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A Swedish Collector Selling Vintage Scandinavian Furniture in Singapore

By Guan Tan

 
Möbler Showroom

In the open-concept showroom, furniture pieces are stacked upwards. For easy browsing, founder Emelie Heden divided the showroom into two major sections, denoting the stylistic era the pieces were from — antique (1800s to 1920s) and mid-century (1930s to 1970s). "It's so interesting to see my customers, how they move around." While Heden initially expected the older customers to buy into antique pieces, they instead gravitate towards the mid-century pieces. Younger consumers, on the other hand, are generally inclined towards antique pieces.

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Brass Saucer

A small, Swedish brass saucer from the early 1900s, available at S$60.

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Copper Kettle & Bowl

In the middle, a Swedish copper kettle from the early 1900s, available at S$110. On the right-most corner, a copper bowl from the early 1900s, available at S$90.

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Punch Bowl Set

A Swedish punch bowl set from the early 1900s, available at S$380.

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Leather Armchair

A Swedish leather armchair from the 1970s, available at S$980.

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Emelie Heden

Founder of Möbler, which literally translates to "furniture", Emelie Heden.

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The Showroom

Möbler is located along Jalan Ampas, off Balestier Road. Visit them every Wednesday through Sunday, from 12:00 PM to 7:00 PM. (Photographs by Felicia Yap)

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For most people, when it comes to an ideal house of one's own, it should smell of fresh paint, have perfectly squared marble tiles, wooden parquet, and impeccably fitted wallpaper. If the interiors were mid-century or retro themed, then the furniture pieces should be new, but sand down or painted with a faux patina to look old. Either way, the objects should smell like newness — quite like the new life that a new house symbolises. 

Yet, for Emelie Heden, an ideal house is one with creaky wooden floorboards. It is her family home back in Stockholm, Sweden. "It's an old house from the 1920s. There's a big garden with apple and pear trees. It's all in wood... There are lots of stories, and a lot of soul in there — for the love of old things." Her family keeps another house far outside of Stockholm, one that they bought when the wars began. "It's the house where my mum was born. They use it as a summer house, they still have it. In there are lots of old stuff and old furniture." And these furnitures are good as new. 

"This is very common in Europe overall. We have so many old things. Sweden is the fifth largest country in Europe. We hold a lot of space and... we have a massive wood supply. Most of the country is forest. Wood is naturally grown," the 35-year-old continues. Coupled with the Scandinavians' pride for traditional craftsmanship and a love for making things, the country has a huge reserve of impeccably-made, old furniture. "We take pride in carpentry, craftsmanship, and creating nice things with your hands. There's a long, long history of that in my country."

To Heden, the world outside of Sweden got the Scandinavian style all wrong. "It's a huge misconception of what Scandinavian is. People put pine wood panels and something light pink and call it Scandinavian. I cringe — cringe at it. I think Scandinavian interior design really is the balance, the mix. We like the contrast. It's a very eclectic mix. We take things we love from a trip, from our grandmother and mix it with IKEA, and an Italian lamp. We want different woods, different patterns, lots of greens — plants, different metals — mix copper with iron, brass." At the heart of this interior style is a marriage of the old and new, an interaction between history and the present, and above all, a fine balance. 

"A naturally worn thing is the most beautiful thing I have known. I'm changing this here in [Singapore]," Heden continues. She moved to Singapore in 2008 and was looking for furniture pieces for herself. "In the beginning when I moved here, I couldn't find interesting things with a soul. What do I do? I have always loved old furniture." She promptly bought herself some old furniture to restore and use. Yet, that made her realise that this was a gap in the local market that she could address.

At this juncture, she was shuttling between work in Singapore and home in Stockholm. She felt like she was "the only one in the world who could do this. I owe this to Singapore and Sweden. It was such a feeling of purpose. It was not monetary of anything. I loved this so much and I knew how I could make this work and make this happen." So Heden took steps to start a Swedish vintage furniture business in Singapore. 

It took Heden two years, between 2014 and 2016, to cement her business plans, seek out suitable investors, obtain advice from a government-backed startup support-group in Stockholm, crowdfund, and run pilot tests with Singaporean consumers. In October 2016, she imported a container full of vintage furniture and officially launched Möbler, which literally means "furniture" in Swedish, in the Balestier district. 

Heden sources from 30 different vintage dealers scattered around the South of Sweden directly. These dealers go around collecting furniture from private estates. "We have so much old stuff, the sales channels are full of old things."  Heden, in turn, buys and imports them to Singapore, where she restores the pieces herself. Her selection is split into two major categories — antique pine and birch pieces, which dates from the 1800s to the end of 1920s, mid-century teak and oak pieces dating from the 1930s to 1970s. 

Yet, no matter which decade the furniture may be from, Heden curates them for the local landscape. She gets both young and old homeowners streaming into her showroom — there should be pieces that will fit into a new Built-to-Order flat, condominium, semi-detached house, or even a nifty office. Likewise, the prices should be kept reasonable, around S$20 to S$80 for home accessories such as vintage glasses and candle holders, S$250 for stools or Thonet chairs, S$800 for a mid-century study desk, and S$1,000 upwards for bookshelves and chests.

Some consumers will definitely baulk at the price. After all, an IKEA table costs S$89. Yet, the difference is found in longevity. "Today when we buy furniture, we keep it for 30 years then we chuck them — they were made to last for 30 years," Heden quips. These vintage Scandinavian furnitures on the other hand "have lasted for at least 50 years, and they will last for an equal amount of time. Some of these items are 200 years old and they, too, will last for the same amount of time. These items have lasted. They will last so much longer as well." Heden quickly reiterates that the Scandinavian style is about balance. The entire house should not be decked in expensive vintage furniture. One or two pieces is more than enough to inject character and soul into a home. Moreover, they can — and should co-exist harmoniously with IKEA items. "Just a few of these pieces, they really create a different feel. It really, really does."