Meet Two Local Furniture Makers Who Perfected Their Skills Through YouTube Tutorials

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We speak to, Brandon Heng and Gay Zheng Cai, the co-founders of Herman Furniture about how they got their start in the furniture business.

Herman Furniture specialises in live edge tables. What does “live edge” mean?
Live edge is a carpentry style that embraces the natural contours of the tree. Unlike standard solid wood tables where multiple pieces of wood are jointed together with a straight edge, live edge tables are created using a single slab of wood, thereby preserving the natural edge of the wood slab. These details vary from tree to tree and actually gives you an insight of the tree’s origin and history, making each piece truly unique.

How would you describe your design philosophy?
Aesthetically, we have always been a fan of simplicity. We believe one sleek and strong statement piece speaks volumes and anchors a space more than complicated designs. And this is what we try to achieve with each of our live edge tables.

Brandon and Zheng Cai started Herman Furniture as an exploration into how technology and traditional crafts can come together to create something surprising.

Brandon and Zheng Cai started Herman Furniture as an exploration into how technology and traditional crafts can come together to create something surprising.

What is it about Suar wood that drew you to working with it?
We chose to work with Suar wood because each and every piece is uniquely beautiful. Unlike mahogany or teak which has very predictable grains, Suar wood’s grain, tone and gradient varies widely. These patterns are a reflection of the environment the tree grew in and carries with it the “essence” of its origins. Also, being a fast-growing rainforest tree, suar comes in a wide range of sizes to work with.

Your foray into carpentry and woodworking started with YouTube tutorials. What was that learning experience like?
In an ideal world, we would have loved to enter the business with a mentor’s guidance. However, the industry is rather small and being outsiders to the business, we didn’t really know where else to begin. YouTube was the go-to first step, and the online tutorials gave us an introduction to the basics and helped us ask the right questions. As we progressed and learned the vocab of the industry, we also came across generous veterans who were willing to share their knowledge with us. From there, it was a lot of experimentation and prototyping. A big part of carpentry is about precision and attention to details, so we had to pay attention to every little thing. Noting down what worked and what didn’t across many late nights, we eventually worked our way towards the Herman signature process that we are so proud of now.

SquareRooms-Herman-Furniture-workshop

The designers have an affinity for Suar wood, where each piece is uniquely beautiful with varying grains, tones and gradients.

Take us through the design process from a raw wood slab into a finished product?
Beginning with the raw wood slabs, each one is hand-picked and dried for up to a year. Our master carpenters apply up to seven layers of lacquer with each layer sanded, coated, prepared and dried. This process takes at least two weeks but it ensures that every table that leaves our workshop is water, heat and stain resistant and that they all have the same smooth consistency. From hundreds of curated wood slabs, our clients then select one that is a perfect fit for them. After the customisation of the table legs – materials to height to design – the live edge table is completed and delivered.

What sets Herman Furniture apart from other furniture suppliers in Singapore?
We take pride in having control over the entire process. Rather than importing a finished table and reselling it, our tables are finished and customised locally. Also, our process doesn’t end when we deliver the tables. Because no one can absolutely predict wood movement, especially on a single wood slab, we offer a one-year warranty and a one-time reparation service. If any issue arises, we’ll bring the entire wood slab back to the workshop to sand and refinish it. We believe this has helped us to stand out and build trust within the community.

By being involved throughout the entire process and paying close attention to every detail, the duo manages to ensure that each product is perfectly suited for their clients.

By being involved throughout the entire process and paying close attention to every detail, the duo manages to ensure that each product is perfectly suited for their clients.

What’s one advice you’d like to pass on to aspiring entrepreneurs of today?
A solid reputation is everything. When you are sincere and connect genuinely, every transaction becomes so much deeper. This is how we’ve grown with the community, stumbled onto great mentors and gained a loyal following.

This was adapted from an article originally published in the October 2018 issue of SquareRooms 

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