A designer on creating for Vietnam and the world

Mr Le Tan Minh was one of the Design Stars at the International Furniture Fair Singapore this year. He was an architect and interior designer for 10 years before switching careers. Now a furniture designer, the 35-year-old is one of the many swinging Vietnam’s furniture manufacturing scene to higher ground.

Q: What does design mean to you?

M: As a designer, design is always on my mind. You practically eat, sleep, wake, journey design. The great thing about it is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, as long as you have a sketch book and pencil. It is good that we now have a factory so that these sketches can be realised into actual products.

Q: Now that you mention your business, can you share more about it?

M: I started this business with a partner, who has great knowledge in export markets. Doowood was founded in 2016to specialise in children’s furniture and toys. B+ Furniture is another brand launched for living and outdoor furniture. Our manufacturing facility, Curator 9102, just started not too long ago.

We are unique in that we can deliver solutions from design to production. In fact, there is nothing we cannot do. We don’t just want to make things; we also want to incorporate design thinking into the whole process.

There are many plans for business and market development, such as attending international fairs like IFFS in Singapore. Both the export market and Vietnam are huge, with lots of potential for growth. We will also be opening our own showroom this year.

Q: How would you describe your design style?

M: Modern, contemporary… Inspiration can come from anywhere—From the Internet, furniture fairs, referencing other designers etc…

The main materials used in our furniture are fabric, Rubber wood (which Vietnam has an abundance of) and American hardwoods. I haven’t been exposed to a lot of materials apart from wood and fabric. This is not to say I completely understand wood; I am still learning.

Q: When we talk about ‘Scandinavian design’, we think of neutral tones, elegant curves and minimalism. What would ‘Vietnamese design’ look like?

M: It is hard to say or predict, or even identify a significant element that represents Vietnamese design.

In fact, designing for a domestic audience is tricky because Vietnamese preferences are hard to pin down. Since we like to make beautiful things, we are, at the same time, educating the market about good design.

Our products are targeted at the younger, middle class who may not be as brand conscious as the high-end market.

Q: What is your view about the design scene in Vietnam?

M: It is very young still. Most of us picked up design on our own. We explored, experimented, made mistakes. We picked up ideas from one another, and tried to absorb as much as we can.

As an industry, we often ‘borrow’ designs and then manufacture accordingly. In fact, most factories in Vietnam produce only wooden furniture. Our greatest strengths lie in forestry management, wood processing and manufacturing. We are good at making something work, but none of the designs actually belongs to us.

We now need to develop the design scene faster because everyone is thinking and talking about design. We also need to start exploring other materials into our prototypes.

A range of children’s furniture from Doowood

Q: In retrospect, what are your thoughts about switching careers?

M: After 10 years as an architect and interior designer, I realised I really love furniture. It takes a lot of time and patience to develop skills in this business.

Being a furniture designer is different from an interior designer. As an interior designer, you focus more on comfort and atmosphere. You manage not just the elements themselves, you also need to style them in to fit the space.

On the other hand, designing furniture means having to understand function and structure. You also need to work with different materials and envision how the finished product blends into the interior.

My experience in architecture and interior design helps to cope with these challenges because it gives me a sense of space when I work with furniture now.

Of course, right now we also need to develop new markets and contacts for our company. 


This article was first published in the May issue of Panels & Furniture Asia.