“We want to make great products. We want to be a business that cares about people and that cares about the planet. That’s a big part of how we perceive the reclaimed wood idea because yes it looks beautiful but it also helps to articulate something in a context that values new money and new things; and the idea that we take something that you think is garbage but turn it into something beautiful.” – Alchemy Design Co.
Over the past few weeks, we have been able to eat lunch with, take pictures of, and invade the personal space of the guys at Alchemy Design Co. We feel good about this.
Joel, Willem and Jonathan, hail from the US, the Netherlands and Canada, and all landed in Cambodia to do something else. Initially working with another design firm, a solar company and an NGO, these three guys found each other through roommates and the teeny tiny community here in Phnom Penh. After doing some woodworking for fun and selling some pieces here and there, their cool hobby turned into a business, and it’s now thriving.
There are a LOT of furniture makers in Phnom Penh, but Alchemy brings something different to the table (oooh…lame pun…sorry). They work exclusively with reclaimed wood that they find in junkyards around the city, and from traditional wooden houses that have been demolished to make way for new concrete houses. These houses are often made of tropical hardwoods. Tropical hardwoods are coveted in other parts of the world, but are commonplace here, making the junkyard treasures that much more exciting. These older woods have also gone through the drying process, meaning the furniture is less likely to crack or change over time. Which is great, because we want their stuff in our houses forever.
“Alchemy is all about changing something from one thing to something completely new.”
They also use scrap and recycled metal, like rebar, for the details of their pieces, creating some of the most interesting stuff in town, or in any town. You won’t find any elephants or 19 layers of glossy finish on top of their stuff, thankfully. Instead, they choose to highlight the unique natural beauty of the wood in each piece. They are quite serious about turning trash into treasure.
“Here is the glossy furniture that everyone recognizes as being very expensive, versus the product that’s artfully made, but is less obvious that it’s an expensive product.”
And my goodness, are they busy. With custom work for iThink Asia, Bearhanded Salon, and the classy masses of the ex-pat community of Phnom Penh, they are often working seven days a week to get orders filled in time. They are currently collaborating with an artisan leather worker, and adding new products and accessories to their collection. (Can we pre-order? Yes!) Sadly, Joel and Willem are leaving Phnom Penh for the time being, but they will stay involved, design from abroad, and keep the business going. Jonathan will keep things moving with the help of the local staff and an American they affectionately call “the Guru,” a woodworking pro and psychotherapist. Obviously.
“It feels like we have a lot of momentum right now. It kind of came out of nowhere.”
Moving forward, they are looking to formalize a training program and potentially team up with other local companies with the need for skilled workers. They have big plans, and are seriously about making a great business, and great products, with a unique customer meets manufacturer collaborative workspace and watering hole on the horizon.
Now, would you like to buy all the things? Us too. They are currently selling some smaller pieces at the Tonlé shop in Phnom Penh and for their larger pieces, contact them directly through their (gorgeous) website.
We are thrilled to have spent time with this group of dudes, and hope they keep doing their beautiful work for a very, very long time.
All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.
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