In Conversation with Commune Lifestyle’s CEO Joshua Koh

In Conversation with Commune Lifestyle's CEO Joshua Koh

Recently relaunched in Malaysia at a swanky new location in Bangsar, Commune Lifestyle is a Singaporean-based furniture design and lifestyle company which aims to connect people from all walks of life. Established in 2011, it opened its first store in Malaysia three years later.

A strong advocate for sustainability, Commune uses eco-conscious wood and timber imported from sustainable sources in the USA and Asia. With a strong regional presence in over 70 stores in China, Singapore, the Philippines, India and Cambodia, Commune has ambitions to expand into Europe and beyond.

The exterior of the new showroom in Bangsar at night

Ong Chin Huat speaks with Commune’s CEO Joshua Koh during his visit to Kuala Lumpur for the opening of their Bangsar store (above) and finds out more about their sustainability practices and the debut of their sub-brand Alt.o, which features larger statement furniture for roomier homes.

Luxurious magazine: Tell us about Commune and how the brand came about.

Joshua in one of his many furniture retail outlets
Joshua Koh.

Joshua Koh: Commune is a homegrown lifestyle brand specialising in modern, sustainable furniture designs and home décor items. The brand was founded in 2011 by third-generation family members of SGX-listed Koda Ltd, which is a 50-year-old manufacturer for many of the world’s global brands.

The brand originated with the idea of uniting family and friends, encouraging them to come together and connect. This concept was the foundational inspiration for the brand.

Commune aims to offer our customers products with exceptional quality and design but at an accessible price point while fostering a passionate, design-centric community. All of our creations and products are meticulously crafted to enable our customers to genuinely articulate their distinctive personal style and individuality within their homes, allowing them to proudly showcase their unique place in the world.

The brand itself emerges from a commitment to surpass conventional standards, infusing both design and service with a deep passion. Commune embodies a subtle form of modernity, seamlessly blending function with aesthetics and thoughtful craftsmanship.

LM: How would you describe Commune’s aesthetics and style to those unfamiliar with the brand?
Joshua: Commune’s aesthetic and style can be described as a harmonious blend of modernity and warmth. It’s a brand that resonates with those seeking a contemporary yet inviting atmosphere in their living spaces. With a strong emphasis on minimalist design principles, Commune offers clean lines, simple forms, and a focus on functionality that appeals to those who appreciate both elegance and utility.

What sets Commune apart is our thoughtful use of natural materials, often featuring sustainable wood finishes that bring a touch of nature indoors. The earthy, organic elements add a sense of comfort to the overall look. Our furniture strikes a balance between timeless elegance and practicality.

LM: Could you also tell us about the other sub-brand Alt.o by Commune, and how it differs from the main brand?
Joshua: Alt.o was started in 2019 as a brand extension to the Commune sister brand. We created ALT.O for a number of reasons:

  1. Our existing customers who had bought from Commune previously had matured to a new stage of life. With a maturing customer who had amassed more wealth, they were beginning to buy larger homes, and their styles and tastes had become more sophisticated. ALT.O’s product ranges reflect these changing consumer needs, and as such, you can find products of larger sizes and more sophisticated designs with high material specifications.
  2. We wanted not to let prices limit our creativity. Commune was created to target the middle segment of the market, so our prices needed to be competitive. ALT.O has allowed us to experiment with different materials and construction methods, which would not have been possible with Commune, thus allowing us to push the boundaries of our design and manufacturing capabilities to produce the best possible product that we can envision.

LM: Can you give us a few examples of the sustainability processes which you have put in place in the manufacture of Commune furniture?
Joshua: Some examples of sustainability practices that Commune practices in our manufacturing process would be:

  • Use of Sustainable Materials: We source wood and other materials from sustainable and
    responsibly managed forests. We also use recycled and/or upcycled materials whenever
  • Low-VOC Finishes: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals found in some paints and finishes. We have opted for low-VOC or VOC-free finishes, thus reducing the environmental impact and indoor air pollution.
  • Waste Reduction: We have also adopted practices to minimise waste during manufacturing by recycling and repurposing production waste, as well as optimising material usage to reduce excess.
  • Longevity and Repairability: Designing with durability and ease of repair in mind can extend the lifespan of furniture. At Commune, we have incorporated such principles into our designs.

Two photographs showing the brands living room and bedroom furniture products

LM: Which are your five strongest markets?
Joshua: Apart from Singapore, which is our home ground, China would come in second as our next strongest market, with over 70 concept stores in operation there. Apart from China, we are actively focusing on developing the Malaysian market with stores located in KL as well as Johore. India is another market in which we have started business with stores in Bangalore and Mumbai, and we plan to expand to over 20 stores over the next 3-5 years.

LM: Do you have any plans to expand the reach of Commune? If yes, to which countries?
Joshua: We recently participated in Maison & Objet in Paris and have had a very positive response to our product offering. We have started to market our brand in Europe, and we hope that it will be a success for us both from a strategic angle as well as financially.

LM: Where is your furniture made?
Joshua: Malaysia, China and Vietnam.

Some of the brands modern minimalist furniture products inside the new showroom

LM: Which are the most popular pieces or collections?
Joshua: The Crème Collection is currently one of our best sellers for some simple reasons. Firstly, it embodies the timeless allure of classic Scandinavian design, which resonates with a wide audience seeking a blend of simplicity and sophistication. The collection is inspired by the natural beauty and climate of the Nordic region and introduces a sense of calm and tranquillity into homes.

Its sleek lines, meticulous craftsmanship, and attention to detail, including the use of fluted designs and stiletto-like legs, make it an embodiment of modern elegance. The choice of a natural tone-on-tone palette ensures that these pieces seamlessly integrate into various interior styles, creating a harmonious and inviting living space.

The collection encapsulates the essence of versatility, making it a preferred choice for those seeking both style and comfort in their homes.

LM: What are the current trends you see in the furniture market?
Joshua: We see the use of natural colours and materials becoming the trend in the next couple of years. Muted tones and organic shapes are what customers are looking for when they shop for furniture.

Living room products on display in Bangsar

LM: How often do your customers change their furniture or sofa?
Joshua: The frequency of our customers changing their furniture varies based on individual preferences. Several common factors can influence how they choose to update their furniture:

  • Wear & Tear: Furniture can wear out over time due to regular use and exposure to environmental factors. Customers often replace items like sofas, mattresses, and dining chairs when they become visibly damaged or uncomfortable.
  • Changing Taste: Evolving personal tastes and design preferences can prompt our customers to update their furniture to match their current style and aesthetic preferences.
  • Home Renovations: When renovating or refreshing their homes, customers often choose to replace furniture to better align with their current design layout.
  • Technological Advancements: Advancements in technology can influence furniture choices, such as upgrading to furniture with built-in charging ports or ergonomic features. It is important to note that there is no fixed timeframe for how often our customers change their furniture. It ultimately depends on individual circumstances and preferences. Some may replace furniture every 1-2 years, while others may keep the same pieces for decades.

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Two photographs from the official opening of the Bangsar showroomIn Conversation with Commune Lifestyle's CEO Joshua Koh 2

Ong Chin Huat

Luxurious Magazine Reporter

Having been the social editor of the Hong Kong edition of Tatler and as well as writing a twice-weekly column in Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, Chin has met and interviewed a variety of people including business tycoons, supermodels, movie stars, royalty and world-class athletes. He also considers himself privileged to have attended some of the most talked about events and parties around the world. Chin counts art, fashion, food, interior design, literature, painting and travel among his passions.

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