Timber and Design Trends in Southeast Asian Furniture

Based on a presentation by Michael Buckley at the American Hardwood Convention in Chongqing, China, in June.

During the ASEAN round of furniture shows in March this year, a number of trends were observed:

Raw (unfinished) wood and grey colours were predominant, and the most popular temperate wood for furniture is Oak, which is almost everywhere. The fashion for Walnut remains strong and the growth of Tulipwood in Asia is noticeable. Recycling of wood for furniture is increasing, albeit a minor trend. Distressed surfaces, such as cement and metal infill (as in marquetry) are now also more common. Outdoor furniture is moving away from wood as other materials and contemporary designs increasingly ignore wood. And finally there seems to be a wide discrepancy in the furniture industry towards environmental issues, country by country. In other perceived trends, the use of geometric furniture designs is beginning to appear.

Geometric design from Kenkoon in Thailand

In considering the future of design in the region manufacturers continue to view the USA as a key export market for furniture, so that its tastes will still continue to be an influence. The European market is more or less important to some ASEAN producers – less to Malaysia, more to Vietnam, which also influences styles. Intra-Asian demand is still on the upturn, which means that an Asian flavour may, or at least should, increase in popularity. The future is all about design on a new level as ASEAN manufacturers move increasingly from the OEM to ODM principle; and design will become ever more important as the average residence gets smaller and space-saving solutions and smart furniture becomes essential to modern life.  Finally, from the evidence of the 2016 shows, wood is certainly here to stay as a key material.

   Living furniture in Walnut by Cellini, Singapore

American Tulipwood extensively used by STEP Furniture from Malaysia

It should be noted that, based on those in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, the shows are not entirely representative of their respective industry or markets as many major players, both buyers and manufacturers, were absent for various reasons.  There are also huge variations between the shows in terms of styles and target markets.

A version of this article was first published in Panels & Furniture Asia (Sept/Oct)