Danny Ho is the co-owner of the Curiousity Shop which has been selling vintage furniture for the past 10 years.
Old furniture used to be shunned by many Malaysians. There may be ghosts or spirits in them, they would say. Or they might shudder: what if it was used by someone is now dead? Or they might simply feel it’s too dated.
But now, things have changed. The nostalgia craze has taken flight, especially in public spaces like cafés and restaurants where grandma’s furniture make chic décor.
“Now, when we talk to people, they refer to old furniture in nostalgic terms such as remembering the same pieces in their grandmother’s kitchen, rather than saying ‘oh, got people die or not’ as they did before,” said Danny Ho, the co-owner of the Curiousity Shop which has been selling vintage furniture for the last 10 years.
Yes, it’s spelt Curiousity, simply because ‘Curiosity Shop’ had already been taken, both online and in the real world. They didn’t figure on having to keep explaining the name, though.
“People still keep asking so I guess it has helped us stand out,” said Ho.
When it opened a decade ago in Changkat Bukit Bintang, it was mostly expatriates and collectors who came to their prewar house to scour the stacks of furniture to find treasure.
In the first four years, he said they barely earned anything but in their fifth year, the vintage trend began to take off and has yet to end.
Today, many more Malaysians are interested in vintage for home décor especially young people who travel and are exposed to different ideas. He said social media especially Instagram has played no small role in spreading the trend as people like to “share, share, share”.
This vintage trend is perhaps part of nostalgia wave unleashed by the inclusion of George Town and Malacca on the Unesco World Heritage list in 2008, as well as the by-product of an increasingly hectic lifestyle afflicting most city folk.
Ho said people now tended to view the past as romantic because life has become too fast and too complicated.
Two years ago, Ho and his business partner opened a full-fledged store in Mont Kiara, a crammed treasure trove of restored vintage pieces or furniture inspired by vintage designs. Even the familiar round nylon string chairs of our childhood are there!
“These chairs are still being made, but they aren’t common anymore,” he said.
It started out as a hobby for Ho who had once worked in fashion. In fashion, he said, people often sought inspiration from the past, and while researching vintage fashion, he found himself becoming interested in the wider trends.
He and his partner started collecting interesting pieces but soon found their space looking like a warehouse. To whittle down the stacks, they sold some pieces and found themselves in business.
“The thing with vintage, one is never enough. You keep seeing something new,” he said. “Once we sold one item, we bought two more!
Today, they own more than 200 tables, 500 chairs, 200 cupboards and many more items.
“We probably have the biggest collection of bar counters, 15 of them,” he said.
Prices range from RM80 for a stool up to RM30,000 for a dining table.
Ho can’t say exactly how many pieces they own but he knows what’s among the stacks. If a customer asks for a specific type of table or chair, he would know if they had one.
Armchairs are now the most popular item while dressing tables languish unwanted. The latter has quietly gone out of fashion.
Ho said they source their furniture mostly from Malaysia, Singapore, US and Scandinavia, and sell to walk-in customers as well as commercial entities like hotels, cafés and restaurants.
Given the scarce supply of vintage furniture and their relative high price, they now also work with carpenters to make vintage-inspired furniture such as beautiful wooden rocking chairs, dining chairs and tables.
He believed that vintage is here to stay.
“In Malaysia, vintage is still considered a trend that is picking up. But in many countries, the vintage trade or market is established as part of the scene,” said Ho.
A field table from the Vietnam War era which can be folded to become a sturdy metal box.