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Shopping for tiles in Singapore: Looking for unique Peranakan furniture?

By: Amy Greenburg

Like stamps in our passports, our home furnishings often tell stories of the places we’ve been. It seems that no matter where we go, we long to take away nostalgic souvenirs that add ethnic flair to our surroundings. At furniture company Arthur Zaaro, Peranakan-design tiles from shophouses are incorporated into tables and other heritage statement pieces. We spoke with the company’s principal designer, Aaron Foeste, about this covetable collection.


Aaron hails from New York City, where he worked in set design and construction for feature films, often recreating rooms and furniture reminiscent of bygone eras. After moving to Singapore with his wife in 2006, he set up a real estate and construction business in which he was able to use his interior restoration expertise, overseeing various residential and commercial refurbishment projects. The success of several custom design jobs eventually led him to form the Arthur Zaaro collection in 2010.

Alongside his master carpenter, Dale Herzog, and a team of craftsmen, Aaron creates distinctive furnishings. He also offers an extensive selection of home goods from around the globe – wooden chandeliers sourced from the Philippines, raw-edged, wooden tables from Indonesia, and Danish-designed, mid-century modern furniture. However, it’s Aaron’s beautiful, Peranakan-influenced tile tables that have become his signature, thanks to their eclectic, old-world appeal.

What inspired you to adopt the Peranakan style?
I’m always inspired by what I see while I’m out and about. When I came to Singapore, I loved the vibrant tiles on old shophouses and pavements throughout the city. I wanted to have a Singaporean influence in my designs and this was the perfect way to incorporate it. I was also really impressed by the fact that the pavement tiles had been walked on, yet the patterns could still be seen so clearly. I thought it would make a great idea for tabletops.

What makes these tiles so durable?
We use a special kind of handmade tile where the cement pigment is 5mm thick. The pattern actually goes into the tiles, as opposed to being painted onto the surface and glazed. This technique involves pouring coloured liquid cement into sections of a cookie-cutter-type mould, followed by a layer of raw cement, before being pressed and left to harden. Once dry, the tiles are coated with a protective sealer and set in aluminium or wooden frames, depending on a client’s preference.

So, your tables are kid-proof?
These pieces are definitely kid-proof. Our tables can be exposed to red wine, coffee and chilli sauce! Our pieces go through extensive lab testing to ensure that they’re water-, corrosion- and UV-resistant, and that they meet the high-performance standards of the retailers we export to around the world.

Why do you think your tiled table collection has been so popular?
While working in the renovation business, I started to understand that people really love tiles but, since they’re generally stuck on walls or floors, you can’t take them with you. Incorporating tiles into our table designs means clients can take the beautiful patterns with them wherever they go. We even make trivets, trays and coasters, as well as other custom pieces. For example, we’re currently working on a vintage-inspired shoe cabinet for a client, which can also be used as a console table. Our pieces are extremely versatile and can function in many different ways. After all, it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll move and your circumstances will change. Today’s dining table might end up being the table on your patio someday.

How can someone go about creating his or her own custom piece?
Clients can visit our workshop to play around with colours and patterns, and arrange tiles to their liking before production begins. This personalisation process can also be done online using our new, interactive tool which allows you to design your own table from anywhere in the world. Once the base, colours and tile patterns are chosen, our craftsmen custom-build the piece and deliver it within two weeks.

Beside your tiled designs, what other pieces have been popular with your clientele?
We have beautiful, solid wood slab tables and chairs from Indonesia that can be customised here, in our workshop. Our modular wooden shelving is also very popular because of its versatility and the fact that it can go with almost any room. Some of the shelves are even stackable and can be used as end tables or bedside tables, bookshelves or room dividers.

Arthur Zaaro, 5 Eunos Avenue 8A, Level 2, Henry Design Centre, 9147 9124