Here’s a place that will appeal to fans of stylishly simple Scandinavian design.
In 2009, when Amelia Tham and her family were moving house, she couldn’t find the furniture she had been seeing in magazines and design blogs.
“There wasn’t a store in Malaysia that was focused on quality, modern Scandinavian style,” recalls Tham of her favourite design style.
For those who coveted the clean, simple lines, organic shapes and timelessness of furnishings from these Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway – the options were pathetic. One either settled for cheap knock-offs or the ubiquitous, ready-to-assemble pieces from the giant home furnishing brand.
Or, you paid through your nose for iconic designs from the likes of Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto and Poul Kjærholm.
So Tham decided to “fill the gap”, and started SMUK Living.
Opening its doors in 2011, Smuk – the word means “beautiful” in Danish – showcases contemporary Scandinavian designs in its selection of furniture, lighting, tableware and soft furnishings.
With a flair for good design, Tham sniffs out design classics and one-of-a-kind products and brands that come packaged with interesting stories.
Perennial classics include the String shelf, a shelving system from Sweden designed by Nils Strinning in 1949, and the enamelled steel Krenit bowls, first introduced in 1953 by Danish engineer Herbert Krenchel.
Despite its lightweight structure and “floating” look, the String shelves are durable and stable, and have been handed down through generations of families in Sweden. An archetypal Danish minimalist design, the Krenit bowl reflects a harmonious union between function and aesthetics.
The bowl snagged the gold medal at the 1954 Milan Triennale for its form (its shape set the trend for later designs of bowls) and for the then technical challenge in coating thin steel with enamel. Danish design brand Normann Copenhagen, known for its innovative and playful approach to design, re-launched the Krenit bowls in 2008.
Juxtaposing the classics at Smuk are pieces from contemporary Nordic designers who team up with relatively young but dynamic design brands like Denmark-based HAY, Muuto and Lightyears.
Hay was founded in 2002 with the aim to “encourage Danish furniture design’s return to the innovative greatness of the 1950s and 1960s in a contemporary context.”
Known for its accessible and affordable products, Hay does a good job of nurturing young talents like Swedish designer Clara von Zweigbergk who came up with the candy-coloured, geometric-shaped Kaleido trays; or promoting rising design stars like Amsterdam-based Scholten & Baijings, whose Colour Glass (glassware) garnered rave reviews when it was launched in 2013.
While it sticks to its Scandinavian flavours, Hay also collaborates with international designers like the influential French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec (Copenhague collection of tables and chairs), and London-based Doshi Levien for the Uchiwa armchair, recently unveiled at the Salone del Mobile 2014.
Not unlike Hay, Copenhagen-based Muuto teams up with an impressive line-up of well-known Nordic designers like Harri Koskinen of Finland and design trio Norway Says to produce stylishly elegant furniture, lamps and accessories.
Designer lighting company Lightyears also works closely with the brightest talents in the industry, like Danish designer Cecilia Manz whose industrial-style Caravaggio lamp is hugely popular and often copied.
When it comes to choosing the brands Smuk represents, “it’s instinctive and intuitive”, Tham reveals during our interview in her shop nestled in Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur.
“There would be something about the brand that strikes me. And though it appeals to me, it also has to make sense to the market,” adds Tham, who ditched her IT career to plunge into the furniture retail scene. Originally from Kuching, the mother of two admits she has no design background and had scant knowledge of interior design when she started out. Keeping her head above water in the competitive local furniture industry is a series of trial and error situations for the plucky entrepreneur.
“For example, I chose Hay because it’s modern, simple and outwardly Scandinavian and the price point is accessible to our market,” says Tham, 34. “We started with Hay, then we needed sofas, so we brought in Eilersen, then outdoor furniture Cane-Line, and so on.”
“For me, Scandinavian style isn’t just about mid-century design but also contemporary Scandinavian,” she explains.
“I love its simplicity and the subtlety in its design. It’s very clean yet edgy at the same time. You can look at it for a long time and not get sick of it.”
At home, she fuses the elegant, pared-down aesthetics of Scandinavian furniture with ethnic objects from Borneo like Iban warrior shields and traditional pots.
To date, Smuk represents 15 brands, including two non-Scandinavian brands, Shige Hasegawa and TON.
“Shige Hasegawa’s Hana table was love at first sight so I included it in Smuk’s collection,” confesses Tham who loves the clever design, inspired by the Japanese origami technique.
The inclusion of TON, the bent furniture company from Czech Republic, was a natural complement, according to Tham.
“You often see Scandinavian products alongside TON chairs,” she says smiling.
TON is famous for its No.14 chair, widely known as the bistro chair, a design classic that was first made by Michael Thonet in 1859.
Thonet is dubbed the founder of industrial bentwood processing. Made using a steam-bending technology, the wooden chair, is one of, if not the, oldest industrial product still in production today. The company, Thonet, was renamed TON (the abbreviation for Továrna Ohýbaného Nábytku – bent furniture factory) in 1953.
Today, TON introduces Chair 14 in eye-popping colours like pink and yellow, aside from the classic dark wenge colour. The company also collaborates with contemporary designer to produce sleek, modern furniture.
Smuk’s wide plethora of chairs, tables, lighting and accessories are impressive, considering its modest 158sqm showroom.
“I like to keep it small and grow organically,” says Tham.
She’s doing it right – the carefully curated objects in Smuk exemplify the essence of inimitable Scandinavian style: thoughtful design that is a pleasure to look at, that invites you to touch, use and treasure for a long time to come.
> For more information on Smuk Living,
go to smuk.com.my.