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Time for candid confessions: Anuja and I are extremely fond of fine furniture and home accessories. Both of us can spend hours at our favourite stores just browsing and admiring unique one-off pieces. The good news (Hubbies, hope you are listening?!): the transition of these conversation pieces from the store to our homes happens less frequently, thanks to the Secondsguru DNA in our eco-system. Most of the time we are trying to find ways to rescue, upcycle or refurbish what we already own (Refurbish your home furniture)!
One furniture store which has enamoured us over the years with its edgy, minimalist pieces is Mountain Teak, Singapore. When we found out that almost all of the solid wood – teak, walnut and oak – used in their furniture is sourced sustainably, we went over to the store to catch up with the founder, Ms Chang. Wearing simple linen wear and untouched by make-up, she seemed an embodiment of her brand! As we browsed the collection, we discussed Mountain Teak, its ethos, her experiences as its founder and the challenges of selling eco-friendly furniture in a price sensitive market.
The beginning and the story so far
Mountain Teak started its journey when Chang could not find simple, minimalist, non mass-produced furniture for her new home in Singapore in 2010. Almost everything available locally had intricate designs with heavy doses of lacquer, as a result the texture and the natural aberrations of the wood- its true beauty if you will – were lost. It was at this time that she realised there was a need gap in the market. So when she stumbled upon Belgian brand Mountain Teak, she conducted a thorough due diligence and decided to personally select and sell their furniture pieces in Singapore. In fact she loved the brand so much, she named the store after it. As Chang was still working full time in a multinational bank at that time, she started small in a shop-house in Joo Chiat. However, six months into it, she realised that her true calling was in curating ethically sourced furniture and she decided to dedicate her time to taking Mountain Teak forward.
Today, four-and-a-half years later…
1. The Mountain Teak store carries two principal brands
– Mountain, from Belgium : Mountain was the first brand that Chang worked with. It only uses solid plantation teak in its furniture. The artists combine European design with Asian elegance, thus creating stylish, innovative furniture. Every piece is hand crafted, adding further character to it.
– Karpenter, from Italy: Hugues Revuelta, the brain behind Karpenter is an artist and an environmentalist. He works only with solid wood, primarily FSC-certified reclaimed teak from old houses, bridges or boats. The designer also uses sustainably produced oak and walnut in some creations. His creations are one of a kind, minimalist and (just like the Mountain Teak brand) use the “human touch” to create elegant pieces.
2.These brands do not use lacquer on the furniture, instead they use water-based coating that doesn’t change the look and feel of natural wood. Moreover, using water-based coating is environmental friendly and comes without any potential health hazard.
3. The brands also retain the warmth and feel of the solid wood used in the furniture by minimum intervention to the natural texture of the material.
Above all, Chang is living her dream of making the brand grow and achieve new highs! Mountain Teak is present at two major locations in Singapore : #07-02 , 315 Outram Road, Singapore 169074 and 200 Turf Club Road, Pasarbella #02-K92, Singapore 287994. http://www.mountainteak.com/
In Chang’s own words
1. Let’s start at the beginning. When did Mountain Teak start its operations and what was your inspiration in setting up a furniture store here in Singapore?
Chang: We started in 2011 as a small shophouse in Joo Chiat. I was looking for furniture for my own place in 2010 and fell in love with a beautiful wooden dining table. I noticed there weren’t many choices of good designs and affordable prices and wondering if I could import them from overseas. It happened that in early 2011 I came across the Mountain Teak collection from a Belgium furniture brand. It’s just what I liked, simple and minimally-designed, solid wood, rich wood texture, natural holes and notches, nice workmanship and good price. I loved every piece in the collection so much that I opened a shop named after it: Mountain Teak.
2. Mountain teak brings to Singapore a one-of-a-kind marriage of sustainably-sourced Asian teak with simple minimalist European design philosophy. Tell us a bit about how you chanced upon the idea to showcase such furniture in your store as opposed to the typical Asian designs (intricate, elaborate carvings and styles) that are popular here?
Chang: Other than teak wood we also carry oak and walnut furniture. It’s because we love the warm and natural touch of wood, which is a gift from nature. I feel that we have too many things in our life that we actually do not need. When I return home I just want to feel simple, relaxed and comfortable. Too much carvings and shaping also shift the focus away from wood’s natural beauty: its wood grain, colour and texture. This is also why we don’t use lacquer on our furniture, but only water-based coating that doesn’t change the look and feel of natural wood, and also without any health hazard.
3. Was eco-friendliness always a part of your plan since the time Mountain Teak was set up? When and how did this philosophy become a part of the business goals? What inspired you to go the extra mile to be Earth-friendly?
Chang: When I was shopping for furniture for my own house before starting this business, I was told that all new furniture had smell in a certain extent, that when it’s first delivered to your place, you need to open the drawers to let the smell go away for a few days. I was wondering if there’s any coating that is free of this smell (VOC) and is completely safe to use even to pregnant women and children. So we chose this water-based coating that doesn’t contain VOC. This was my very first idea of eco-friendly. Later we started to understand that solid wood, especially teak wood, came from different sources. Some illegally-logged trees were not mature, resulting not only in low quality furniture but also damaging the environment and forest planning. I personally went to Indonesia a few times and was impressed by their forest resources. It was a very different place from Singapore, with very few development and interference of human. I felt we as small little creatures on this planet, have to respect, appreciate and protect what the Earth has given us. Therefore to show our token of respect, we chose either the reclaimed wood with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certificate or wood from government regulated plantation farm.
4. What challenges do you face in executing this ethos? Is it as difficult as we imagine – finding partners who walk the line, tying up sourcing at affordable price points, etc?
Chang: The biggest challenges did not come from suppliers or sourcing, but from customers. I won’t call it challenges, but rather, I feel a little frustrated sometimes when we try to explain to customers and they give us the expression of “I don’t really care”. ☺ The green furniture may cost a bit more (especially the coating, the wood selection and the fact that a matured tree itself costs higher), but the costs do value-add to your daily experience, it’s not just for the FSC-certification.
5. Do, tell us about your furniture lines – especially Mountain and Karpenter? Our readers would like to know how you go about the process – how do you select pieces, source them, verify the certifications, etc. Is your leather also ethically sourced?
Chang: Mountain Collection is very simple and straight lines whereas Karpenter has many different collections, each one of them looks completely different. They both share the same “green” philosophy, they not only have a very natural look (e.g. notches and holes purposely preserved in Mountain collection), but also use wood from responsible sources (Mountain Collection is crafted from timber that is sourced from Indonesia’s only government-regulated teak plantation; whereas Karpenter uses FSC-certified recycled teak wood from old houses or bridges. Karpenter also makes sure there’s no use of plywood or veneer).
For all FSC certification, customer should be able to see the tag with the FSC logo and certificate number on the furniture itself (sometimes hidden at the bottom or back, please check with the sales representative). We use full aniline leather that is vegetable-tanned, which helps retain the natural texture and soft touch of the leather.
6. Are there other furniture stores in Singapore who you admire for their style and philosophy? Do you have a message for brands out there who are yet to commit to a green ethos in their sourcing / manufacturing?
Chang: Yes there are other furniture stores in Singapore who also carry green furniture. I don’t have any message to brands who are not, though. Because not everyone has the same preference and there have to be different styles/materials/price point existing in the market, there’s no right or wrong. I just feel happy with what we’re doing now.
7. On a parting note is there anything you would like to tell our readers?
Chang: When it comes to selecting furniture, there’s more than just the look and price. Do choose carefully because it’s going to stay a very long time with you. ☺
Lara is the co-founder of Secondsguru. A “once upon a time” banker, a recently re-born blog writer, a self-confessed vintage addict and a passionate yogi, Lara loves to spend time with her family and travel the world!