Getting creative with concrete at BentukBentuk
PETALING JAYA, April 16 — Most of us associate concrete with our floors and walls but who knew you can also use it for decorative items.
With BentukBentuk (Malay for shapes) — set up just a year ago by husband-and-wife team, Adesh Zaini and Shahfiq Manap — you enter a world of items all fashioned from concrete. These items lend a touch of industrial chic to the home.
As a self-confessed lover of Pinterest, the creative Adesh is also into D-I-Y and even decorated her own wedding pelamin. As she researched online, she came upon concrete planters.
She adds, “I thought it was cute and really liked what it looked like.” Unable to find it locally, the enterprising young woman decided she would make it herself!
Once her friends saw her concrete creation on Instagram, they clamoured for similar pieces… which she gladly obliged. However, it came to a point where the couple realised there was a limit to giving away their creations and should instead explore it as a business venture.
With this in mind, they started their own R&D to perfect the handmade concrete items for sale. As they only had their spare time to work on this venture, it took them around six months until they were happy with the results.
“We had to fine tune the design, the mould and the recipe for the mixture to get the right hardness,” explained Shahfiq who works for a mobile phone operator. Most of it was via trial and error, reading books and even consulting those in-the-know such as contractors. Shahfiq adds, “We do a lot of reading to ensure we know a lot about the product.”
The making process starts off with mixing concrete, fine sand, hardener and water. Adesh quips that it is, “macam buat kuih (like making cake)!” In fact, she shares with us that for larger mixtures, she uses a hand cake mixer she got as a gift!
The ratio of the ingredients is also important to ensure a more durable product that has a smooth surface without bubbles. To create the colours, a colour pigment powder is added to the mixture. For the marbling effect, two different coloured mixtures are swirled together to make the pattern… just like making a marble butter cake!
Initially, they used foam boards and milk cartons to cast the concrete items but they didn’t yield satisfactory results. Later they turned to silicone moulds. The material was an excellent medium since it does not absorb water which produces a smoother surface.
It is only the bottom of their pieces that require sanding to smoothen them out. As the couple reside in a condominium, they usually reserve that noisy sanding process to when they visit Adesh’s sister’s house.
As they wanted moulds of certain shapes, they had to custom make them. Adesh tells us the process first starts with her sketching out the shapes in 3D form. The systems analyst by profession gets to put her multimedia degree to good use when she does these simple 3D sketches.
Once completed, it is printed out with plastic filament using a 3D printer. With raw silicone they purchase from overseas, that 3D figure will be used to form the silicone mould.
Once the cement mixture is poured into the mould, it is gently shaken a few times to dissipate the bubbles. It will be left to dry for at least 24 hours. “We found out the drying time also affects the strength of the product,” explained Shahfiq.
Usually most artisans take up to six hours but BentukBentuk prefers a longer time to ensure each piece is durable. In fact, durablity is a big thing for BentukBentuk; they do drop tests to see how their items fare under extreme stress.
“We call it sturdy but breakable,” explained Adesh. Next the pieces are submerged in water for at least 40 to 48 hours. This curing process adds strength to the products making them even more durable.
Once it is removed and dried, usually the bottom of the pieces will need to be sanded. Finally a waterproof sealant will be brushed on to give it a gloss and protect it from dust. They will use waterproof ink to stamp their logo on their handmade products.
Last April 18, they finally launched BentukBentuk with a small collection of concrete planters of different shapes and sizes. Some had plain edges while others had a faceted edge.
You can use them for air plants or even to store other items such as paper clips or even accessories. “It’s not primarily for plants but for everything,” explained Shahfiq. The collection also included concrete letters that would be perfect for decorative purposes. All their items were sold via Instagram.
From the initial stage, they started out with white, grey and marble colours. Later, more colours were introduced including pastel pink and blue. Plans are also underway to unveil more colours. This includes a pastel green that will be a perfect accompaniment for the other light coloured shades.
The pieces for BentukBentuk are usually made by order even though they do carry a small stock of finished items (around 5-10 pieces per colour) since some customers want ready stock. As they have limited moulds, they often have to make them every night in different stages.
Adesh tells us that they try to introduce more designs every four months. “We like to do it like IKEA with annual catalogues so it makes consumers attracted and don’t get bored,” explained Adesh.
They are also experimenting with concrete for a number of applications beyond just home decor. Customers can look forward to this in May as Adesh promises new designs, new colours and new functions for their products. “We have a lot of designs in the pipeline,” said Shahfiq.
A collection of wearable concrete pieces is also anticipated for this coming June or July.
When concept store Koncent approached them last year, the couple jumped at the chance to have their products in the store on a consignment basis for three months. That opportunity opened more doors for them such as a tight friendship with fellow artisans, Ohsum Mossum Terrariums and Wanpi 玩皮 who makes leather products.
Ohsum’s owner Ronnie Khoo contacted them about a collaboration and later roped in Wanpi 玩皮 whom he is friends with. This led to the birth of a collaborative hanging planter that used all their talents.
Later, when Koncent Malaysia was approached by Isetan The Japan Store Kuala Lumpur to exhibit their items, they introduced the artisans they had featured in this year’s Design Link like BentukBentuk.
To celebrate, they unveiled an exclusive colour, the Sakura Grey — a marbled mixture of grey and pink — for the department store. It was a sellout success with many customers requesting for that special hue. Later, Isetan The Japan Store Kuala Lumpur asked BentukBentuk to continue showcasing their products in their store.
This business venture is one of many that the couple have started as Adesh admits they aren’t the type to be twiddling their thumbs during their free time. “We always have a side business as we do not like to do nothing.”
That entrepreneurial streak saw them setting up their own wedding photography business. However, when Adesh was posted to Singapore for one year for work, they had to halt their three-year-old business.
Later when Adesh returned, she dabbled in the hijab business with her friends. Even though response was good, she decided to forgo that opportunity since there were some personal conflicts.
When she decided to go back to the hijab business two years later, it was hard to get a foothold in the market as it had become very competitive. Similarly another clothing business started by Shahfiq that sold kurtas for men was also unable to continue due to stiff competition.
With BentukBentuk, the couple’s partnership works well too, as each of them contributes their respective talents. As Adesh explains, “In the business, I am more on the creative side while he contributes on the management, inventory, invoices and the operations.”
Prices are also kept reasonable despite the amount of detailed work needed to ensure each piece is perfect. They add, “We want to make it affordable art.” One of their bestsellers is their Hexa Coasters that are perfect for your Instagram top shot.
https://www.instagram.com/howsmooth/) to produce gift boxes that package handmade soaps with BentukBentuk’s Faceted Geo Dish.They are also collaborating with soap maker, Howsmooth (
On whether they want to take a bold step and make it a full-time venture, Adesh explains that they prefer taking a more cautious approach and will see how the response for BentukBentuk is this year. In the meantime, this year, they have joined the bazaar circuit and are trying to scout for potential markets to sell their products.
For their first year anniversary that falls on April 18, BentukBentuk will be doing an Instagram giveaway for two days. Participate and score a special gift box of handmade soaps by Howsmooth and Faceted Geo Dish from BentukBentuk.
Shop for BentukBentuk on the following:
You can also find their products at Koncent Malaysia and Isetan The Japan Store Kuala Lumpur.