In a store on the first storey of Palais Renaissance, beautiful tableware are exhibited like art pieces within a meditative black space. A cluster of air plants drapes from the center like a mossy curtain, symbolic of the artistic, thoughtful, and textured quality of the products on display. This is the first brick-and-mortar store of the boutique tableware and kitchenware brand founded by husband-and-wife team Chris Lee and Annie Li that started as an online store in 2021.
“We received a lot of online enquiries when we opened our online store, which gave us the confidence to look for a physical space. Tableware is very tactile so many people were requesting to see and touch the products. Having a physical store allows us to engage our customers and share our knowledge with them. It also lets us get immediate feedback so that we can continue to evolve our offerings,” says Li.
Lee is the founder of multidisciplinary design studio Asylum whose well-known works include the interior design of The Warehouse Hotel and a bevy of experiential Johnnie Walker House destinations across Asia. Naturally, he designed the store’s interior. “The store experience aimed to bring out the best in our tableware. The design is quite spartan to allow customers to focus on the products,” explains Lee. The use of materials like concrete and steel in their natural state resonates with the brand’s ethos of celebrating the handmade and its resulting imperfection.
Many of the pieces are made in Japanese workshops. From the rustic bronzy plates in the Gold Kessho Collection where the artisans’ imprints form patterns to the irregular shape of a Kujaku shaved plate handmade in Gifu Prefecture, Japan, the items beget touch. The awareness of such craft began in 2018, when Lee participated in the KYO project that partnered Singaporean designers with Japanese workshops to use their skills for modern-day products. He wanted to promote these dying skills for the artisans, who produced traditional products such as copper urns for temples and have no know-how on how to be relevant.
Aside from Japanese tableware, the brand also carries products by designers whom the couple personally admire. One is Ann Demeulemeester, whose tableware combines striking patterns and colour. Another is Roos van de Velde, whose tableware feature organic shapes. “Chris and I were both big fans of Ann Demeulemeester’s clothes before she became a pottery artist. Her Dé homeware series truly reflects her poetic and exquisite taste in her fashion line. That was the collection that first drew me to Serax. As for Roos van de Velde, the positive energy with which she creates her ceramics is translated into sheer organic ‘perfectly imperfect’ beauty,” Li elaborates.
Li’s background is in sales and marketing, and Artifactt was the result of a desire to start a side business after completing an MBA. Obviously, she has found an untapped niche in the market. Since the genesis of Artifactt, not only has sales been buoyant, many of its products have made their way into well-known restaurants, including mod-Peranakan establishment Pangium, local institution Iggy’s, and La D’oro, led by Chef Sasaki San. The physical store has also become a platform for collaborations with local artists. The first was Leng Soh, an art director at Kinetic whose charcoal-black ceramics graced the window display with a poignant stillness and gravitas.
“We have known Leng for quite some time, as she is also a designer. We fell in love with her ceramic collection the minute we saw it. The products are very poetic and beautiful. Its fragility is a reminder for us to live everyday purposefully,” explains Li. The second artist whose textural, painterly works are currently on display is Jeanette Adrienne Wee from Ves Studio, who had studied pottery in Japan.
“Setting up a platform for local artists to showcase their creations has always been part of our vision. Our idea is to complement our tableware with more artistic one-off pieces. We also hope that we can bring them overseas one day,” says Li. A collection using leather conceived with reBynd, a newly launched brand under the Bynd Artisan Group, will launch in early 2023. “Their sustainability ethos and water-resistant material is a good match for us,” Li explains.
She is clearly excited about Artifactt’s future plans. It is a learning process for her in growing the business, but she revels in all aspects of it. “We are constantly looking for new makers around the world,” she enthuses. “We will continue to expand our trade business and look for opportunities in different markets. We believe that we can have an Artifactt store in every city around the world. Last and very importantly in our to-do list, we would love to work with chefs to customise vessels for their food creations in the future.”