Repurposing salvaged wood for a living
Najihah S 
Woo (left) and Yang started the business out of passion and self-funded the business

A room filled with wooden furniture will provide a sense of calmness. However, factors such as high maintenance and unethical deforestation tend to hinder many consumers from purchasing a furniture piece made of wood.

Realising the issues affecting the industry, coupled with a passion in being environmentally friendly, the husband and wife team began collecting salvaged wood and turning them into furniture pieces.

Established in 2014, Art Of Tree is a company that designs and manufactures furniture pieces from salvaged wood. The company was self-funded by Jeffrey Yang who was in the business of exporting ornamental fish and his wife, Joey Woo who was in the oil and gas industry.

“Prior to this, I was involved in the export of ornamental fish. That was how I got acquainted with sawmills. Because of that, I picked up a skill on how to select the right wood for a piece of furniture. I began making small pieces and that prompted me to turn it into a business.

“During the first two years of this business, we were still leveraging from the fish export business and eventually I liquidated the assets [sold early this year] from the fish business to focus on Art Of Tree,” says Yang.


Unique selling points

Woo points out the unique selling points of their products are that it focuses on salvaged trees and add other elements such as metal or glass to turn them into furniture pieces.

“Everything is done in-house, including out metal wicks except for the glassworks. Furniture is done at our factory, which is located 10 minutes away from the showroom,” she shares.

Yang explains that initially it was challenging to find wood slabs in the city area and finding cooperative sawmills took some time.

“Supply is scarce and there are not a lot of sawmills in the city area. These trees come from the cities where there are land-clearing activities. Sawmills cut the trees and we will get the wood from them. What we are doing is to repurpose the wood,” he says.

The company now also works hand in hand with the local council to receive developments on fallen trees and land clearance.

“Town councils do not have much space to store fallen trees, hence they will call up sawmills. Whenever we receive calls from sawmills on fallen trees, this is the time where we’ll secure the wood.  There are times also where we will get calls from town councils on fallen trees, ” says Woo.


Intricacies of wood work

Art Of Tree finds that it is important to incorporate unconventional designs to its pieces as the salvaged wood is hard to come by.

“There weren’t many reference that we could relate to before starting this business because it is relatively new here. We were driven by interest and passion and thoughts on profit and sustaining the business did not come to mind at all at that point.

“In terms of design, we drew some ideas and inspiration from the ones that are done in the [United] States and Europe and we would like our furniture to be contemporary. Unlike forest trees, city trees are irregular in shape, so when you cut them, you can find very interesting shapes,” Yang shares.

Yang explains that the wood would need to be dried out and it could take up two to six months, depending on the size due to the high moisture content.

The company also does resin (preservation) works for wood that are infected with cavities and turns the imperfection into patterns instead of discarding the wood.

“Timbre slabs can be as heavy as 200kgs and usually sawmills will just cut off the part that is spoiled. But we would keep the parts and it takes an artistic eye to know which cavity is nice enough to keep and Yang has an eye for that,” Woo says.

The most common type of wood that Art of Tree receives from sawmills are Kayu Sua (raintree), Acacia, Angsana and Ketapang. “We have managed to get some forest trees, those that have fallen such as Merbau and Cengal,” says Yang.

“Initially, it was around RM10,000 to RM20,000 worth of wood purchase and now the capacity has grown to RM80,000 to RM100,000 worth of wood purchase each visit. Purchase visit is done three to six times in the past year,” Woo adds.


Changing perception

Yang says demand for wooden furniture is picking up as customers’ perception on such items has started to change.

“When people talk about wooden table tops, they naturally think of Indonesia or Thailand. But when they look at our furniture, they change their minds,” Yang adds.

Woo, who is involved in the business development of the company, says, “We have started moving into getting clients from the food and beverage (F&B) sector as well as interior design.

“Our sales only began growing last year. We have been selling 5-10 dining tables monthly to homeowners while interior design firms purchase 10-20 dining tables and 10-15 coffee tables. The most sought-after product of ours would be the dining table as it will be the centrepiece in the house. It is also a place where family members gather.”

Its stools are priced between RM400 and RM600 each while coffee tables are at RM1,200 to RM3,600 each and an eight-seater dining table at around RM6,000.


Aggressive marketing strategy

Art Of Tree is already looking at expanding its business via exhibitions, awareness campaigns and overseas markets as well.

“We are working closely with interior designers and it is helping us generate a larger customer base [corporate clients]. We have also attracted home developers in their projects.

“By working with interior designers, we recently managed to export our products to Saudi Arabia. We would like to do more of that. We are in talks with some companies in Singapore and hopefully it will pan out,” Woo says.

Dining tables made of wood slabs are Art of Tree’s best-selling items

Art of Tree, which currently has 11 employees in the factory and two in the showroom, will also be more active in home-decorating events.

Woo says, “We have just participated in the iProperty expo and we will take part in Homedec in October. We were not prepared before this, but starting this year, we will be seen more at these types of events.”

Art of Tree will also look into the aspect of awareness and highlighting the benefits of purchasing furniture made from salvaged wood. The campaign will come in video format, and aims to spark interest on repurposing trees.

“We have engaged a production house to prepare a video in raising the awareness on salvaged trees,” says Woo.

The purpose of repurposing

REPURPOSING an item can be done by modifying it to fit a new use, or by using the item as is in a new way. The practice is not limited to physical items, and is a common practice for marketing material and content

Typically, repurposing is done using items usually considered to be junk, garbage, or obsolete. For example, Earthship-style of house that uses tyres as insulating walls and bottles as glass walls.

Reuse is not limited to repeated uses for the same purpose. Examples of repurposing include using tyres as boat fenders and steel drums or plastic drums as feeding troughs and/or composting bins.

Not all repurposing is necessarily environmentally friendly. Take for instance the idea of repurposing older work trucks for businesses in their infancy. This is where their poor fuel economy can negate long term benefits since greater spending of money for fuel, and more fumes output can prove to be environmentally unfriendly.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 250.