The Business of Democratised Design

How solid business principles in a digital context combined with well-known designers has catapulted Castlery to regional success across Asia-Pacific

 Image: Gable by Charles Wilson for Castlery with American white oak legs (credit: Castlery)

Image: Gable by Charles Wilson for Castlery with American white oak legs (credit: Castlery)


The Businessman

Declan Ee and business partner Fred Ji started their furniture brand, Castlery in 2013 with an ambition to make designer furniture accessible to everyone.  Now 7 years on they have created a business that extends from its HQ in Singapore to a team of 80 people across 5 different countries.

Functionality, quality and affordability are the pillars that underpin the brand’s contemporary designs. “It’s never a purely creative process as we want to build pieces that will last, can be used daily and for as many people to enjoy as possible.” says Ee. The digital, direct-to-customer model of the business means that all design lovers can own a piece of furniture conceived by one of Castlery’s design community. This list of collaborators includes some of the regions greatest talents such as Australia’s Charles Wilson.

Ee believes that the key to success has been the recipe of design talent, manufacturer and material. “We choose to work closely with manufacturers who hold a long term, lean vision of manufacturing,” he says. “These partners manage to combine a skilled workforce for the more intricate manual work whilst investing in machinery that streamlines their production process, scales down their costs and overcomes any manpower shortages.”  He also mitigates any manufacturing risks by diversifying the centres of production and keeping an eye on the best opportunities. Indonesia is emerging at an attractive option currently given the “product know-how and production capacity”.

Material choice also matters. “Solid timber is a material of choice for most of our living room or bedroom furniture,” says Ee. “We also sometimes use wood veneer over MDF to achieve more elaborate patterns, playing with materials allows us to achieve uncommon curves or specific details which make our products unique.”

Image: Gable by Charles Wilson for Castlery with American white oak legs (credit: Castlery)

Image: Gable by Charles Wilson for Castlery with American white oak legs (credit: Castlery)

American white oak and walnut is used extensively in Castlery designs. Selected for unique grain and palate, availability and value, these are timbers that customers also know and value. “Sustainability and traceability are increasingly important for customers today who are concerned about the origin of the woods and want to know whether the timbers come from legal sources and have been harvested sustainably. Carefully selecting materials is a must for any forward thinking brand.” says Ee.

The Designer

Charles Wilson was one of the first designers in the Asia Pacific region approached by Castlery.  Having designed for legendary brands such as Herman Miller and local powerhouses including King Living, Wilson was attracted by the idea of a company that was aiming to bring affordable design to the market but still produce furniture that was original and contemporary. So he reviewed their core collection. “I felt that needed armchairs and sofas that had a breezy contemporary look and was interested to tap into a broader Asian influence.” He says of the Gable range that he has designed for the brand.  Inspired by the Irimoya gable roofs of traditional Japanese architecture, the collection has lines of repeating concavity.  “I had young homemakers in mind when designing the collection, says Wilson. “I envisaged a limited floor size of an apartment which led me to the discreet proportions.



Wilson selected American white oak for the range. “It is a dependable hardwood that can suit a budget but has a classic modernist feel. It’s still used in some of the finest modernist furniture.” He adds. “Also the legs are thin, they need to be made out of wood that can perform. I couldn’t compromise and there was no way I was going to use a veneer over something else.”

Whilst Wilson has produced some stunning one-off commissions in recent times he says his heart lies in mass manufacturing – as long as it is ‘done well’.  “I regard that as a marvelous thing.” He says.  Something with which a new generation of design aware consumers would certainly agree.


Notes for Editors:

 Images can be accessed from:


 Charles Wilson:

American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC)

AHEC is the leading international trade association for the U.S. hardwood industry, representing the committed exporters among American hardwood companies and all the major U.S. hardwood product trade associations. For over 25 years, AHEC has been at the forefront of international wood promotion, successfully building a distinctive and creative brand for American hardwoods. AHEC’s support for creative design projects demonstrates the performance and aesthetic potential of these sustainable materials.

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