As the world becomes smaller, tastes and trends have converged. Those that have consistently maintained a global outlook and have been wisely ambitious have successfully navigated the rapidly evolving discipline of furniture design.  One such company is Singapore’s Koda furniture. 

Speaking to Ernie Koh, Executive Director of Koda, the growing importance of Asia as both a creator and consumer of furniture is clear. “Asia is the fastest growing region in the world,” he says.

Rapid urbanization has brought with it a trend towards smaller living spaces, particularly in emerging markets. It has also created a more affluent, and mobile consumer base who seek beauty and functionality from their environment and especially from their furniture. The formal has given way to the casual, the ornate to an unfussy natural Scandinavian minimalism. “Manufacturers and traders need to adjust their business model to accommodate this new consumer if they want to consider redirecting their business to Asia and seizing the opportunity of this fast growing sector” advises Koh.

Koda constantly monitors emerging global trends in design, not only in furniture but also fashion, architecture and landscaping. “We visit exhibitions around the world such as Milan, Shanghai and Koln and also retail stores that are more forward thinking in their approach. We look for materials that are trending and use them to inspire our team of in-house designers,” says Koh. “We've also adjusted our manufacturing capabilities so that we can manufacture exciting and relevant designs at a competitive price. It’s about innovating not only with products but also with factory processes”. 

A good understanding of the relative merits of different timbers in the context of demand also allows Koda to stay ahead. Whilst local, inexpensive timbers are used for commodity and promotional designs, imported American oak and walnut are used for the higher end designs. “We find that American hardwoods are generally superior and consistent in terms of quality which not only means they look good but it makes them better to manufacture” Koh continues “Our customers are familiar with American oak and walnut species and are prepared to pay more for that sort of quality”. Koda also use American tulipwood for internal structures of their furniture “It’s longer in length and has a better yield when compared with local timbers such as Acacia”.

One of the major global issues affecting every business including furniture design and manufacturing is that of sustainability. Again, Koda’s future focused approach has meant they have been well positioned to meet the need for environmentally appropriate design and manufacturing processes. “We consider the environment in totality from design conceptualisation to the recyclability of items after the end of their life” says Mr. Koh. “Environmental concerns need to start from the design stage. Designers need to consider the minimum use of materials, using materials proven to have a better environmental impact whilst achieving a design that works for the market. We also design for our pieces to last. Quality matters as it is much more environmentally responsible to keep and item for longer than disposing of it early”. American hardwood species now have an American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEP) available for each and every shipment which provide certainty not only about the sustainability of a particular consignment but also confirmation as to its legality. This makes it easier for importers, specifiers and manufacturers like Koda to be confident that they are making environmentally and legally sound choices. 

By consistently being at forefront of global trends, using quality materials and having a sensitivity to environmental impact has meant Koda has managed to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Meeting Ernie Koh, one can also see this is has been achieved with a good sense of humour, of reality and importantly with style.


Ernie Koh’s Top Tips for Success in the Furniture Industry. 

1. Look for the niche

2. Be agile

3. Look beyond the furniture industry for inspiration

4. Be prepared for a major shift in global policies

5. Collaborate with like-minded people from within and outside the industry.