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Derek Lim of Space Furniture discusses the future plans of the Australian brand on its 30th anniversary

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 8 min read
Derek Lim of Space Furniture discusses the future plans of the Australian brand on its 30th anniversary
Photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore
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For 30 years, Space Furniture has not merely furnished spaces; it has orchestrated experiences. Each piece — meticulously selected — whispered stories of creativity and craftsmanship, inviting us to dance with the sublime. From the sleek lines of modern minimalism to the opulent curves of timeless classics, every offering in Space Furniture’s repertoire is a testament to the diverse notes of design that compose our lives.

Space launched its first showroom in Sydney in 1993 by the Harvey Norman group, quickly elevating itself to a leading purveyor of premium contemporary furniture in Australia. Its dedication to assembling an exclusive collection of high-end designer pieces that reflect cutting-edge design trends and custom-made craftsmanship solidified its status as an authority in the field.

Often seen as a tastemaker, Space carries world-renowned brands like B&B Italia, Maxalto, Arflex, Edra, Kartell, Moooi and SP01, 70% of which are made in Italy. Its star-studded catalogue hinges less on trends and more on timeless revolutionary pieces, capturing the hearts of design geeks and professionals in the architecture and interior design sectors engaged in upscale homes, multi-residential projects, hotels, restaurants and offices.

Today, Space has five purpose-built showrooms in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, each with architect-designed interior environments that represent the quality and rigour of the furniture collection. The most stunning is the Space Singapore showroom designed by award-winning architecture firm WOHA. Sitting pretty within the city’s arts precinct — surrounded by restaurants, public museums and private galleries — the flagship outlet at Bencoolen Street opened in 2011 to an investment tune of $50 million.

Nestled in a cluster of pre-war buildings within a conservation area, the colonial property, adorned in white, consists of two preserved structures — a villa and a shophouse — framing an existing infill unit. With adaptive reuse and careful architectural adjustments, the redevelopment has transformed into a modern retail showroom with expanded lifestyle amenities, preserving its heritage charm.

See also: Transforming design dreams into reality

As it reaches its 30th anniversary milestone, Space’s trajectory beckons reflection on a journey of sophistication, innovation and lasting appeal. In celebration of this, the contemporary furnishing retailer is working with WOHA again to give its Singapore showroom a major facelift, slated for completion by the end of October. Options recently sat down with Space Furniture Asia’s general manager Derek Lim to get insights on the furniture landscape and where the company is headed.

It must be inspiring for you to work in this amazing space every day.

Growing up, I always appreciated art and design and was curious about colours, shapes, and patterns. One of the many perks of my job is meeting and speaking with amazingly talented individuals and seeing things through their perspective and creative lens. Another would be working in this beautifully-conserved heritage building amidst 40,000 sq ft of the finest interiors — the best office anyone could ask for. Design is infinite and without boundaries — fascinating and humbling as you observe and learn new things daily. No two days are the same!

See also: Hermès creates a multi-faceted collection for the home, presented at Milan Design Week 2023

I bet you own some pieces from Space.

I have a small collection of pieces from B&B Italia, Poliform, Moooi and Kartell. I gravitate towards brands with contemporary designs that stand the test of time. They look great by themselves or as a setting with other complementary pieces. Quality, comfort, and utility are key considerations that help me choose.

There are too many fascinating designers to speak of, but the one that stands out for me is Eileen Gray, a pioneer of the modernist movement for her bold furniture designs and architecture in a male-centric era. Considered a classic today, her tubular steel furniture was revolutionary in the early 20th century, and it was then that icons like the Adjustable Table E1027 and the Bibendum armchair were conceived.

In your opinion, how has furniture design evolved over the years?

Over the years, the industry has seen a shift in consumer preferences towards minimalism and sustainability in furniture design. There is a tendency for designs to be more curvaceous, compact, and feminine, drawing inspiration from the aesthetics of the 1970s. This trend has been reflected in Poliform, Kartell, and B&B Italia brands.

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In 2021, Poliform made a bold move by introducing its first-ever curved sofa, the Saint Germain. Inspired by the sensual shapes reminiscent of 1970s design, it marks a turning point for the brand. Poliform has continued to expand its collection with more curvaceous options, like the recent addition of the Brera sofa designed by Jean-Marie Massaud.

Beloved brands like Kartell and B&B Italia have embraced circularity by reimagining materials and minimising their carbon footprint throughout their value chain. Kartell, known for its plastic designs, has introduced a collection made of wood. Iconic products like the Componibili by Anna Castelli Ferrieri and A. I by Philippe Starck, are now made with recycled materials.

Similarly, B&B Italia has focused on circularity, bringing back design icons like the Camaleonda and Le Bambole, designed by Mario Bellini in the 1970s, while incorporating more than 80% recyclable materials in their collections. This approach demonstrates their dedication to incorporating sustainable practices and materials into their designs.

How have e-commerce platforms like HipVan and Taobao impacted furniture retail?

Platforms like HipVan and Taobao have significantly transformed the furniture retail landscape by introducing online marketplaces that offer a wide range of products, competitive prices, and convenient shopping experiences.

In an evolving industry, the Space group has remained relevant and competitive by adapting to the changing consumer behaviours and leveraging its unique strengths by focusing on curated selections, physical showrooms, design expertise, exclusive partnerships, exceptional customer service, and e-commerce integration. These points differentiate us as we cater to customers seeking unique, authentic, high-quality furniture and the ultimate luxury shopping experience.

How do you deal with the current challenges of bricks-and-mortar retail?

For us to thrive in the ever-changing landscape, we adopt various strategies to address the challenges of bricks-and-mortar retail while embracing the digital era by enhancing our in-store experience, integrating digital technologies, adopting an omnichannel approach, offering personalisation and customisation, emphasising customer service, and engaging with the design community. With our commitment to innovation and digitalisation, we continuously strive to provide exceptional service and inspire our customers in their furniture shopping journey.

Sustainability must be a big buzzword for the company.

Space has strongly advocated conscious consumerism since it began with a “buy-once-buy-well” philosophy. I think for us, as a retailer, we take this concept very close to heart and have been working with an Australian-based environmental agency to help the company become carbon-neutral and adopt a circular design methodology. We are reviewing and measuring our carbon footprint, energy consumption and materials across supply chains. The journey begins with a full transport audit and product data collection across materials and brands.

Like our partners and friends across the design industry, Space Furniture’s philosophy’s founding principle is to support design built on quality, function, beauty, and product longevity to shift the overconsumption model and discourage the throwaway culture fundamentally.

Responsible material sourcing and sustainable manufacturing processes will be non-negotiables as the industry continues its journey towards a cradle-to-cradle system where all materials are recycled or returned to the natural environment. This needs to be a concerted effort from all stakeholders across the value chain to do our part to leave a legacy and give back to the environment for our future generations to enjoy.

What are the main highlights to anticipate with the revamped showroom?

As we mark our 30th anniversary, we embark on a journey that will give us a refreshed look and elevate the customer experience to new heights. Twelve years ago, WOHA helped us breathe life into this property, and they will once again reimagine our space, creating an environment that truly showcases the brand and design ethos we embody. We’re adding more architectural elements to the frontage of the showroom, especially the lobby and reception area. Tweaks to the flooring and lighting will also ensure a refreshed look for Space.

What’s next for the company?

We are working on initiatives that will take us to the next level – to ensure that we present the brands we represent best and deliver the highest level of customer service to our clients. This includes Space Atelier, an exclusive design service for clients seeking a completely personalised interior solution for their homes.

I hope Space will constantly evolve and strive towards perfection for the next 30 years! We aspire to be recognised as the destination for luxury furnishing and provide a sanctuary for inspiration, great design and excellent service.

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