Charring furniture is a centuries-old technique that’s gaining popularity here in Singapore.
There’s no shortage of furniture shops in Singapore. But to find something truly unique and one-of-a-kind, you might have to search a little harder. We’ve done our research and we may have found one of Singapore’s best-kept secrets! Smoke by Shou Sugi Ban Gallery is a boutique furniture store/workshop/showroom that first opened in 2016, and has quietly racked up a substantial list of impressed clients. The store, founded by partners Marcus Wang and Ong Meng Hong, offers fresh and uniquely designed furniture that you won’t find anywhere else. In fact, the creative team seems to have a knack for designing “fusion pieces” that cleverly combines different components from vintage and retro pieces into impressive works of art. Think: a mid-century-styled armchair augmented with a contemporary headrest, or a solid teak wood dining table with sculptural legs made from acrylic and steel.
Smoke’s most prominent offering is its eponymously named Smoke Collection. It’s made up of a series of well-crafted wood furniture that have undergone a centuries-old process of wood charring. The result is beautiful jet-black surfaces and organic patterns.
We spoke to creative founder Marcus Wang to find out a bit more about this unusual furniture treatment that has been winning fans all across Singapore.
I’ve been in the timber industry for more than 20 years, and along the way, I’ve picked up a lot of techniques when it comes to handling timber. It’s always been my dream to start my own business and share my love for wooden furniture. But working for my bread and butter always came first. So when the opportunity arose, I grabbed it. As a saw miller and timber merchant, I was exposed to the art of shou sugi ban, from Japan. It’s a technique where you use an open flame to char the surface of wood. The Japanese invented the technique as a way to prevent fire hazards, and it was adopted by the Americans to be used on their fencing in dryer areas.
It’s not as easy as you might think. There’s a special technique that took a lot of trial and error to perfect. You quickly learn that different types of wood have different charring effects. Then there’s also the matter of heat control and the closeness of the flame to the surface. Too little heat and it’ll only affect the surfaces; too much and you’ll turn the wood to charcoal. Finding the right balance takes time and intuition. It took me multiple tries to perfect the special technique of shou sugi ban. It started when I was charring wood panelling, and that gave me the foundation. I then modified the technique so I can use it on furniture.
Charring the furniture can result in beautiful patterns on the wood. For example, Russian pine creates beautiful wavy grains, while hardwoods have an almost reptilian look to the charring. A lot of people think that the jet black surfaces come from traditional staining, but it’s not. After undergoing the shou sugi ban technique, furniture is deprived of moisture and becomes water resistant. Additionally, it won’t attract wood borers and won’t burn again.
On average, it takes four to five days to complete a piece. The most important thing to note is that these are one-off pieces that can’t be replicated. There are customers that come to me asking for six dining chairs with the same charring design, but it’s just not possible. Each piece is completely different. The furniture you find here are not mass-produced.
I always tell my clients that these pieces are like works of art, or sculptural pieces. I want them to realise that the furniture in the Smoke Collection are statement pieces that deserve to be loved, appreciated and coveted. Like artworks on the wall, every single piece of furniture here is just waiting for the correct buyer.
Smoke by Shou Sugi Ban Gallery is located at 7 Opal Crescent, Singapore 328402.
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