It has been a little over a decade since I have had a job that requires a fair amount of manual labour. From 2007 to 2008, I had the opportunity to work as an art gallery technician; hanging artwork, logistics and delivery, the whole manual labour aspect of the visual arts business. It definitely has its challenges – imagine trying to install a painting as tall as you and as wide as two vans parked end to end by yourself.
I am proud to be able to handle tools as well as my father. Being on that side of the art scene also made me appreciate the workmanship behind the after-sales service that craft companies offer. Alas, after my stint in the gallery ended, my career trajectory landed me in cushy office environments, thus ending my ‘handyman’ status.
Fast forward 12 years, I find myself at the edge of an industrial park in Eunos with familiar feelings of bittersweet nostalgia yet, I have no business being here. This feeling quickly subsides as I spot Darryl, founder of The Table Guy, walking towards me at the entrance of the showroom. He wears a grey t-shirt and khaki trousers and sets an accessible and welcoming tone to the atmosphere that could very well be intimidating for the type of quality products that are on display.
We exchange pleasantries, and I get my bearings to what is impressively, and ultimately your one-stop destination for all things wood. The Table Guy—person, craftsman, creator—acquired three units in the Richfield Industrial Centre so that The Table Guy—company, daring pursuit, feat of courage—can have its showroom, stockroom, and workshop under one roof. Not a small feat considering he started out from a spare bedroom not too long ago.
The Table Guy was founded in 2017 by Darryl, who came from an almost decade strong background of real estate investment and management. His captivation of how our daily environments impact human lives and society cements his belief that routine interaction with beautiful things enriches our lives.
Darryl takes us on a breezy tour of his service establishment trifecta. Wood slabs lean against the walls, while the assembled pieces and accompanying chairs take centre stage in this space. The smell of sawdust intoxicates the air in the workshop and unfinished pieces line the workbenches for further crafting into perfection. In their office, I notice a 3d printer used to print out new furniture ideas. I express how I love that nerdy element of the business. “Furniture, geeks!” Darryl exclaims.
Zahir Latif: How do you describe what you do to someone you’re meeting for the first time?
Darryl Loh: I would say that I’m in the business of making statement furniture, and I specialise in solid wood. Statement furniture doesn’t have to be all the furniture in your home; it can be a few iconic pieces. They are customised to your individual needs, for example, a lounge chair. Everyone’s anatomy is different, so customising the chair to accommodate the individual’s torso and legs create a pretty amazing relaxation experience. From a design point of view, we also try to make it fit your home aesthetically. This would sound very IT, but I’d call this approach User-Centric.
Z: Do you prefer the term ‘table-making’ or ‘woodworking’? What’s your craftsman pronoun?
D: I prefer the term ‘woodworking’, but I don’t consider myself a craftsman. I feel to be regarded as craftsmen, you need years of working on something continuously and reaching a point where you ooze finesse. I don’t feel like I’ve reached that level yet.
Z: Out of all the other skills you could have picked up, how did woodworking ultimately become your chosen trade?
D: We started this business in a spare three by four-meter bedroom. I bought wood slabs in bulk—to save on shipping—and sell them to people on Carousell. They don’t sell very fast, though people could appreciate the fact that they could see the slabs in person before buying them.
Eventually, demand grew. That was when I started to I realise that the feel and finish of the wood aren’t always consistent in terms of the quality. That led me to experiment a lot with tools and other types of woods. I guess my real formal education on woodworking was a chair making course at Tombalek. Guangjun, the owner of Tombalek, taught me how to use various tools and introduced me to wood variation I never knew existed. I was quite taken to the whole thing.
At that point in time, the business also took off. And if you asked him, he would tell you that I left halfway because I found a lot of things that he taught me could apply to what I was doing at that point. There was no time to waste as there was too much work to do on the slabs. The chair is still in storage!
Z: Do you see yourself going back to finishing the chair?
D: I can actually finish it! It’s just that there are too many things to do. One of the enjoyments of woodworking is to be in a relaxed state and to be in the right headspace to craft a piece of furniture into what you want.
Z: What do you find most attractive about woodworking?
D: That I get to work with different types of wood. This is interesting because some woods are very resin-y, or they have some sap in them that changes your approach on what tools to use and how you should use it. Within the same species of wood you have, for example, some flaky parts and some parts there are softer than others. My personality is that I like to problem-solve, and so that provides a platform that keeps me pretty engaged.
Also, individual lifestyles have changed a lot in the past ten years and will continue to evolve. To accommodate that, we’re currently working on modular furniture that can change its form whenever you want.
Z: What was your fondest memory of working with the woodworking community here in Singapore?
D: Recently a customer wanted us to do sand-blasting over a bed frame because she wanted a very textured feel on the wood grain. Luckily, my neighbour had a sand-blasting facility. So we brought in the bed frame, and they were very kind; they shared knowledge and advice on how they do it. We did samples on different wood types. I find that process of learning quite fascinating.
I think I’m quite lucky in that my experience has been entirely community-based. For example, Tombalek workshop offered a lot of advice when I started. My friend from 25° Woodworks is a carpenter and he also shared a lot of advice on dealing with different kind of woods. There’s quite a generous spirit that we found in the industry of people sharing their knowledge, even though they’re our competitors in some way or another.
Z: How do you know when a table is ready? What does finished look like to you?
D: In the earlier days, it would be when I’ve physically finished it. *laughs* But I get your question. For us, we have a certain standard in the way the table needs to look and feel. It needs to feel very polished, and the surface has to be impeccable. With that, it’s ready to take all kinds of abuse. I mean, it’s a dining table! You have your knives and forks being used on it. Kids congregate at the table, and you know they make a mess. So it needs to meet all those qualities I described for us to feel that the table is ready.
Z: Which is more important: that a piece is finished to the touch or that it’s finished visually? Is there a compromise between the two?
D: No, I don’t think there’s a compromise. It’s really like the relationship between both your hands. Like in tennis, you hold a racquet in one hand, but you use the other for balance. So when the customer sees the tables, it’s got to have that impeccable finish; that sheen and the way the light reflects on it. And then you sit down and touch it. It’s a holistic experience.
We're hiring lifestyle writers!