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Leveraging on Collaboration

Furniture brand Ariake was born from a melting pot of collaboration. We find out more from designer and design producer Gabriel Tan, who collaborated with two Japanese furniture companies to launch the brand.

Leveraging on Collaboration

Ariake armchair in natural finish (left) and Ariake chair in indigo finish (right) by Gabriel Tan

‘Collaboration’ has been the buzzword in the work environment for a while now. As the world’s economy continues to suffer, pooling and sharing resources with colleagues can sustain and even reinvigorate businesses. This applies in the furniture industry too – just ask Gabriel Tan, a veteran in forming design collectives and initiating collaborative projects that have, so far, never failed to produce interesting outcome. Tan’s latest labour of love as a design producer is Ariake, a new furniture brand debuted at International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS) in March.

Ariake is a brand owned by Legnatec and Hirata Chair, two furniture companies (a cabinet specialist and a chair specialist, respectively) with factories based in the town of Morodomi in Saga Prefecture, Japan. Prior to creating the brand, the two companies had jointly exhibited in IFFS for two years without much success. They asked Tan to design a collection that is more suitable for Singapore market. Tan made the observation that with the high cost of furniture production in Japan, the companies would not be able to compete with other brands exporting furniture produced elsewhere at a lower price point – a more ambitious strategy would be needed.

“The only way to raise the value of their products is through design,” said Tan at Ariake’s booth at IFFS, “and to get people to feel they are luxury products that could be exported not just to Singapore, but to New York, London and other global cities with shared urban values and an appreciation for Japanese craft and design.” In short, Tan told the brand to go big or go home. They decided to go big and raised the budget to six times the original to invest on an international design team Tan formed to create a completely new furniture brand for them.

This international team consists of furniture designers Tan, Espen Voll of Norwegian design studio Anderssen & Voll, Japanese architect Keiji Ashizawa, and Swedish designer Staffan Holm. Swiss design studio AnnerPerrin designed the branding and Swiss photographer Sebastian Stadler documented the visuals. An eight-day intensive workshop in Morodomi yielded a collection of 18 furniture pieces that utilises the best of hand and machine, inspired by the spirit of Japanese culture and urban living contexts. The result is very much to international taste, with a Japanese twist.

Anderssen & Voll’s Saga chair, for example, offers all the comfort and sleek look of a leather lounge chair in very compact proportions. Ashizawa’s Sagyo table is built with a raised pedestal to provide an extra table surface for small working spaces. Tan’s Ariake chair is made to be lightweight in consideration of the ageing population (that will dominate Asia in the coming decades). And Holm’s Kumiko cabinet is designed to display lighting objects that would cast a play of shadow through its screen.

The collection mixes wood (of both imported and Japanese-native varieties), paper cord and leather with unique natural finishes like indigo and sumi ink. Made from candle soot, sumi-ink is used to dye the wood black without diminishing its natural grain like paint. Ariake is the first brand to use sumi for commercial production.

Ariake collection is available online at

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