An international award winning furniture designer, Nathan Yong is one of the few well recognised furniture design extraordinaire in Singapore. FFE talks to the gentleman and finds out more about his journey in design.

Bloom, for Ligne Roset
Strange as it may seem, Nathan Yong’s chosen first job was to work as a furniture salesman despite having graduated with a Masters in Design from the University of New South Wales, Australia. According to Yong, this was because the then youthful man was determined to invest his time to learn the furniture trade inside out. Thus his subsequent jobs included being a merchandiser when he got to travel to the different Asian countries in search of manufacturers of furniture and home accessories. His belief is that to excel in design, he needed to understand the whole mechanism from creation to merchandising display in a shop setting.

As a child, Yong liked to draw and never thought he was good at science and math. His focus shifted onto toys and figuring out the joinery of toys, then later designed toys with parts that he would scavenge from the beach near his house. Growing up near a beach and shipyard gave him lots of imaginary cues and provided a lot of play and exploration. Perhaps his childhood clues us in on the early influences that helped mould his curiosity towards design. His philosophy as a designer is to be passionate about the greater environment, the social environment and culture which, is life itself. Yong adds that constantly questioning everything, asking relevant questions is crucial in finding solutions that help in the betterment of products that might someday become artefacts that contribute towards the advancement of our cultural heritage. His sensitivity towards his environment, spaces, interactions between people and objects provides a library for inspirations for his designs.

Having been in the industry for about 17 years, Yong still practises the method of stripping things down to its essentials and re-evaluate the purpose of their existence with the users’ needs and aspirations in mind. With this, he then creates solutions that use discreet engineering that is cleverly manipulated to look effortless to make.

The designer recounted his design process which included research, material knowledge, engineering, production, trend observation, taking into account customers’ needs/aspirations, costing, merchandising but not necessarily in that order. The materials that Yong uses are based on the characteristics that will fit into the beauty, functionality and productivity aspects of his designs. Some of the materials he uses include wood, metal, upholstery, marble, leather and stones.

One of Yong’s many memorable designs, Bipod, is a project prompted by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami where he investigated the issue of giving the high number of deceased a proper burial in face of such calamity. He had to solve the problem of the production of a large number of coffins within a short time frame with criterias such as light weight, easy and cost effective to ship and handle. The result was to use recycled fibre chips mixed with resin to create a thin layer of skin that can be stamped to produce one half of a capsule; putting two together completes a coffin.

Yong found meaning and purpose in designing objects that are more than just a piece of furniture, but that which leaves a big impact in helping the world as an industrial designer. The Bipod won the renowned Red Dot Best Concept award in 2006. Two years later, he received the President’s Design Award, Singapore’s most prestigious accolade for design where he was recognised as “the most promising Young Designer on the international scene”. He was the first industrial designer to have won this highest honour available for a Singaporean designer.

When asked about his favourite project, Yong names his LINE collection as it seems simple for most people but with many unseen technical aspects to the design. The LINE collection is designed to be discreet without compromising the simplicity of it looking from the outside. Some parts of the collection is made of solid wood that expand and warp without proper support, the challenge for Yong was to design a sturdy furniture that is also elegant. This collection is the epitome of Yong’s beautiful designs that is also highly functional and practical. The elegant LINE console cleverly hides the unsightly wires and electronic consoles yet allows infrared activity through the louvres, giving users control of their appliances. Another reason why LINE is Yong’s favourite project is because this collection launched his career in the US; Design Within Reach bought the design, developed more cabinets with Yong that became their best sellers for the past six years.

The latest collection from the Yong is named The Constellation. It is an exploration of simple shapes and lines that is inspired by 20’s modernism. There is a stripping down of constructions and materials used but there are also parts that he uses brass and velvet that lend itself to romanticism. Yong looks at it as a somber collection in our time reflecting the world finance climate yet there are still elements of luxury, materials that has good patina when used to make it a positive and refreshing collection.

Yong’s methodology has provided his designs commercial success and longevity in the market. His works are sold internationally to brands such as Design Within Reach in the US, and to companies from Australia, Korea and Japan.

Yong has a retail business in Singapore by the name of GRAFUNKT which he had co-founded with a partner. The company imports international brands like Hay, Ton, & Tradition, Menu etc and is the sole distributor for French brand Ligne Roset and the Japanese Conde House in Singapore. Yong also created a brand called FOLKS furniture which he licence with a factory in Singapore. NATHAN YONG DESIGN on the other hand is a design and strategy consultancy that helps companies with furniture design collection to be launched worldwide. His clients include Living Divani and Gebruder Thonet Vienna from Italy, Design Within Reach from US, Ligne Roset from France and Ethnicraft from Belgium, etc.

In the pipeline is the impending launch of NATHAN YONG, Yong’s eponymous brand. This is scheduled for next year with full collections of furniture including sofas, consoles, table and chairs. Providing some hints of what is to be expected, Yong shared that they are reflections of inspirations from the Asian vernacular.