From wood to work of art — a journey combining creative design
And local craftsmanship
moonler is a unique brand of contemporary furniture from Thailand founded by Phuwanat Damrongporn. A former engineer, Phuwanat’s passion is to design and create craftworks using local skills in industrial processes.
Bringing passion to develop ideas
“At first, I didn’t think that I could make a career in woodworking since I had no background and didn’t know what furniture
I could make. However, I like woodworking and craftsmanship, so I gradually worked on my ideas, moving to Chiang Mai so I had time to continue my hobby in woodworking. I began by taking wood to shape, sand and paint products on my own. After working for about three years, I took my work to a trade show. My first customer ordered a large lot of products, giving me the opportunity to see a way to develop my hobby into a career. My first product was a stool made with a combination of stainless steel and wood. Later, I started to use other materials such as fabrics, knitted material and so forth.”
The moonler brand name refers to the moon shining in the forest, giving a gentle, cool feel in line with moonler’s logo of “mountains in moonlight”, which was created by a Japanese designer to reflect nature in the brand.
Strength overcoming weakness
moonler’s work uses rain tree wood as its main material, while most other furniture brands use imported wood such as oak, ash and beech. This is because rain tree wood is a commercial wood that grows fast and is easy to find locally. That it is difficult to work with and warps easily is not seen as a problem by Phuwanat, who sees distortions and cracks due to the weather as masterpieces of beauty in imperfection, as one-of-a-kind art works created by nature.
“My first aim is to use Thai wood since I believe it can be properly fashioned to create quality in design. Rain tree wood
has clear character, especially in its grain—even wood from the same tree has different intensities of color. And because
rain tree wood is not a popular choice for processing, there are less limitations on sizes, unlike imported woods that come
in standard sizes. This allows a greater variety of designs since pieces are not defined by size.”
Phuwanat said that he rarely designed product personally as he did not graduate in design. Rather, he relies mostly on his knowledge of carpentry developed through his own passion and training. His early work evolved from his decision to find out whether he would be able to put his ideas into practice or not. Due to his inexperience in design, he chose to collaborate with talented in-house, collaborative and project designers. For his part, Phuwanat takes care of the management system and machinery as befits his engineering skills.
“moonler’s work starts by bringing concepts together with the team of designers, craftsmen and the production unit, which
is followed by selecting and preparing the wood. Wood must be air dried for about one month and then put in an oven for about one month to bring the wood to a suitable humidity before it is sent to the production line. Most work processes use ‘sala’
(a northern Thai word meaning “highly skilled craftsman”), but some of them use machines for faster, more accurate work.”
The work proves its worth
"As a Bangkokian, I tend to do things quickly while Chiang Mai people do things more slowly.
It took me some time to realize that this too was part of the charm. Our lives don’t have to be that fast. Slowness is good too, and we still have plenty of time to do other things. This is totally appropriate
for the gradual processes craftwork usually involves."
Over the course of 12 years, Moonler has produced and created many pieces, winning several quality awards. For example, SIAM bookshelf was awarded the G-MARK 2020 Japan, Demark 2020 Thailand, and was a finalist in the Design Anthology Award 2021, Hong Kong. A combination of rain tree wood from Moonler and celadon from Siam Celadon, the bookshelf was a collaboration highlighting the uniqueness of each brand by combining a vase and bookshelf that could be repositioned according to user preference.
Another interesting piece is the PEBBLE stool, a three-legged wooden chair resembling rocks leaning against each other. Mainly fashioned by hand, this is a piece where the designer works closely with the ‘sala’. That the surface is not smooth
is intended to reflect the charm of craftwork as much as possible.
Changes that need further development
Although northern Thailand has been a land of handicrafts since ancient times thanks to its forests and skilled carpenters, nowadays the popularity of craftsmanship is declining. Only older generations remain in this profession, their descendants
being less interested in inheriting their knowledge. Phuwanat understood that there was a problem because skilled craftsmen were going to disappear. He is trying to promote traditional skills among younger generations through supporting their development as craftsmen, helping them understand the value of craftsmanship and develop their careers internationally.
In addition, moonler’s location in the community has enabled it to have good relations with local people and participate
in community activities, inviting both young and old to work together according to what suits each group.
Understanding is important
“Exports are 80 percent of our market. We release 1–2 collections a year. Most of our products are furniture and home decorations of our own design, or orders from customers and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). The Covid-19 outbreak disrupted our work for a time, but everything has again started to fall into place. Overall, our work was not much affected.
Most of our sales are to old customers, some of whom fly in to develop collections with us each year. When they couldn’t travel, they switched to online communication. They trusted us because they had already been working with us for some time, so they allowed us to develop products for them. In addition, we’ve been promoting our products through increased use of online channels such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. We also have more domestic customers due to Thai people liking Facebook, which is easy to use. Given so many customers now want to come to the factory to buy products, we are currently building
a showroom so all our products can be on show. In future, I hope it will be a tourist spot that customers will want to visit.”
moonler continues to create works under a contemporary design concept, communicating Thainess to the world in
the form of non-traditional handicrafts. Even if the products do not have a typical Thai-style look, the raw materials come from Thailand and the products are designed and made by Thai people. These are unique charms that clearly reflect the quality
of Thai craftsmanship.
“I think we should focus more on craftwork as our strength lies in craftsmanship.
“ We can harmoniously combine technology with craftsmanship, which is why we are different from others. We have seen craftwork grow in northern Thailand thanks to cooperation between various agencies and entrepreneurs who have helped make Chiang Mai’s craftwork better known,” he said.