Square Roots furniture manufacturing has a beautiful new showroom in District 2, The Shed, that features gorgeous furniture at an especially affordable price. By Elijah Ferrian. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Square Roots is a furniture manufacturing company headquartered in Long An Province. The Shed is their new showroom, recently opened in District 2 in the ever-evolving Thao Dien area. Co-owner Justin Wheatcroft and his partner Ed Stoddart are a perfect design-savvy mixture of antique furniture experience, and alchemical prowess in unique finishing techniques both for wood and metals.
The Shed is a sloping-roofed, brute architectural concrete ‘shed’, boasting a spacious interior that houses a wide selection of the catalogue, including tables, benches, chairs, mirrors, and all things ‘home’ which Square Roots produces.
Wheatcroft breaks down the additional perks of a Saigon-based showroom: “For the last four or five years we have always had bi-annual sales to liquidate sample and overrun products, and eventually we just saw that over time there was more and more interest in our products, and the profile of people buying [them] was changing. Before it was 100 percent expat. Now it’s become more like a 50-50 split between expats and locals. The potential is so much greater having this space. It also allows us to play around with display ideas and to receive instant feedback from the customer.”
Wheatcroft and Stoddart have two starkly different backgrounds in the industry they now call home. Wheatcroft first came to Vietnam in 1994 straight out of University. He ran a couple of restaurants in Hanoi up until 2003, and got involved in furniture through his wife. The couple opened a store in 1998 selling semi-antique colonial furniture, up until around 2004, when he transitioned into design and manufacturing.
Stoddart’s experience in the furniture industry is much more storied. He went to college for furniture. He’s a trained cabinetmaker and wields many skills and techniques from his years of experience, particularly in finishing work.
“Ed and I have this tongue-in-cheek idea of ourselves,” says Wheatcroft with a grin. “We have the woodsman and the alchemist. I’m the guy into the wood. Ed brings in the skill-box of the finishing artisan. Normally the antique guy remains in the antique world, and the naturalist guy keeps himself busy with big slabs of natural wood. We wanted to create something with the detailing of one of these alchemist types, but while retaining a natural, simple form.”
The products speak for themselves when you walk into the showroom. There is a definite influence by one of the greatest furniture makers of all time, George Nakashima. Solid slabs of natural-edged table tops. Polished wood handles. Perfect, unique finishes, sanded enough for an admirable shine, but subdued enough to retain the character of the imported French oak, are utilised in the majority of their designs.
A beautiful component in their furniture is the hand-hammered look of the metal features. They have found a way to contrast the natural form of the wood, and the worked metal aspect of the legs and support structures, while still retaining a coalescence between the two that guides the eye to conclude that both are hand-worked by an artisan keen on keeping the materials as close to their inherent form as possible.
“It’s a difficult niche to explain…” Wheatcroft reaches for the right words. “Modern-organic. A recognised format. The design is really inspired by the mid-20th- century modern-craft movement. We’re pretty nerdy about our wood. [With] pretty much every single tabletop, there’s no lamination. We don’t take any shortcuts. We try to keep everything as big as we can. We appreciate defect and character, and with each piece we try to present the furniture as still having very much the essence of the tree which it came from.”
The most exciting part for the consumer is the pricing. For a beautiful French oak dining table, you’re looking at spending around VND20 to 25 million – a price that would be at least double for the same level of design and manufacturing in a product at your local shop in the UK, Australia, Japan, or North America. A beautiful selection of outdoor benches hover around the VND9 million mark.
So what does the future hold for Wheatcroft and Stoddart and their new showroom?
“The store itself, we are quite open minded about,” says Wheatcroft, adding that they’ve even begun featuring artworks by Hiep, a contemporary artist from Hanoi. “We’ve sold a few paintings. We’d like to have exhibitions. A friend of ours is a photographer. We’d like to put on events to feature. It’s not only about selling Square Roots furniture. If we find the right person with the right kinds of accessories to add into our aesthetic, we would love to source some vintage fittings, lighting, and other kinds of accessories.”
Artisans and makers of all varieties take note, and head over to the shop. I dare you to not collapse willingly onto one of their gorgeous beds or ultra-posh couches.