Marks of History
By Tom Lassiter
Furniture creates memories. That’s certainly the case for Mal Haddad, who grew up in Singapore.
“I remember my bedroom had all this teak, retro-looking, from Indonesia, what you would consider Mid-Century. Very high-end, very beautiful, very heavy.”
When Haddad travels to visit his mother in Singapore, those memories get refreshed. “I still see that bedroom set and armoire,” he says, “so big and heavy you could hide in it.”
Just as the design of a piece of furniture tells a story, so do the minor blemishes that come with decades of service. Those marks, he says, “are part of the history of what happens in your life. They’re beautiful in their own way.”
Haddad studied ocean engineering, preparing for a career designing anything to do with the sea and fluid dynamics.
But his true love was applying his design and engineering skills to wood furniture, a passion he pursued on the side. A brother who worked in the hospitality industry in Indonesia encouraged him to pursue his passion.
Haddad sought out furniture manufacturers who turned his designs into products that he sold online under the Jatique brand. He also opened a gallery in North Florida, where he still lives.
Among those who discovered his products was James TenBroeck, another North Florida resident and founder of Westminster Teak. TenBroeck greatly admired Haddad’s designs and suggested that Haddad should concentrate more on pursuing his passion.
“He said we should work together,” Haddad recalls. “It took a couple of years for me to agree.”
Today Haddad is vice president at Westminster Teak, where he’s also the designer. Getting that title “was one of the conditions when I joined the company,” he says. “That gives me the latitude to do what I love. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work.”
Westminster Teak began selling direct to consumers through the Internet, and it still reaches many customers that way. Over time, the company also developed a strong relationship with the design trade.
“We have over 10,000 designers in our database who frequently come back to us,” Haddad says. “Probably half or more of our business is from the trade.”
Westminster Teak has placed its products with a few specialty retailers, Haddad says. An effort to get into retail stores unfortunately began about the time of the Great Recession and “did not work out well.
“We’re starting to look at that again,” he says. “And we’re always looking for strategic partnerships with designers, retailers and architects.”
Westminster Teak works directly with an Indonesian manufacturer that produces other categories in addition to teak. “It’s a big factory,” Haddad says. “It also does work for many of the big brand names.”
Haddad says his company will remain dedicated to wood furniture. “We are focused on teak,” he says. “There’s a classic element about it that is timeless.”
Haddad says the quality of Westminster Teak is competitive with any of the best-known brands. Prices, he says, tend to be more affordable.
A retailer saw a Westminster Teak sofa for the first time at a recent trade show and guessed that it would retail for $8,000 or more. Haddad says the actual price was less than $2,000.
Westminster Teak produces a single product line that it sells to consumers, designers and the hospitality industry. “It’s all high grade, made to commercial specifications,” Haddad says.
The company uses only plantation-grown teak and “only the best, premium-grade wood.”
Westminster Teak ships to customers from warehouses in Orange County, California, and Live Oak, Florida, near Savannah.
The company’s hospitality and corporate clients include W Hotels, St. Regis and Four Seasons hotels, IBM, Apple, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The actor “Mark Wahlberg just bought a bunch and had it delivered to his house on Mulholland Drive,” Haddad says.
Another well-known customer recently had Westminster Teak delivered to a weekend retreat known as Camp David.
Haddad’s love of teak is boundless. Older pieces of teak furniture tell a story, he says, and new items are destined for decades of service and making memories.
The owner of a teak dining table, he says, can associate a story with every beauty mark acquired over the years. A stain or nick with teak is treated differently than a blemish in a highly polished hardwood dining table.
Because it’s teak, he says, people are apt to be more relaxed. Teak is meant to be forever.
“With teak, you can have a relationship with your dining table. You act differently because of its resilience. The marks are part of the history of what happens in your life. It’s beautiful in its own way.”