In 2014, Morgan Yeo's father passed away from cancer, leaving behind JR&P Industries, a system furniture fabrication business. As the eldest son, Morgan knew he had to uphold his father's legacy, despite his young age. ‘When we were kids, my dad would bring my brothers and me to his workshop,’ Morgan explains. These memories ‘seeded a desire to be a part of the business’.
But picking up the baton wouldn't be easy. His dad's business, focused on assembling run-of-the-mill office furniture, had been stagnant due to fierce competition. To make matters worse, woodworking was a dying trade in technocratic Singapore – carpentry work was largely rudimentary, reserved for the likes of kitchen cabinets and wardrobes.
‘For the past 50 years, carpenters have been nailing plywood with an air gun and applying laminates over [it],’ says Morgan. ‘We've been stuck in a sea of sameness for a long time.’
Motivated by a desire to continue the business while also helping to rejuvenate Singapore's carpentry industry, Morgan, together with his brothers Lincoln and Ryan, rebranded the company to Roger&Sons, in memory of their father. They also refreshed their focus to creating bespoke furniture and objects, and taking on interesting projects, from creating outdoor furniture for the Singapore Zoo and constructing a customized oak wine cellar to designing a levitating wooden shaving brush.
‘We don't shy away from taking on unconventional and technically challenging projects,’ Morgan says, ‘particularly those that local carpenters would reject.’
A new life for local trees
Since then, Roger&Sons has emerged as a business to watch when it comes to environmental sustainability in Singapore. In 2019, the brothers set up The Local Tree Project, a ground-up initiative that salvages trees that have been felled for urban development in Singapore. ‘As I visited the sawmills, I saw towering stockpiles of abandoned logs waiting to be turned into mulch or pallet wood,’ Morgan says, ‘yet here we are still importing so much wood from overseas.’
The team now ‘rehabilitates’ these discarded logs and transforms them into durable furniture and objects. As they educate potential partners and the public on their vision, the brothers' slate of projects involving local wood has expanded, such as creating outdoor seating using upcycled African mahogany at a cultural precinct, or furnishing a bank's outdoor terrace.
They're also on to bigger things, like building an eco-friendly playground from scratch within Singapore's central business district – a public space that aims to invoke a strong sense of place for families in the neighborhood.
When the pandemic hit, the team, like almost all businesses, had to wrestle with the ups and downs of Covid-19 regulations. In particular, they shone a light on the need for diversification in the business, as closed borders triggered a manpower crunch in the carpentry industry. This led to Roots&stumps – a retail line of wooden household objects, such as serving boards and coasters – which launched last year. But, as Morgan says, the collection ‘has been years in the making, as we've always thought of being self-sufficient through different means.’
A core tenet of the project is to unravel wood's natural beauty – be it the grain, luster or color – allowing a deeper appreciation of trees commonly found in Singapore, like the angsana and raintree, to take root. Morgan is already planning a collaboration with Christophe Machet, a Paris-based designer and a Royal College of Art graduate, to create new materials. Christophe is known for The Pipeline Project, which uses a custom-built machine to transform giant PVC sewage pipes into durable chairs.
The pursuit of dreaming up new materials has also led to working with Semula – a Singapore-based company that processes plastic bottles into reusable high-density polyethylene. Morgan and his team made furniture out of recycled milk bottles and wood for Creamier, an ice-cream shop that uses 400 of these bottles every month.
With collabs like this, Morgan hopes to be a motivation for other local creatives looking within Singapore for inspiration. ‘We've often taken reference from America and Europe for cutting-edge design and materials,’ Morgan says, ‘but I'm sure that with our resources in Singapore, we, too, can develop innovative and sustainable materials for south-east Asia and beyond.’
This article was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.