Diverge and Conquer: Defying the Norm with Commune’s Julian Koh
His interest in design stemmed from an early exposure to his family-run furniture manufacturing business and the trade shows they’d attend both locally and overseas. “I saw the limitless possibilities in creating products with different mediums and materials and how spaces can be transformed with different elements that affect our emotion.” We speak to Julian Koh, Brand and Design Director of Commune and Alt.o, on his pursuits in creating products and environments that defy the norm.
From a young age, Brand and Design Director Julian Koh had a childhood that was different from many of his peers. The designer would spend lots of his free time redecorating his room as well as different parts of the multi-generational home. Now the Chief Design Officer of Commune, with sister brand Alt.o launched three years ago, Julian continues this habit, using his home as a testbed for new products.
“Using the home as the testbed also gives me many opportunities to change the look and feel of our space, living in a different “movie set” every passing year.”
It is through this practice that products are ritually put to the test on how viable and functional they would be in the customer’s home. It also helps Julian to fine-tune the products to fit the needs and desires of the clientele that he’s designing for. This attention to detail and keen understanding of their customer’s needs is what led them to being chosen for the prestigious Made with Passion brand mark last year, and being a representative of some of the finest Singaporean brands. “Being recognised for our design and craftsmanship is a huge honour for us,” says Julian. “Even in our other markets such as Europe and China, we have always been proudly promoting ourselves as a Singapore brand which they appreciate.”
Never resting on their laurels, the team at Commune are constantly pushing the boundaries of design not just for aesthetics, but a whole sensory experience that affects one’s emotions. The brand curates unique experiences for all five senses – from an in-house scent laboratory to customise scents to specially designed lighting and serving coffee at their physical stores to imbue a sense of cosiness and warmth. They’ve also done extensive research in transferring this emotive design to the online space, incorporating VR and AR technology into their ecosystem since 2017 to bring their products and experiences closer to their customers.
As such, their business has expanded exponentially since Commune’s inception in 2011, having opened over 80 stores in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. As the demand for their products grew, they also saw an increase in demand for more sizeable furniture to fit into bigger spaces like villas and penthouses. Thus, sister brand Alt.o (short for Alternative Objects) was designed and created to accommodate a different demographic from Commune. “The idea of Alt.o is to create products and environments that take you away to your dream location of choice,” says Julian. The space and design of the collection exudes understated luxury with soft brutalist and art deco influences – the designs of the spaces are reminiscent of a boutique hotel, with rooms of various thematic environments such as a Californian beach or a Manhattan lounge bar.
It is a known fact that the designer is an avid traveler and usually gleans inspiration for his designs from his travels. With the pandemic and travel restrictions in place, Julian is looking locally as well as keeping up with social media for inspiration. “ It allowed us to explore and appreciate the place we live in more, unveiling our eyes to see details that we didn’t see in the past,” he says. However, he stresses that the true inspiration for his designs have always been his end users. “We gain our inspiration from understanding human nature, on our wants, needs and desires, allowing us to design products that improve people’s everyday life.”
Moving forward, Julian and his team are working on new collections for both Commune and Alt.o – titled Creme and Siena respectively. The collections were designed for customers who seek a more serene environment in their homes or commercial spaces, a stark contrast to their earlier collections such as the edgy rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics of the Volta collection. “For this year’s collection, we would like to focus on tranquility and serenity,”says Julian. “Thus these collections will be in a natural and neutral tone, allowing the details to take centre stage.”
All images are courtesy of Julian Koh, Commune and Alt.o.
For more information on Commune and Alt.o, visit https://thecommunelife.com/
Discover more about the Made with Passion brand mark at https://www.visitsingapore.com/madewithpassion/
14 October 2021
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