A seemingly Italian name for a Singapore brand, Marano Furniture is the brainchild of Singapore-born Christopher Lim, an industry maverick who spent a large chunk of his career in Shanghai spanning financial services, manufacturing, education and construction, to the current furniture industry. For the most part, he worked with some of the top companies and design institutions in China to retail fit-out projects for luxury retail brands in the Asia Pacific region.

In 2019, he decided to venture into furniture retail by launching Marano in Singapore, creating timeless and artistic pieces that bring wonder and whimsy to modern living spaces. Seeking to radicalise the norms of furniture design, Lim is using Marano as a launchpad for young or under-represented Asian designers to showcase their talent, mastery and quality craftsmanship on a global platform.

“I wanted to create something that is unique and sustainable, something that combines all my career-life experiences — building into a brand that I hope will inspire, redefine and breathe new life into every home, a brand that still allows me to groom local design talents on a global platform, and promises timeless design that excites, made with the finest quality and craftsmanship,” says Lim.

To him, Asian-made furniture is just as good as European brands. And many have shown success in preserving their own identity and design approach in their products. “Being a provider for commercial loose furniture in the Asia-Pacific region, I was fortunate to engage and work with many top manufacturers that possess the scale and capability to produce well-crafted and high-quality furniture in China. Their hunger to push the limits when it comes to meeting the demands of finer details certainly surprised me. Sometimes, they even managed to outshine some of the European suppliers in terms of workmanship and finishing. This has given me a boost in confidence to pursue an interest in furniture design, knowing we can push all creative boundaries,” he shares.

Creating themed collections

Built around themes, each furniture collection is exquisitely crafted with great care for the environment, using high-quality durable materials that are sustainably-sourced. “Every piece of furniture is an art form to me. I hope to change the norms of how furniture is designed by creating theme-centric design collections that would allow our designers to showcase their works at another level,” he wishes.

The most talked about collection this year is Colours of Peking, launched during Singapore Design Week in September. Drawing its design inspiration from two of the four role types from the Beijing Opera — Jing, a prominent male character with striking looks and high social position, and Dan, an elegant female character with soft lines — this luxurious collection comprises 12 pieces of finely-crafted furniture inspired by the intimate play between theatrical costumes, social customs and aesthetics of traditional Chinese opera. 

Bold lines, graceful curves with a touch of theatrical flamboyance, Colours of Peking marries Italian finesse with Art Deco leanings and presents them in well-constructed pieces that will surely spark conversation. “I personally am excited about Colours of Peking. I was fascinated by the aesthetics and theatrical play of the Beijing Opera and decided to challenge my design team to create a full series of furniture based on this design theme,” he explains.

“For the Jing instalment, we focused more on connecting with the intricacies of face painting, which is represented by one of our statement pieces, the Olime Sideboard. For the Dan instalment, we took a wider view and focused on the play between the costume and the makeup, like the Katten Armchair depicting the elegant phoenix crown headdress worn by Dan.”

As part of this collection, Marano has also collaborated exclusively with local budding artist Valerie Ng, who will be developing abstract art pieces of the Jing and Dan characters. These pieces will be sold separately and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Art Outreach, a non-profit arts intermediary dedicated to promoting visual art literacy, presenting innovative art experiences and supporting the development of art practitioners.

Moving with the times

To reduce environmental impact and demonstrate care for its customers, Marano furniture is solely made-to-order, and all the materials used in production are sustainably-sourced and environmentally-friendly. “We use only E0 grade plywood and eco-friendly natural veneer to keep potentially harmful formaldehyde emissions to a minimum, providing a safe home for our customers. Besides furniture, we also offer sustainable packaging materials that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC),” reveals Lim.

With hybrid shopping the norm these days, Lim believes it is also necessary to invest in innovation and digital tools to stay engaged with the customers and help elevate their buying experience. Augmented Reality (AR), now offered on Marano’s website, will help assist customers in designing and visualising their dream living space. “With many of us spending more time at home during the pandemic, AR is used as a tool that can help and inspire our customers in designing and visualising our furniture in their dream living space without the need to step out of their homes. We will continue to seek, invest and adopt new technologies in how we market and sell our furniture to provide our customers a more convenient and better shopping experience like no other.”

To manage the rising cost of materials, Lim will explore more cost-effective and sustainable ways to produce furniture, without compromising on quality and aesthetic. One way is to focus more on the application and upholstery used. “Material and labour costs have escalated over the years due to the pandemic and global political situation. In turn, many business owners have to find alternative ways to manage customer expectations with better product design and quality to match with their high selling price,” he says.

The other challenge for him is also reaching out to the right customers who will appreciate Marano’s thematic approach to design, as it can be very niche and subjective. “I hope to further expand on our design-themed furniture offerings to appeal to a wider variety of consumers and ensure we keep a closer connection to everyone’s needs and desires when considering furniture for their homes,” he affirms.

Meanwhile, Marano will stay committed to its main goal of collaborating with designers and institutions to create a multidisciplinary platform for them to showcase their artisanal capabilities. “Being a new brand, it is often difficult to convince industry partners and educators of our vision to be an incubating platform for young design talents. We are working to create more exposure and opportunities to draw more attention to our brand philosophy and work with multidisciplinary designers.

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