Julian Koh: Building a ‘Commune’ Through Design and Coffee

7 August 2019

Growing up around a furniture-manufacturing multigenerational family business, it would seem that Brand & Design Director Julian Koh has big footsteps to follow. But in speaking with Julian as part of our ‘Local Heroes’ campaign for Singapore’s National Day, it becomes clear that he brings something unique to the table, beginning with inventive creations that marry form and function.

Established in 2011, Commune has grown to become one of Singapore’s leading homegrown furniture design companies. As the driving force behind Commune’s designs, having an aptitude for blending contemporary artistry with traditional elegance is Julian’s hallmark.

The Sensory Journey at Commune

a grey sofa in a living room
By merging designer elements with practicality, Julian hopes to show that harmonious contrasts are possible. Photo from Commune, Rover Collection

When the idea of Commune came up, Julian envisioned the retail stores as a community-centred space that brings people together. This led to the beginning of Commune Café that sits within the furniture store at Millennia Walk, inviting customers to shop or just to enjoy a quality cup of coffee.

Julian’s design creations have a certain eclecticism which he defines as “Emotive Design”. It is a concept of deliberate environmental design that he adopts in his furniture stores. Each store is styled to resemble a home (sight), customers are encouraged to interact with the furniture (touch), a curated playlist plays in-store (sound), a fragrance exclusive to Commune fills the space (smell), and Commune Café serves up gourmet brews and cakes (taste).

These elements in-store work together to create a sensory journey that engages all five senses to evoke the sixth sense, emotion, which forms the basis of lifetime memories.

“I wanted to create Commune furniture stores in the hope of stirring a powerful emotion as you think about putting your dream home together.”

Building a Coffee Community, One Cup at a Time

Julian Koh, Brand & Design Director of Commune, making coffee
To evaluate the different notes in espresso, Julian visits new cafes to craft the best balance in Commune Café’s brew. Photo from Julian Koh

While studying Industrial Design in Melbourne, Julian found a deep appreciation for the state’s coffee culture and wanted to share that experience with Singaporeans. Today, coffee workshops are organised at Commune Café to spread knowledge about espresso preparation techniques, latte art and coffee tasting. Here are six other coffee workshops available in Singapore and Malaysia where you can pick up handy techniques from coffee masters.

“The balance and proportion of elements have to be just right, and I see a lot of similarities between both processes.”

Craftsmanship is key to Julian. It is the essence which moulds the form and function of every piece of furniture at Commune… and a perfect brew at Commune Café. Just like the procurement of materials for furniture, Julian is critical about the coffee beans used, sourcing only from local roasters.

Designs that Amplify Modernity

the Volta sideboard from Commune
Designed like a guitar amplifier, the Volta sideboard was inspired by Julian’s experience as a hobbyist musician and rock concert fan growing up. Photo from Commune, Volta Collection

Julian’s creative desires may not necessarily adhere to the traditional boundaries of furniture that are conceived as functional and safe. When asked to describe Commune in three words, he said, “Defying the Norm”. To him, creating furniture is about echoing sophistication with comfort and most importantly, conveying a sense of home.

“In a home, you are there every day – it has to feel like a place that you will always feel comfortable in.”

The conceptualisation of each collection begins with visualising how each piece can fit together to form an environment that will evoke the intended mood. It is the thorough, meticulous and deliberated design process which Julian goes through with his team that creates Commune’s distinctive style.

Looking Ahead

With Commune, Julian has a personal aspiration; to open a boutique hotel that activates the full Commune experience with his furniture, completed with a Commune Café to give people a taste of what The Commune Life would be. But for now, he has a simpler goal; to expand Commune globally.

“We aim to be a global brand that is trend-setting, thought-provoking, modern, energetic and culturally relevant.”

Check out Commune’s website, or visit their Facebook page here.

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