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Off The Record: About the Crew

[ By Diyana J , 21st May 2021 ]

On the first day I met them, I doubted whether I could work with them at all. There was almost no common ground that I shared with the crew particularly because their age ranges from thirty and above. I just turned twenty-four last week and to tell you the truth, I doubted that we could have any conversation of any sort at all. But in the first week, the crew proved me wrong because they were a friendly bunch in a business casual sort of manner. In the first week, I realized that there was a lot I could learn from them and the years in age difference showed when they shared their experiences, differing personal opinions and their shared passions in woodworking.

Photo by Irfan Rosli

Talking over coffee with Zul felt like a blind date. As a creative, I was completely entranced by his stories of his career path; he’s never strayed from design-related industries and worked in a range of companies that built upon his portfolio as a product designer. He doesn’t view himself as an interior designer or even furniture designer. He illustrated to me that design should be part functional and part aesthetically pleasing, and I agreed with him on so many levels. He seemed to be the kind of guy who’d buy coffee late into the afternoon and spend his nights working away on his 3D renders, chasing datelines and pouring hours into his craft. Over-obsession seemed to be the case here. Yet, I found it admirable that he talks highly about finding a work-life balance, to ensure one wouldn’t experience a terrible experience of a creative burn out. He advised me, as a Temasek Polytechnic Alumni five years my senior, the relativity of design in your everyday objects, and the importance of questioning the purposes behind every product you see. Halfway through the conversation, I had already let my mind astray and wondered if he was just a workaholic. But I was proven wrong when he explained that he had plans to try out different schedules as to ensure that the creative process would be much easier on him and not forced out obsessively in an adrenaline rush. A creative rush, he called it.

But witnessing Zul in this so-called creative rush, is so inspiring. I might be biased but considering how much effort and time he puts into his work, there’s lots of conversational material to work on. I start talking to him about Japanese minimalism and the ever-popular Scandinavian style a select few interior designers swear by.

Photo by Irfan Rosli

He says, “Function takes priority over mere aesthetic. Every part of a product should serve a purpose.”

Photo by Irfan Rosli

A few days down the road and I sit down with Syahir, as he oils down a mahogany table top. He encourages me to touch the rough surface of the slab, before sanding it down to a smooth finish for me to really feel the difference with my fingertips. The amount of sawdust from the workshop I’ve seen coloring his black shirts brown, really goes to show that he doesn’t lose out to Zul in terms of passion either. I think he almost doesn’t care about appearances, too engrossed in the work his own two hands create. We converse about topics he hopes I could write about in future articles, and then move on to the possibility of me tagging along on the delivery trips to a client’s address. We delve into understanding our customer base, throwing back and forth opinions about what our customers typically look for when it comes to custom furniture.

He’s come across a variety of styles and projects as far as the past six months have exposed him to and cites that the most challenging project for a client was a feature wall where he and another apprentice stuck individual rectangle slabs of wood of differing colors and shades. The end result proved to be a masterpiece and he shares that the experience was his first ever project and one that took days upon days of work by hand. They took no shortcuts in creating the feature wall, and it seemed as if the experience felt like one that would never end.

I mention the project he was working on as we talk, and he explains to me the process of woodworking, even going as far to say that he hasn’t truly perfected the craft yet. Even sanding down the slab looked like a lot of work, and he knew to a certain degree that there were definitely areas to improve on. At that moment, what shone through was the pride he had in his craft and I think that that is more valuable than any part of the creative journey. Purposeful intent and a commitment to perfecting one’s craft I feel, produces the best work. Even so, I reminded him that being your own critic can sometimes be mentally taxing. I felt it was critical that he realized this, because I couldn’t help but be concerned that he would also exhaust himself in his work.

Photo by Irfan Rosli

He replies:

“As long as the client understands that this piece of furniture will last them a lifetime, and is also their effort in the sustainable movement, it doesn’t matter if I tire myself out. I take pride in my work and genuinely feel joy when a project is done.”

I realize the more time I spend working with them, these discussions will always be something I have access to. The culture of anything goes and the freedom or openness of talking about anything under the sun is something I’d always appreciate above other things. So, thinking back again, when I first questioned myself if I would be able to work with these guys… I’ve reassured myself that the only thing I need to be concerned about is communication. As long as I did my part to express my opinions in an unfiltered manner, and push forth my opinions in a predominantly male environment, I knew my voice wouldn’t be drowned out either.

Photo by Irfan Rosli

Especially in this pandemic, joining them on this journey has made me partially anxious that I’d take a while to adjust to the changes and find my place.

But I was proven wrong; the crew here has made significant space for me to play my role in the team, and to voice opinions of my own whether in unison or opposition. In short, I’m as comfortable as can be here and am looking forward to what this adventure might bring.

Even more than that, I’m looking forward to challenging them on their work and uncovering what truly drives them forward – are they just chasing paper, or is it truly passion that they strive for?


Urban Salvation Crew: Zul (@heyzouls), Syahir, (msyahirmamin), Aliff (@alip_affandi)

Photos by Irfan Rosli (@_roniin)

Location: Urban Salvation Main Gallery

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