Alfred Aw Sze How simply cannot stand to see old things being discarded.
He likes giving them a new lease of life – a hobby he cannot tear himself away from.
The fact that he keeps his “rescued” possessions in two storehouses doesn’t mean Aw is a hoarder; far from it.
The self-taught designer of sorts has an unusual eye for unwanted items.
A visit to his office will tell you more. Among his creations: tables using antiquated sewing machines as the base, table tops utilising old window panes, staircase lined with old carpet tiles, laminated placemats of old KFC menus … the list goes on.
“Isn’t it pretty?” he asks proudly, taking me on a tour of his cosy, homely workplace in Cheras, Selangor.
He points to a large refrigerator as we enter the premises.
“Soon, this will be filled with sweets and snacks for the kids so that they will remember Uncle Alfred as someone who always had goodies for them. Their parents might not be too thrilled, but hey, when you were a child, weren’t you happy to receive sweets?” he asks, grinning devilishly at the thought.
“This low table, look at it and you’ll notice the old wooden window panes I simply had to get. How could I not get it?”
That’s Aw for you. When his eyes feast on an interesting object, it tugs at his heartstrings and out comes the wallet.
“When I see something I like, I buy it immediately because I can see the uniqueness in it. I may not know then what I want to do with it but I will definitely find some use for it at some point,” says Aw, 42.
One of the first items he purchased was a 20-volume encyclopaedia, which an old couple was selling in the 1990s.
He questions, “Who refers to the encyclopaedia these days when the Internet is there? But, I knew it would come in handy someday.”
When he designed his “meeting table”, he used the legs of an old billiard table and left a space between the tabletop and the legs. The books were slotted in here.
“Since I only had 20 books, I scouted around for another 20 of the same red and gold encyclopaedia to fill the space. Doesn’t it look lovely?” he says, beaming proudly. “If anyone is bored, they can pick up a volume and browse through it. Some day, I may read it myself!”
He sources his stuff from junkyards, villages and on his travels. His favourite items: sewing machines and billiard tables.
“A lot of old people give me things because they know I’ll find a use for it. I can’t say no, so I accept them!”
An inquisitive boy
Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as a child, Aw had trouble focusing, was hyperactive and impulsive. But he was also curious, creative and very often, naughty.
The son of a civil servant, he remembers growing up in a rumah pangsa, where theirs was the only Chinese family in the block.
“I used to slam toys against the wall just to see the reaction. And at age eight, I remember altering my report card to modify my position in class … all with a hard eraser, as there was no liquid paper back then. I just couldn’t study. So you can imagine the beatings I received from my parents,” recalls Aw, laughing.
Despite his poor academic performance, he had a talent for modifying things – and, an entrepreneurial spirit. When he was 11, he started an electronics club where he bought LED packages, redesigned them and taught the skill to fellow schoolmates for RM20.
In secondary school, being a King Scout also allowed him room to explore other non-academic pursuits.
Aw says candidly, “In my Form Five exams, I got distinctions for art and languages but everything else, I barely passed, or failed! The results were enough to get me to college, so off I went to KL to study. However, I only liked graphic design but couldn’t do the other subjects so I dropped out and started working odd jobs to support myself. I’ve done everything from being a painter, cleaner, driver, etc.”
Those experiences helped shape him.
One day, it suddenly struck him that he needed to find permanent employment instead of being a rolling stone. Aw secured a job as a salesman in the biggest carpet tile factory then. He was 21.
Here, he picked up the essential tricks of the trade before the company went bankrupt.
“With RM2,000 savings, I decided to start my own carpet contractor company. It was a one-man, home-based show. I did everything – from carpet to wallpapers, blinds and interior furnishings – until customers started to ask me to design their whole office instead of doing one particular thing.
“More projects came in and I expanded from there,” relates Aw, who eventually established Award Design Works Asia Sdn Bhd.
Along the way, he also developed a penchant for old items and loved modifying their design to recreate new, functional items. It became a hobby as he “decorated” his home with these pieces.
For example, designers use a lot of marker pens but are constantly misplacing them. So, Aw bought a magnetic ceiling bracket, mounted it on and modified the pens so that they would hang from the bracket. To use a marker, one can easily yank it from above and place it back just as effortlessly.
For accessibility and neatness at the workplace, he has also placed stationery in containers that hang from the ceiling.
To add brightness to his office, Aw decided a particular area needed a window for air and light. Using the Times New Roman font, he designed an A-frame (after his name and company) window, which never fails to attract attention.
If you step into his office pantry, here you will see old menus from fast food outlets. Aw had them laminated, and uses them as placemats.
Understandably, he loves carpet so any extra pieces are put to good use – for instance, he uses them to line the staircase, and enhance walls, drawer tops, etc.
“Nothing needs to go to waste. Things are literally waiting to be reused. I’ve never calculated my purchases so I don’t know how much they all cost. What’s more important is that they’re given a second chance to serve,” he concludes.
Fly-catcher? Finger wrestler? Air trumpeter? If you have a unique, out-of-this world, wacky hobby or passion that you’d like to share, please write in to our hobbies co-ordinator, Revathi Murugappan, at firstname.lastname@example.org