inspired by a simple malaysian coffee shop traditionally called kopitiam’s [malay for maylaysian shop], its down-to-earth interior and unique material culture, chia lee’s collection offers a glimpse into the new york-based designer’s humble childhood memories and her take on the materiality and the reiteration of traditional crafts. designboom shares lee’s experience and her story about how she came up with an idea for a coffee shop-inspired clothes and furniture collection.

daughter look



‘the kopitiam collection started off simply as a reflection of my childhood memories of a kopitiam,’ says chia lee. ‘kopitiam is a traditional coffee shop where the locals start their day — it serves a simple breakfast that consists of charcoal-toasted bread with kaya [malaysian coconut] jam, soft-boiled eggs, and homemade coffee.’

bead-weaving in hibiscus pattern



‘kopitiam’s interior tells the story of how immigrants from china came to nanyang (south sea or south east asia) in the late 18th century, a land they saw as a heaven for prosperity and a life-changing future for their family,’ continues the designer. ‘kopitiam is the evidence of a melting-pot culture started by the hainanese immigrants who called malaysia their second home. societies collided and new cultural practices were formed as the locals and the immigrants lives intertwined.’

grandmother look



‘at a first glance, there is nothing special about these old establishments, but I was intrigued by the simplicity of interior and the contrasting materials used within the space. everything seems to be cluttered but yet harmoniously interwoven with each other. I hope to portray the beauty within the simplicity of everyday malaysian life and to evoke a sense of nostalgia through the use of crafts and materials within my collection.’

great-grandmother look


bead-weaving with raffia embellishments


kopitiam interior



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: maria erman | designboom

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