Handmade furniture courtesy of YouTube
Mueja is a studio turning old wood into contemporary furniture that is designed and entirely handmade by Rapeepat Kaewthip, a young man from Chiang Mai who is commonly known as Poon. Poon studied Thai architecture in Bangkok, but after graduation, he discovered that he didn’t like working in his field of study, so he came back home. This was during the Covid-19 pandemic, so he had a lot of time to sit and watch YouTube. He likes woodworking, so he found himself learning more and more about the craft online. This eventually motivated him to turn the garage at his home into a small, well-equipped workshop.
“When I came home, I was looking for something to do,” Poon said. “I wanted to have my own business, so I had to start with something I already knew and could do. I like woodworking and handmade products and had noticed there was a lot of old wood from demolished old wooden houses in the neighborhood, so I began to use this wood to design and make furniture. My first pieces were small tables and chairs that I posted for sale online. When people began showing interest, I was encouraged to keep going.”
Increase skills with unlimited learning
The word “Mueja” comes from the northern dialect and means rough hand. Poon said that master craftsmen have hands that show traces of hard work. Poon had never studied woodworking nor had his family ever been involved in the trade, but he found that things that he could learn about things he wanted to know on the internet.
“YouTube was my teacher,” said Poon. “The rest was just doing it. When I had a question, online communities were always ready to help. The internet offers a near limitless source of learning for today’s people.”
A carpenter is like a tailor
“Studio Mueja’s main feature are our unique designs. We don’t mass produce things, rather we create pieces for individual customers, much as a bespoke tailor cuts cloth specially for his clients. Customers tell us what they want, the desired size and its purpose, and then we design a piece according to their needs. Customers can choose from designs we already have, adjusting details to meet their needs. But we can also make something completely new if that is what they want. All we need to do is discuss the details with them first.”
Studio Mueja started making branded products last year. Poon said his inspiration comes from sources like architecture and nature, even from used objects. His work always begins with the wood first, however.
“We saw a beautiful piece of wood and designed a table that would use the whole piece, showing as much of the wood as possible. In the end, it became a table with many legs. I wanted it to be different,” Poon said.
“This table has become a signature piece. We use old wood, which is cheaper and has less problems with warpage. I think there’s a certain charm in the nail marks and other traces resulting from the wood’s previous use. Even if we repair them such marks will still be visible. Being imperfect is a form of beauty in my opinion,” Poon said.
Design work to order
Poon talked about the obstacles he faces working alone and without staff. Delays in production are inevitable, he said, and designing in response to customer needs and estimating production times are challenges, but he said customers understood and were prepared to wait. He also must pay great attention to packing as his products are large and may have to travel long distances.
Studio Mueja was born during Covid-19, so the brand’s presence is entirely online. Conducting public relations and working on distribution channels using Instagram and Facebook are easy for young people like Poon. He feels there is no need to have a shop at present, but in future he wants to have a showroom and expand his product line and even export.
Using difference to create compatibility
“Studio Mueja had the opportunity to collaborate with In Clay Studio Pottery to make a low table that combined use of wood and ceramics. Made of old teak and designed in geometric shapes with more legs than an ordinary table, this table is one of our signature products. The ceramic part has a smooth surface contrasting with the surface of the wood. Using a different material from wood adds more interest.”
Studio Mueja likes to use different materials in its works. The Sao Gee Stool is a piece that uses a steel spindle that can be adjusted up and down. Inspiration comes from the shape of flowers. Stains left by chemical reactions from rust water remain on the wood as Poon intended. Meanwhile, the Sao Sansai Stool takes its name from the location of Studio Mueja. The legs of the chair, which are made from padauk wood for strength, are slender like those of a northern woman. Inspired by Lhong Khao, which is a word from northern Thai meaning a barn built with tenon joints, the stool is made of Danish Cord weave.
“Craft refers to what we make and the way we make it. Our craftsmanship reflects our ideas and identity. When we look at a piece of wood, we must first think what we can do with it before crafting it into a product. There are many craftworks in the north, each having its own uniqueness. I want to see more young people working like this to create fun new contemporary things.”
Poon’s hands are not yet rough, but it won’t be long before they are.