Story and photos by Cynthia Hoo
Farah Azizan and Adela Askandar are architects. They design spaces. But as they worked on more and more spaces, they soon realised that designing spaces isn’t enough to bring to fruition their vision.
They found that they needed to design the interior, too.
“Our ethos is good design, and when we work on projects, everything has to fit like a jigsaw puzzle, so we ended up designing furniture and fittings too,” Adela said.
And so Kedai Bikin was born.
Kedai Bikin is an offshoot of their Studio Bikin architectural consultancy. It is the retail section for their furniture, fittings and furnishings, and also a showcase for other Malaysian designers.
It started as a pop-up store in the uber-hip Publika mall in Kuala Lumpur last year. Last December, it moved into its own space in the newly-gentrifying Bangsar Utama after a tie-up with Dutch designer Lisette Scheers.
Their new premises is a gorgeous renovated old shoplot which resembles a Penang courtyard house with high ceilings and light streaming from an airwell.
Kedai Bikin’s range of furniture is quirky yet edgy. A deft use of steel and concrete gives it heft as well as lightness. They tend to have simple clean lines but in startlingly quirky colours. Some pieces also adopt traditional crafts like woven rattan as chair seats.
To older Malaysians, it would be a walk down nostalgia lane to find a remake of their old favourites like the string chairs and loungers that are so familiar to many of us.
The furniture is complemented by the Nala range of throw cushions (pic), stationery, bags and accessories designed by Scheers that add softness to the stern lines.
Furniture, fittings and furnishings still a niche segment
Kedai Bikin’s range is a refreshing alternative to what’s available out there, and there isn’t a lot. Despite Malaysia being a major furniture manufacturer, there isn’t much choice available to Malaysians looking for stylish contemporary pieces.
It’s either Ikea or bank-breaking designer pieces.
“We are well behind Thailand or Indonesia where the design industry is already well ahead,” said Adela.
That was why Kedai Bikin was such a hit in the few months that it was a pop-up store in Publika.
But it was not just a shop, it also became a platform for locally designed and made furniture for the local market. Creative Malaysians flocked to set up collaborations, design students came to inspect the products, and Kedai Bikin soon became an archival library of sorts.
It showed the vast extent of the Malaysian talent in this niche field, and just how little of it is known to the public.
But it was an expensive venture, not made easier by the challenges of manufacture.
First, they had to work hard to persuade craftsmen like traditional rattan makers to weave in different shapes.
“We can modernise and contemporarise traditional crafts but they don’t want to move beyond the old ways,” Farah said.
Then, mass production is expensive. “There is so much potential but to create a line, we need investors,” said Adela. “We are looking for distributors for our ‘affordable range’ which include remakes of classic tropical designs.”
Due to the challenges, Farah and Adela are now focusing more on their architectural consultancy work although Kedai Bikin still exists as a complement.
They still hope to take Kedai Bikin further after seeing the huge thirst out there for good design, and the vast talent among Malaysians. Furniture, fittings and furnishings are still pretty much a niche segment in Malaysia but, clearly, the potential is there.
“Even our small venture received such a huge response. That was really an eye-opener for us,” Adela said. “Where this will take us? We’re not sure yet but we’re happy if it helps put local designers like us on the map and garner more support in the creative industry.”