A DIY furniture guide to Yangon

Filling your flat with inexpensive, good-looking homewares is easy – but only if you know how.

By JARED DOWNING | FRONTIER

IT IS almost moving season, that magical time before rainy season when people trade homes like hermit crabs. Yangon may not have its own IKEA yet, but here is a guide to help you take the furnishing of your flat into your own hands.

(Note: Frontier published a similar guide in 2017, but some things have changed and there are now more DIY possibilities than ever.)

Pallet furniture

In the last few years, wooden loading pallets have fallen off the cargo truck and straight into the Pinterester’s heart. You can buy pallets of various sizes on 54th Street (lower block, between Strand and Merchant roads) that can be varnished and stacked like Lego to make custom sofas, tables, chairs, and other features. Keep reading for tips on custom cushioning, and click this link for some pallet-spiration from the Wonderful DIY blog.

Spool furniture

A DIY sister to pallets, industrial spools (think an ordinary sewing spool, only giant) make for delightfully rustic coffee and end tables, either whole or with an end removed and attached to table legs. The industrial wire sellers on 29th Street, between Anawrahta and Maha Bandoola roads, will usually part with their empty spools for a token fee. Alternatively, construction crews often dump spools outside worksites and on roadsides, so keep your eyes peeled.

Affordable custom furniture

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The pallet makers on 54th Street are willing to nail together rough chairs, tables, bookcases and other furniture upon request, but recently some of them have started offering more professional furniture out of the same, cheap lumber. Decent-looking bookcases, cabinets and even full-sized dining tables can be commissioned for between K40,000 and K100,000.

Pillows, cushions and upholstery

For a relatively cheap and heavy duty solution there’s a huge indoor cushion and upholstery bazaar on Seikkanthar Street, between Anawrahta and Bogyoke Aung San roads, where all sorts of foams and heavy-duty fabrics are available along with dozens of tailors ready to craft the perfect cushioning for your pallet sofa. Look for the entry to a large, grey building on the east side of the street about halfway up the block.

For quality custom pillows – we’re talking enormous, fluffy pillows made with beautiful, hand-spun fabric – visit the Women’s Development Centre on Thanlwin Road in Bahan (check Google Maps). They also sell fabric by the yard.

On that note, Kyaw Zayar in Sanchaung (No 64 Mingalar Street) has a variety of hand-made Shan fabrics of all colours and patterns for your cushion covers, curtains and attire. The range is staggering, especially for such a small shop. 

Mirrors and glass tabletops

Getting a glass top for your pallet or spool table is less expensive than you might think, and glass shops (who will also make mirrors of any size) are commonplace throughout the city. Try Yadanabon Glass Enterprise and Bandoola Glass Centre, both on the upper block of Bo Sun Pat Street, between Anawrahta and Bogyoke Aung San roads.

Illustration by Jared Downing | Frontier

Illustration by Jared Downing | Frontier

Photo framing

Frame shops are everywhere, but high quality frame shops are rare. Thiriwaimon Gallery on University Avenue (south side of the street, just before Kabar Aye Pagoda Road) crafts fine-art quality frames with matting, but for a premium. A less expensive option (for grade of materials, not craftsmanship) is TM Photo Framing Decoration on the corner of Anawrahta Road and 31st Street.

Or you could nix the frame altogether in favor of tasteful stretched canvas on a wooden frame. Thazin Printing on Seikkanthar Street, just north of Anawratha Road, offers canvas prints, and a fine arts shop on 33rd Street (between Anawrahta  and Bogyoke Aung San roads, west side of the street) sells wooden canvas frames in various sizes.

Lighting

The Myanmar penchant for white, office-style lighting in every room does not always match Western tastes, but it makes for an easy re-design. PRO1 Home Centre carries a variety of light fixtures, dimmer switches, yellow and orange light bulbs, track lighting, mini spotlights and “Edison”-style filament bulbs. There are PRO1 outlets across the city, including on Lanthit Road in Insein Township, and on Upper Pazundaung Road east of Kandawgyi Lake. Ask around for a good electrician to install the light fixtures and expect to pay around K25,000.

Tools and materials

PRO1 is the closest Yangon has to a big box hardware store. It sells basically any tool and accessory you might need as well as raw materials like electrical wire, glue, tape and sandpaper. It also has a surprising amount of finished furniture and household appliances.

Of course, Yangon is replete with hardware bazaars selling all manner of home improvement material, but these can be difficult to navigate if you don’t speak Burmese or know how the system works.

The embassy junk shop

Need old desks, lamps, chairs, tea sets and… security cameras? Head on down to the unnamed junk shop on the east side of Kabar Aye Pagoda Road beside the University Avenue flyover. The owner buys old… well, everything, from embassies and hotels around the city. You might have to dig around (literally) and a lot of it may not be relevant (think: a hospital stretcher, old Russian movie reels and way too many mismatched golf clubs), but it’s also good for a few household treasures.

The place is listed on Google Maps as “Sweet Antique Shop” and is near the Fushan Temple. Look for the rusty refrigerators on the lawn.

By Jared Downing

By Jared Downing

Jared Downing is an American journalist from Colorado and Alabama. He likes podcasts, radio theatre and hitchhiking and collects cans of sardines from around the world.
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