WHEN my sister and I were little, our parents got us identical single beds that saw us through our childhood, teenage-hood and have lasted through the years. .
The faded white-painted beds are still in my home. From shared confidences between sisters in the middle of the night, to crying furiously into my pillow and curling up under the blanket when life got tough, these beds held our childish dreams, hopes and gently cradled our disappointments and tears.
There's something intrinsically nostalgic about old furniture that lasts through the years. Most of my furniture in my home, bought 20 years or more ago, are as sturdy and durable as they come.
But they don't make furniture like they used to. Over the years, other cheaper furniture pieces came and went. Most didn't stand the test of time, unlike the single beds of my childhood. Some we outgrew, like the baby cot we used for my nieces and nephew, all of whom are teenagers now.
It's hard to admit that even an environmental advocate like me can be guilty of "furniture-cide" — discarding furniture that no longer serves its purpose. Believe it or not, it's a growing problem everywhere.
In the US alone, about nine million tonnes of furniture are tossed every single year. While there are no available figures on how many of our furniture pieces end up discarded, it's certainly not uncommon to see them in our landfills and dumpsites these days.
With a growing environmental awareness worldwide, companies are making an effort to change and reduce their environmental impact — and the furniture industry and the interior design sector are no different.
For interior designer Cayenne Lim Yen Ching, the answer to the short lifespan of furnishings is simple enough.
"Multifunctional or transformable furniture is one way to promote sustainable living," she begins, adding: "All designers or architects are looking into giving new life to furniture pieces. Getting furniture that will last you for years to come eliminates the need for additional resources like trees to be overexploited or being dumped in landfills after just a few years."
The lithe 34-year-old woman in front of me had participated in the TIMB3R Design Incubator Programme (DIP) 2.0, a programme developed by the Malaysian Timber Council, Malaysian Furniture Council and Malaysian Institute of Interior Designers to create not just commercially-viable furniture and timber products for the global market, but pieces that incorporate elements of sustainability, promoting reuse and regeneration of materials or products, especially as a means of continuing production in a sustainable or environmentally friendly way.
The six-month programme connects each participating designer with a manufacturer to work together to conceptualise, design, and create commercially-viable furniture and timber products for the global market.
This programme also serves as a platform to develop the capabilities of local designers, profile home-grown brands as well as grow the local design community.
It's been a springboard to bigger possibilities for the affable designer sitting in front of me in a bustling cafe at the KL Eco City mall. It's through this programme that her "baby", Cayenne Cot, was birthed.
The baby cot designed by Cayenne is built to keep up with a child's development through the years, with the idea that furniture can be made to last and become a significant part of the child's formative years.
The innovative approaches that Cayenne has taken to design this piece of children's furniture have garnered industry attention and earned her an award at REKA Interior Exhibition 2022.
BUILT TO LAST
Usually the most short-lived of all the furniture pieces we buy, cots are invariably discarded once babies grow up. The six-month mark is when most parents say that their baby is outgrowing their first bed, or cot.
What happens to the cot after that? It's a question she lobs at me and I find myself floundering for an answer. This is a new experience for someone who asks questions for a living.
"Donate?" I finally venture to answer, albeit a little sheepishly.
She nods. "You either donate or discard or even use it for… I don't know… something else!"
I quickly think of how the cot in my home is being used as a storage of sorts for my mother's collection of handbags and some of my books, and I feel a slight pang of guilt.
"I wanted to change that," continues Cayenne.
The interior designer came up with a cot that can be transformed as a significant piece that can change in tandem with the baby's growth. "It comes with four different configurations," she shares.
Cayenne's Cot first begins as a baby cot. As the needs of the child changes, the cot can easily be converted into a study table, daybed, and a super single bed for children of all ages.
"Oh, that's super useful!" I exclaim. A cot that can be used as a desk? A day bed? If only my single bed frames of my childhood could magically transform into desks or daybeds! Multipurpose furniture can be very useful, I comment and she nods again eagerly.
Multipurpose furniture isn't just about making better use of available space, explains Cayenne. It's also about something larger. "I believe that meeting the challenges of the future — whether environmental, economic, or cultural — requires changing the way we think about space, becoming more conscious of our impact on the world, and taking steps to reduce our footprint," she asserts.
The Tawau-born lass had originally intended to be an artist. "I love art and that was the initial plan when I was growing up," she says, eyes sparkling with mirth. "I later decided I wanted to become an interior designer after finding out more about the profession while I was still in secondary school."
"Tawau is a remote town," I comment awkwardly. The inspirational tale of a small-town girl with big dreams half-forming in my mind is quickly deflated when she remarks drolly: "It's a small town but we don't live on trees!"
It may have been a small town, but Cayenne shares that students there were eager to reach for the stars. "I'd say that students were really competitive. In my last year of secondary school, I readily went for tuition for five to six subjects!" she exclaims, chuckling. "We wanted to score well lah!"
The second of three siblings, she went on to pursue a foundation certificate in Art & Design in KBU International College before completing her degree in Interior Architecture & Design at Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom.
The enterprising young woman soon found a job as an interior designer after graduating. But that wasn't all she did. "I became a children's art tutor," she tells me blithely, adding: "A friend asked me to help and I agreed!"
Tutoring children led to her interest in creating a safe space for children. "Children's spaces can be tricky because there are so many things to consider, like safety and cleanliness. That certainly piqued my interest," she shares.
For a while, Cayenne juggled two worlds. One where she created "art" through her designs, and another where she taught art to young children. "I worked constantly through the week," she recalls, adding: "For a while, it all worked out but it soon became exhausting."
When she attended an art therapy course recommended by a friend, Cayenne learnt a life lesson that led her to make an important decision. "The first lesson was about treating yourself before you treat others. It dawned on me that I was working too hard and not having enough rest. I needed to choose between being an art tutor and an interior designer," she recounts thoughtfully.
The latter won, of course. "It was an easy choice," she reveals, smiling. "I trained to be an interior designer and this was a passion-driven ambition."
Continues Cayenne: "Interior design is such an interesting, knowledge-based profession. My inspiration comes from everywhere. Music, travel, nature — a lot of things can inspire me!"
Years of being in the interior design field hasn't dulled her interest in challenging herself. "Building my own prototype, my own piece, has been my goal for the longest time. When you're a designer and are into designing spaces, you also dream of building and designing smaller things like furniture pieces," she says.
Shrugging her shoulders, Cayenne adds: "I mean, every architect wants to build a house from scratch. They dream of conceptualising and designing a house of their very own. Designers too want to create their very own prototypes. It's our dream, you know!"
She also knew she wanted to do something related to children. "I love children," she says simply.
The enterprising designer decided to take part in the second edition of the TIMB3R Designer Incubator Programme last year. The programme brought together 12 designers and 13 manufacturers, and nurtured the development of 28 unique timber products ranging from furniture, building materials, lightings and decorative items. "It was a platform for designers. I mean, finally we could create something from scratch!" she says animatedly.
It wasn't an easy route. How do you convince manufacturers to take a chance on you? "Standing on that little stage at the Mandarin Oriental hotel last year was nerve-wracking," she admits readily.
The designers presented their ideas to a sea of furniture manufacturers before being paired with the latter to conceptualise, design and eventually build a prototype.
Cayenne had three designs in her arsenal. "I had three sketches. First two sketches were for furniture designed for public spaces, while the third was a baby stool!"
She was finally matched with Vistawood Industries Sdn Bhd, a specialist in baby furniture. "I'd say it was a match made in heaven," she confides. After brainstorming sessions with Vistawood, they finally came up with an initial design for a baby's cot.
"It was really an eye-opening process," she confesses, adding: "Transitioning from the initial idea of a baby stool to a baby cot was the best decision ever. They (Vistawood) listened to my ideas and opened my eyes to many other aspects like safety, industry requirements and more. It's been a new learning curve for me."
Cayenne's Cot was created as a result of the partnership. "Much thought had gone into building this piece of furniture," she shares, pride lacing through her voice.
The designer shows me her initial sketches of the cot, explaining: "My initial sketch of the cot was a lot more 'rounder' which isn't exactly suitable for furniture. See? This is just one of the many things I learnt through the entire process!"
The devil is in the details, she says dryly. "An interior designer sees things as a whole, a space, but there's so much detail that needs to be considered... right down to the single nut and bolt."
It's obvious that Cayenne is very proud of the cot, but It's not quite the end of the journey yet. "We're still in discussion as to whether the cot should be mass produced. We're also looking into fine-tuning the piece," she reveals, adding: "You can say that Cayenne's Cot is still in 'beta' mode!"
The "matchmaking" between Cayenne and Vistawood continues after Cayenne's Cot. "I'm really looking forward to a lasting relationship," she adds. Don't we all? I quip, and we break into laughter.
It's amazing to discover how a piece of furniture can stay with a child for a long time. When Cayenne's Cot finally reaches our consumers here in the near future, I can only imagine what dreams and hopes it may hold for a young child.
After all, if my little wooden bedframe back home can hold a lot of memories for me through the years, why not this innovative and transformable cot of childhood dreams?
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