Saturday, September 08, 2007

Where furniture are the stars


TUCKED in Thonglor, a funky area in Bangkok, is an Italian restaurant with furniture that are in themselves famous.

Some of the retro and modern furnishing in Tuba Restaurant have had unnamed roles in Thai movies, magazines, commercials and fashion shows.

Almost all of Tuba’s furnishings are for sale or rent. Supoj Siripornlertkul, the 55-year-old owner of Tuba, launched the restaurant two years ago so that he can have a convenient place to hang out in, as his home is close by.

Supoj’s main business is buying, selling and renting furniture.

“Yes, that chair is for sale or for rent. You can buy it for 6,000 baht (RM645) or rent it for a few days for 30% of the price,” says Supoj, referring to the iconic Eames Shell Chair that I was sitting on.

He had the shell chair repainted shiny purple after he acquired it from a Bangkok second hand furniture dealer.

“Yes, I’ve rented it (the Eames Shell Chair) out. Am not sure to whom, as my staff takes care of that, probably for some movie or fashion shoot or something,” he adds.

Asked to name the Thai movies that his furniture had appeared in, Supoj, who does not encumber himself with the triviality of a purchase or a rental, could only think of Ploy, a 2007 Thai movie written and directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang.

But he could remember such names as Greyhound Cafe and True Cafe in Siam Paragon and Khao San road, and Vanilla Cafe in Bangkok, chic restaurants and cafes with distinctive decor he had furnished.

Then Supoj got out of the yellow-coloured Eames Shell Chair he was sitting on to show off his restaurant/furniture store.

He pointed out such iconic chairs as a Harry Bertoiathe Bird Chair, Pierre Paulin Ribbon Chair and Eero Saarinen Womb Chair that are either an original or a knockoff, a Louis XVII cupboard (sold for 500,000 baht or RM53,700 to a woman whose house was under construction) and the Love Chair (a prototype chair resembling a woman’s figure that Supoj designed two years ago).

Returning to the yellow-coloured chair, Supoj reveals that his 20-year-old furniture business “is not doing so good”.

“I’m not serious about this business. It has been like a hobby for me,” explains the businessman who in the last four years has amassed furniture worth 30 million baht (RM3.2mil).

“Whenever I make money from my furniture, I would buy more furniture. I don’t really need money; all I need is this one packet and this,” Supoj, dressed in fisherman pants, adds while pointing at his Marlboro Lights and cup of coffee.

And then the man, who is a minimalist in terms of spoken words, drove me to his warehouse, Papaya, which is about 7km away, to visually explain why Bangkok’s creative directors and interior designer seek his furniture.

During the 20-minute drive, he explains that his 5,000 square metre warehouse is a favourite hunting ground because “when they look for something which is not available in (the mainstream) shops, they will come to mine”.

At Papaya, a beaming Supoj introduced a recently purchased television set, which is probably unavailable in any shop in Thailand.

“I’m sure you’ve never seen this in your life,” he said, pointing something that looks like it came from outer space.

In fact, it is a Televia (a French-made television which was manufactured in the 1950s) that he snapped up for 150,000 baht (RM16,100) on eBay.

The set, which Supoj describes as the most beautiful TV set in the world, is not for sale.

But it can be rented for 30,000 baht (RM3,200).

Nearby, sitting on a rather non-iconic chair, was Meow, a creative director with Matching Studio, which is an award-winning Thai company that produces commercial films.

She was at the warehouse to scout for props for an I-Mobile handphone commercial.

“Papaya has many, many things,” she says, to explain why she is a fan of the warehouse, which resembles a flea market.

The item Meow rented was a sofa, which after the I-Mobile commercial is released will take on a fame of its own.

(Published in The Star on Sept 8, 2007)