Many expats living in Siem Reap have found themselves on the eternal quest for a comfortable sofa.
A big, squishy sofa like the one at home, that allows a body to really stretch out on. A Khmer settee – wooden, bench-like and unforgiving – just doesn’t cut it.
Enter the Sofa Man. He can make expats anything they like. He’ll copy any design, and he even has an Ikea catalogue.
His workshop is in a large building in Lok Taney Street, with a faded sign saying, ‘Second Hand Shop.’
When I met You Nora, the smiling owner, I picked out my sofa and taupe material and, within a week, there it was in my flat.
Two sofas to be precise, forming an L-shape on which I could lounge to my heart’s content. It was wide, slightly 70s-looking and so darn comfortable I nearly fell asleep on it.
Nora the Sofa Man has actually built quite a growing local reputation. Having found him by posting a question on Facebook, a flurry of further questions about his whereabouts ensued.
When I mentioned the success of my visit, requests quickly popped up for photographic evidence and still more questions about where exactly this sofa man was, and precisely how comfortable was my couch?
In the end my photo generated over 30 Facebook queries, and general comments from fellow comfort-seeking expats. Further research revealed at least 12 people either already owned, or intended to buy, a Sofa Man sofa.
Nora has quickly become a local celebrity in the expat community, but he has actually quietly been serving locals and the hotel industry for some time.
Arriving in Temple Town from Phnom Penh in 2007, Nora planned to open a steel processing shop, but soon ran into problems when the school next door complained about the noise. Realising he needed a new idea, he went into business with a Korean partner, selling second-hand furniture.
The duo sold furniture sourced from Korean shops that had closed down, until 2009, when Nora decided to go it alone.
He expanded the workshop and started making furniture and the now famous sofas, alongside the second-hand business.
Nora explains he made his first ‘western’ style sofa when a customer requested it, and now people regularly bring in pictures or designs, or simply point to a sofa in the shop and say they want that one.
This year his team of nine has made many sofas for expats, as well as for venues like the Pyramid Club on National Road Six and the mini cinema at Angkor Trade Centre.
“We have made sofas for karaoke rooms, for the home, many, many sofas. Hotels also, including some 5-star hotels like Sofitel. We work with foreigners 60 per cent, but local only 40 per cent,” he says.
Nora thinks the secret of his success is his ‘honesty,’ as well as having a big place, and of course recommendations. He was even asked to open a shop in Phnom Penh, something he is considering for the future.
“I don’t advertise but everybody comes,” he says.
He is greatly amused about his Facebook fame, chuckling and saying, “I am very thankful for that.”
Gesturing to a red vinyl-covered sofa, he says he thinks his sofas are so popular because, “European style is more comfortable. Khmers think about long life. Wood can last until ten generations, this is the reason. Because Khmers think wood is not cheap, we buy now, ten more years it will be still the same or still valuable. They think like that.
“But I think foreigners think about comfort and they don’t think about long time, because they want to change to a new style.”
He divulges that he himself prefers a Khmer sofa, although he does have one western-style sofa “for sitting by myself.” And why not?