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Nick Rennie: designing the world


Article by Jan Henderson. 

This article originally appeared in inside 93 – available now on newsstands, or digitally through Zinio.

As one of Australia’s leading product designers Nick Rennie is a force to be reckoned with. He established his own practice, happy finish design, in 2001 and over the last 15 years has created a way of life and a business, and enjoyed great success both here and overseas. His road from student to leading designer is a lesson to anyone who has talent, a vision and the will to succeed, and these attributes Rennie has in abundance.

As one of the busiest designers in Australia, Rennie’s creative output is prolific. He travels constantly and his passport reads like a roadmap to the world’s design hotspots. Rennie is based in Melbourne, but equally at home in Tokyo, Milan or Paris and he counts many of the world’s leading designers and furniture company CEOs as his friends. Nick Rennie is, without a doubt, a man who embraces life and his profession with equal portions of passion and dexterity, and one of his finest qualities is that he has never wavered in the face of adversity.

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Rennie’s Softly sofa for Ligne Roset (2016)


Rennie always makes the most of every situation and, through his experience and quiet determination, he embraces his design work, exploring possibilities and problem solving with expert precision. These traits, of course, manifest themselves in his designs, and what designs! Each project is crafted with a simple elegance and a touch of humour and it is this that sets his products apart. His output is profound with some 30 to 40 new product designs each and every year; however, these are not just concepts, but prototypes ready for manufacture. Not bad for a one-time sports fanatic with Olympic potential who changed professional direction in his early 20s.

Rennie studied at RMIT and achieved top marks for his final year furniture project in 1998. Then, with the assistance of early mentor Kjell Grant, he made the pilgrimage to Milan and SaloneSatellite in 2000 exhibiting with the newly created Melbourne Movement. He returned to Milan exhibiting for the next four years and worked to develop relationships with major European furniture companies, learning how the commissioning process worked. Anyone who has ever tried to establish a relationship with European furniture companies (with a view to designing for them) will tell you it is an arduous path, long and tedious, filled with broken appointments and promises, but Rennie was persistent and so set the foundations for his future.

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Rennie’s Saldo table for Ligne Roset (2012)


A little before Rennie’s relationship with Italy began, he discovered another country that has been, and still is, a great influence in his life. His love affair with Japan began in 2002 when he created the installation The Shape of Rain for Tokyo Design Week. The installation reinterpreted a rain shower as a frozen moment in time and the raindrops were translated as thousands of plastic beads suspended on invisible wire hung from above. This ephemeral project was greeted with great acclaim and brought with it a network of new colleagues and friends that he works with to this day.

Rennie is a man of principle with a dogged determination and relentless persistence to succeed. He approaches his work with great seriousness and creates his own ‘luck’. His style is upfront and he was the first among his peers to compile a hardcover book of all his potential designs to present to clients. Some would say this is a risky thing to do with no signed contract in hand, but Rennie sees the book as the hard copy of his life and expects the best from those who accept his gift. The first iteration of this hefty catalogue was entitled Unrealised, a title that made reference to his work as products not yet manufactured. On another level, however, the title also referred to the man himself as a designer who had yet to achieve his potential. Since the first edition of this product monograph in 2007 the book has grown exponentially each year and is now a substantial volume of 320 pages. At this stage of his career and success, one would suggest that Unrealised is indeed now realised.

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Chart rug for Ligne Roset (2014)


Rennie has worked with major international companies that include Ligne Roset, Normann Copenhagen and Porro and is still designing new products for all of them. His Softly sofa for Ligne Roset launched this year in Germany (at IMM Cologne), Paris (Maison&Object) and Milan (Salone Del Mobile). It has received accolades worldwide and is proving to be a best seller for the French company. As a further endorsement of his skill, and a landmark moment in Rennie’s career, Softly is the first sofa on the market designed by an Australian for a European company. Softly joins many other products designed by Rennie for Ligne Roset and these include rugs (Chart, 2014), lamps (Mushroom, 2014) and coffee and side tables (Saldo, 2012) with more designs in the pipeline. Another milestone product for Rennie was Chiku, a shelving unit, designed for Italian company Porro. Rennie credits this as one of the highlight designs of his career, with the original concept explored in 2005 and manufactured in 2008. Chiku has been an outstanding success and is also a fine example of Rennie’s perseverance in maintaining relationships that actually produce manufactured products.

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Mushroom lamp for Ligne Roset (2014). Image Shannon McGrath


There are also smaller objects in the Rennie portfolio, such as the collection of Still vases for Normann Copenhagen, along with myriad chairs, tables, stools and jewellery.

As if Rennie isn’t busy enough, last year he established ni.ni.creative with his good friend, the interior designer and stylist Nina Provan. This venture is an online business that specialises in sophisticated accessories, such as cushions for the home, as well as leather handbags with more objects to follow.

Nick Rennie is a designer par excellence. His enthusiasm for his craft coupled with his talent, quiet personality and generous nature has assured him a place as a leader of product design in a global market. As an Australian he has paved a pathway for himself and those who aspire to become an international designer, and it’s a fine example to follow.


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