The Commune Chronicles: Navigating the Landscape of Accessible Luxury and Timeless Sophistication

In today’s landscape of modernity, where trends shift like sands in the wind, there exists a beacon of timeless elegance and sophistication. Welcome to the world of Commune, where every piece of furniture tells a story and every design whispers exquisite craftsmanship and quality. A subsidiary of Koda, Southeast Asia’s leading furniture producer for over five decades, Commune invites us to a world where luxury meets accessibility, where innovation dances with tradition, and where the essence of human-centred design reigns supreme.

Commune isn’t just a brand; it’s an ode to the legacy of family values and entrepreneurial spirit. Founded upon decades of expertise and a passion for excellence, it stands tall as a symbol of ingenuity and resilience in an industry inundated with fleeting fads and disposable aesthetics. It is a sanctuary for those who seek refuge from the mundane, a sanctuary where the fusion of artistry and functionality creates spaces that resonate with the soul.

In this immersive exploration of Commune’s world, we chat with co-founder Joshua Koh and the managing director for India, Mr. Dinkar Chellaram, we unravel the secrets behind its success, delve into the minds of its visionary leaders, and uncover the intricate tapestry of innovation and tradition that defines its identity. From the inception of its humble beginnings to the grandeur of its global expansion, Commune’s journey is one of passion, perseverance, and unwavering commitment to excellence. Join us as we voyage through the heart of the brand, where each piece of furniture is not just a product but a masterpiece, where every design decision is a reflection of a profound understanding of human needs and aspirations, and where luxury is not just a privilege but a way of life.


Diving deep into the ethos of Commune, where defiance of the norm meets the embrace of human-centered design. Discover the key moments that have shaped the brand’s identity, ushering in an era of accessible luxury and unparalleled craftsmanship


Foyer (F): The ethos of Commune, which strives to go beyond conventional norms to infuse passion into design and service, is truly fascinating. Could you both elaborate further on the origins of this philosophy and the key moments that have shaped the brand’s identity?

Joshua Koh (JK): Absolutely. At Commune, we embrace the mantra of ‘defy the norm’. This notion emerged from a recognition of the prevailing market landscape when we launched the brand. We observed a stark divide between high-end luxury brands like Italian and Scandinavian designers on one end, and mass-market options such as Ikea on the other. There was a gap in the middle segment of the market for high-quality furniture with compelling designs at reasonable prices. Drawing upon our extensive experience spanning three generations and 50 years in manufacturing, we set out to challenge this status quo. Our integrated process—covering design, manufacturing, retail, and distribution—enabled us to create products that are both excellent in quality and accessible to consumers. Our approach to design philosophy is equally distinctive. Rather than adhering to a singular style like Scandinavian or Italian contemporary, we curate collections around thematic narratives. Take, for instance, our Volta collection, which draws inspiration from rock stars and music, allowing us to weave captivating stories around our products. Similarly, our Copenhang collection is influenced by the hipster lifestyle of the city, providing a rich storytelling angle for our sales and marketing teams to engage with our audience. This flexibility in design philosophy sets us apart and defines the essence of Commune.


At Commune, the fusion of artistry and functionality creates spaces that resonate with the soul. Delve into the immersive exploration of Commune’s world with co-founder Joshua Koh and managing director Mr. Dinkar Chellaram as we uncover the secrets behind its success


F: I have a follow-up question on that. The notion of crafting a lifestyle centred around accessible luxury rather than just offering a collection of furniture implies a deep understanding of human desires and aspirations. Could you delve into the research and insights that led Commune to recognize the potential of design in uniting people through both style and comfort, all while maintaining affordability?

JK: At Commune, we firmly believe that our products should not only be aesthetically pleasing but also highly functional. It’s common to find designer brands with visually stunning yet impractical pieces. Our approach is different. We see furniture as a means of fostering connections, whether it’s within a home setting where families and friends gather to nurture relationships, or in commercial spaces like restaurants and hotels. We’re committed to ensuring that our designs not only look appealing but also prioritise ergonomics and comfort. By doing so, we aim to elevate the overall experience for our customers.


F: So, do you primarily focus on the functionality aspect of your pieces alongside aesthetics, or do you also endeavour to infuse emotions and memories into your furniture designs?

JK: Our approach involves intertwining emotions and memories into our designs through storytelling. Take, for instance, our Volta collection, which draws inspiration from my brother, the creative director’s, deep passion for music. These personal passions are woven into the fabric of our products. Additionally, much of our inspiration stems from his travels around the world, where he gathers ideas that manifest in our designs. On the customer side, we believe that the furniture shopping experience should be memorable, as it often marks significant life events like moving into a new home or starting a family. Thus, we aim to ensure that every customer’s experience is exceptional. When someone enters a Commune store, it’s not merely about browsing functional rows of tables and sofas. We aim to create an immersive atmosphere where they can envision our furniture in their own living spaces. Through carefully curated scents and music, we engage all five senses, unlocking that elusive sixth sense of emotion. It’s this emotional connection that fosters a loyal following and turns customers into fans of our brand, transcending mere product appreciation.


In the world of Commune, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a way of life. Discover how Commune challenges the status quo by prioritizing durability, timeless design, and responsible material sourcing


F: Mr. Dinkar, if I’m not mistaken, your decision to introduce Commune to India originated from a visit to one of the stores in Singapore. What aspects of the brand’s narrative and product offerings resonated with you? Furthermore, how do you envision adapting and localizing these elements to cater to the Indian market? 

D: The idea to bring Commune to India began a couple of years ago during a visit to Singapore, where I encountered the brand firsthand in a mall. What immediately captured my attention were the design ethos, the storytelling, and the unique ambience of the store; attributes that set it apart from conventional furniture outlets, echoing Joshua’s earlier remarks. The experience of witnessing the products and immersing myself in the brand’s identity stayed with me, leading me to entertain the idea of bringing Commune to India when I later learned about their expansion plans. Upon getting in touch and deliberating, we decided to collaborate. We aim to replicate their narrative, store layout, and the overall atmosphere that greets you when you step into one of their stores. This endeavour centres on capturing and translating the essence of Commune for the Indian audience.


F: My next question is for both of you, Joshua and Mr. Dinkar. Sustainability is a focal point for many consumers today. Could you both elaborate on Commune’s approach to sustainability, particularly concerning material sourcing, manufacturing processes, and long-term environmental impact?

JK: When it comes to sustainability, our approach diverges from the conventional understanding. While many emphasise incorporating recycled or upcycled materials into products, we believe true sustainability lies in creating designs and products that withstand the test of time both in terms of durability and timeless design. Our aim is for our pieces to remain relevant and functional for decades, minimising the need for disposal or replacement, which is the essence of sustainability. In terms of material sourcing, we prioritise responsibly harvested timber, such as oak and walnut from traceable and sustainably managed forests in North America. Furthermore, we ensure that our products meet stringent formaldehyde emissions standards, prioritizing the health and safety of our customers. One significant focus area for us recently has been sustainable packaging. Our new collections are packaged using highly recyclable materials, minimizing the use of plastic and styrofoam. Despite the slight increase in costs, we view this as a necessary step to minimize our environmental footprint, particularly considering that packaging is often discarded after a few months of use. We’ve already implemented these changes in our new collections and are gradually transitioning older collections to sustainable packaging with each new production run.

F: Understood. Would you like to add anything to that, Mr. Dinkar?

D: Joshua has mostly covered our sustainability initiatives in manufacturing, and I’d like to emphasise our commitment to sustainability in our retail spaces as well. We are mindful of the raw materials used in constructing our stores, aligning with our sustainability principles at every stage of the process.


Step into Commune’s flagship store, a sanctuary of ‘quiet modernity’ and understated luxury. Discover how this space serves as a platform for storytelling, community engagement, and immersive brand experiences


F: Got it. Could you elaborate a bit on what went into the construction of the store?

D: When it comes to the store’s construction, we’ve been careful about every detail. For example, we opted for paint with low volatile organic compound (VOC) levels to minimise emissions and promote better indoor air quality. Similarly, we selected fabrics for our furniture that are clean and low in VOCs. These measures ensure that our store provides a healthy and environmentally conscious environment for both our customers and employees. We’ve been particularly mindful of the paint used, as it can significantly impact air quality within the store, avoiding chemicals like lead.


F: So, this flagship store marks a notable milestone for Commune. Mr. Dinkar, could you delve into the strategic importance of this location and how it aligns with the brand’s broader expansion and market penetration objectives?

D: Absolutely. The building we’ve secured in Raghuvanshi Mills in Bombay holds immense significance. It’s quite rare in Bombay to find an independent ground-plus-two structure with a garden, especially within a renowned hub like Raghuvanshi Compound, known for housing various furniture and interior brands. This alone makes it a landmark move for the brand. Moreover, our prime showroom spans over 8000 square feet, and its unique red brick construction gives it a distinct character and presence. This setting is crucial for portraying the brand in the right light. Additionally, this flagship location serves as an ideal platform for attracting potential partners for opening stores across the country. It also serves as a strategic starting point for expanding into different cities, laying the groundwork for our broader market expansion goals.


Unraveling the magic of Commune’s global identity, where partnerships and collaborations transcend borders. Explore how Commune incorporates diverse perspectives to enrich its designs, fostering a sense of global community and collaboration


F: Got it. You mentioned opening more stores, so my follow-up pertains to that. Your vision entails establishing approximately 20 stores over the next five years. Could you outline the initiatives you have in place to ensure the execution of this ambitious growth plan while upholding the brand’s integrity and reputation?

D: Certainly. Let’s break this down into two aspects. Firstly, maintaining consistency in the brand’s products and story, as well as the aesthetics of our stores. Take Commune, for instance. They have about 80 stores in China, each consistently reflecting the brand’s narrative and ambience. We aim to replicate this consistency across our stores. The goal is to have a presence in most tier-one cities. For instance, a city like Bombay could easily accommodate two or three stores within the next five years. Similarly, cities like Ahmedabad would also warrant a couple of stores. We’ll pursue a mix of direct expansion and partnerships with franchisees, all while adhering to our brand and product guidelines sourced from the same supply chain.

F: Understood. Well, I hope you expand to Delhi soon so we can finally meet in person.

D: We are certainly considering it, and hopefully, we’ll make that happen.


F: Okay, so beyond just showcasing products, how does this flagship store serve as a platform for storytelling, community engagement, and immersive brand experiences? This is a question for both of you.

JK: I can start by sharing how we’ve approached this in our global flagship store in Singapore. We view our store not merely as a retail space, but as a lifestyle experience center where customers can engage with us beyond just shopping. For instance, we’ve integrated a café where visitors can relax with a cup of tea or coffee. Additionally, we’ve partnered with various brands to showcase their products in a home environment, offering customers a more immersive experience. We also host a range of events and workshops in-store, from creative sessions to seasonal markets, aimed at building a community of like-minded individuals who see Commune as a hub for lifestyle exploration and discovery. Our store isn’t just about selling furniture; it’s about fostering connections and experiences.

F: Mr. Dinkar, would you like to add anything, particularly about the Indian audience?

D: Our approach in Bombay mirrors this ethos, where we aim to collaborate with local artisans and craftsmen to host workshops and events that resonate with the Indian audience. Our spacious store provides an ideal platform for community engagement, and we look forward to leveraging it to create meaningful experiences for our customers.


Let’s carry with us the lessons learned from Joshua and Mr. Dinkar – the power of staying true to our values and embracing the beauty of the path itself


F: So we’ve touched on this already, but I’d like to delve deeper. What strategies have been employed to ensure the brand resonates with consumers in India while staying true to its global identity? I’d like perspectives from both Mr. Dinkar, as the management spearheading the store’s expansion, and from Joshua, as the driving force behind the products themselves.

D: From a product standpoint, if I may start, as Joshua mentioned earlier, our product line is designed to endure and resonate with Indian consumers. The simplicity and durability of our designs appeal to the Indian market, while still offering a unique flair that sets us apart from other furniture brands. We strive to provide something distinct that customers won’t find elsewhere, and I believe this uniqueness resonates well with Indian consumers.

F: And from your perspective, Joshua?

JK: Our approach to design remains consistent across markets, but we understand the importance of catering to local preferences and needs. While we maintain our design integrity, we adapt specifications such as sizes and dimensions to suit the Indian market. For example, we’ve noticed a preference for wider tables in India due to dining habits, so we’ve accommodated this in our offerings. Ultimately, our products are crafted with the concept of human-centred design, where the user’s needs and preferences are at the forefront. We believe that staying true to our core values while addressing local requirements is key to resonating with consumers in India.

F: Understood. So, it’s about maintaining the brand’s essence while adapting to local nuances and preferences to better serve the Indian market.

D: Exactly. 


At Commune, every piece of furniture is a testament to the enduring allure of craftsmanship and quality. Join me as we delve into the heart of Commune’s philosophy, where innovation dances with tradition and luxury meets accessibility


F: Mr. Dinkar, this question is for you. Building a network of dealerships and expanding the reach of Commune across tier one and tier two cities, as you mentioned, is certainly a complex endeavour. Given your goal to expand to a certain number of stores within a specific timeframe, what are some of the operational and logistical challenges you anticipate in managing this expansion, and how do you plan on addressing them effectively?

D: The most significant challenge we foresee lies in managing our inventory effectively. Unlike many other furniture brands, Commune operates on an inventory-led model, with a diverse range of SKUs across various designs and products. Forecasting demand for these SKUs across multiple stores while maintaining adequate inventory levels poses a considerable logistical challenge, particularly considering our reliance on imports from Vietnam and Malaysia, which come with certain lead times. Mastering the intricacies of inventory management will be crucial as we expand. Additionally, ensuring that every salesperson representing Commune is well-versed in the brand’s story and ethos, and can effectively convey this to customers, is paramount. Consistency in portraying the brand’s identity and vibe across every city will also be a focal point of our expansion strategy.


F: Understood. Indeed, inventory management and maintaining brand consistency across multiple locations are key challenges that require careful planning and execution. Moving on to Joshua again. Collaboration across cultures and borders is a hallmark of Commune’s approach. Can you share some stories or anecdotes that illustrate the richness and diversity of perspectives that contribute to the brand’s global identity and appeal?

JK: When we initially started in Singapore, our focus was naturally on understanding the local market and meeting its needs. However, as we expanded into other regions like China, other parts of Asia, and now India, we realised the importance of tailoring our designs to fit the preferences and requirements of each unique market. Yet, amidst this localisation, we’ve remained committed to incorporating diverse inspirations into our designs.

One strategic move we made for our European market entry was to engage with third-party designers. Historically, all our designs were created in-house, but for our latest ranges launched in Maison this year, we partnered with renowned design studios like Note Design Studio in Sweden and Says Who in Denmark. This collaboration not only helped us better understand the European market but also signalled a level of trust and recognition from these esteemed design houses. This approach of partnering with local talents and designers not only ensures that our products resonate with each market’s sensibilities but also fosters a sense of global community and collaboration within our brand.


In a world where trends fade, Commune stands as a beacon of timeless elegance and sophistication


F: It’s truly fascinating to see how Commune leverages partnerships and collaborations to enrich its global identity while staying rooted in local contexts. Okay, moving on. The concept of “quiet modernity” is quite intriguing and something I’ve only seen with Commune. Can you elaborate on what this term means to both of you and how it manifests in the brand’s design language, customer experience, and overall brand narrative?

JK: ‘Quiet modernity’ reflects Julian’s character. He’s not an outspoken or boisterous person, yet his designs exude a unique modernity. It’s about infusing modern elements into our designs while maintaining a sense of tranquillity and comfort. When you enter our stores, you experience this calmness and homeliness that encourages customers to linger and explore. So, that’s how we embody the concept of “quiet modernity” in both our designs and customer experience.

F: Got it. Any thoughts from your end, Mr. Dinkar?

D: I would term it as ‘understated luxury.’ When you walk into our stores, you’ll find that it’s not loud or ostentatious but rather beautiful, homely, and warm, with thoughtful design elements. It’s about achieving luxury through subtlety, and I believe we’ve managed to capture that essence quite well.


F: Nailing that to the T, I must say. Okay, just two more questions to go from my end. Firstly, as leaders in the accessible luxury lifestyle industry, what values and principles guide your decision-making processes, both of you? Particularly in terms of innovation and social responsibility in the development and expansion of Commune’s presence in India.

D: Let me break this down into two fronts. Firstly, when it comes to our product line, we recognize that the furniture industry lacks consistent standards and often follows trends without considering long-term value for customers. Our approach at Commune is different. We prioritize understanding our customers’ needs and preferences, designing our strategies accordingly. Secondly, in terms of working with partners, transparency and honesty are paramount. We aim to support our franchise partners, whether they’re seasoned professionals or newcomers to the industry, by providing them with the necessary resources and time to thrive. We’re not just focused on rapid expansion; we’re committed to fostering sustainable growth and mutually beneficial relationships.

F: What’s your take, Joshua?

JK: Our family-owned business has a legacy spanning 50 years and multiple generations. Our decision-making is driven by a long-term view of business sustainability. We’re not interested in short-lived success; we aim to build a brand that lasts for centuries, focusing on profitability and value creation for all stakeholders. This perspective influences everything from the materials we use to the innovative technologies we implement in our retail experience. For us, innovation isn’t just about staying ahead of the curve; it’s about enhancing the customer journey and ensuring that our brand remains relevant and impactful. We’re committed to leveraging technology to make shopping easier and more immersive for our customers, ultimately placing their needs and satisfaction at the forefront of our expansion efforts.


Join us as we celebrate the journey from humble beginnings to global recognition, where every piece of furniture whispers stories of passion and ingenuity. Let’s embrace the legacy of excellence together


F: Okay, and last but not least, again, a two-part question. So, as you mentioned, Commune comes from a long family background. Many individuals today prefer not to join their family businesses. So, firstly, what motivated you and Julian to dive headfirst into it, and how has that journey been from the beginning to now? And for Mr. Dinkar, what made Commune stand out to you? Surely, you must have encountered numerous similar brands, but why specifically Commune?

JK: I’ll go first. It’s quite common for the younger generation to shy away from joining their family businesses, especially in the third generation. However, for Julian and me, our upbringing was deeply intertwined with the family business. From a young age, we spent time in the factory, attended business meetings with our father, and gained a comprehensive understanding of the industry. This immersion instilled in us a sense of responsibility and pride in continuing the family legacy. When we founded Commune in 2011, our goal was to create a brand that would endure for generations to come, leaving behind a lasting legacy for our descendants.

D: For me, what made Commune stand out was its unique blend of modernity and heritage. While there are many brands in the market, Commune’s commitment to accessible luxury, innovative design, and sustainability truly resonated with me. Moreover, its rich family heritage and dedication to quality craftsmanship set it apart from other brands. I saw in Commune not just a business opportunity, but a brand with a genuine story and vision that I wanted to be a part of.

F: Sure. Before I move on to Mr. Dinkar, just one thing, if not in the family business, what would you have done? Like, what would your alternative career be?

JK: Okay. I love cars. So I would have likely pursued a career in the automotive industry or something product-based.

F: Interesting. Quite different and interesting, yes. Moving on to Mr. Dinkar. 

D: So, coming to why we got involved with Commune… Again, it goes back to that visit to the store that I made a couple of years ago. We’ve come from a multi-generational family business, spanning the last three generations in furniture and before that in textiles. So, furniture has again been in my DNA. But we’ve primarily been on the commercial contract side of the business for many, many years. When I wanted to enter the residential side of the business, we looked at a couple of brands, a lot of European brands, and a few other brands. What stood out to me was my visit to the Commune store many years ago. And then, when I met Joshua, Julian, and the team over there, it was an instant connection of philosophies, mindset, ethics, morals, etc., that played a very important role. The commitment to partnerships, the commitment to relationships, not doing something short term but looking at things long term, that kind of gelled it and created a common platform that we felt we could work together on. And that was something that changed my mind and made me look at just that.

F: Understood. And the second part of the question applies to you also. If not furniture and textiles, what would you have done? And I want an answer. You can’t say no.

D: At one point in time, I wanted to get into the hospitality business because the family was running one of Bangalore’s oldest and most well-known restaurants back in the day. If not that, it would have been an investment banker for sure.


Delve into the heart of Commune’s philosophy, where every design decision is guided by a profound understanding of human needs and aspirations


As our journey through the world of Commune comes to a close, we are left awestruck by the sheer magnitude of its impact and the depth of its vision. From its inception as a humble family business to its rise as a global powerhouse in the furniture industry. In an age where trends come and go in the blink of an eye, it stands as a beacon of elegance and sophistication; an ode to the enduring allure of craftsmanship and quality. Through its commitment to sustainability, social responsibility, and human-centred design, Commune has not only redefined the boundaries of luxury but has also paved the way for a more inclusive and sustainable future.

As we bid farewell to this journey, let us carry with us the lessons learned from Joshua and Mr. Dinkar – the importance of staying true to one’s values, the power of collaboration and community, and the relentless pursuit of excellence.For in the world of Commune, the journey is not just about reaching a destination; it’s about embracing the beauty of the path itself. 

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