.
They could learn the basic use of 3D software and make something that's easy to assemble, like an elephant rocking chair, for instance. "There's the whole idea of creating instead of buying off the shelf. We should be the producer and not just the consumers," Mr Loh says, philosophically.