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The international set: Aussie design abroad


Pictured above: Christopher Boots’ Portal lamp

This article originally appeared in inside 92 – available now on newsstands, or digitally through Zinio.

When it comes to Australians doing well overseas, mainstream thinking seems to stop at the mega-stardom of Marc Newson. The product design sector is, however, alive with a swathe of Australian designers who have their eye set on the prize, including a reputed 11 Australians with Alessi products to their credit. The likes of Helen Kontouris, Adam Goodrum, Adam Cornish and David Knott are now names the design industry freely associates with international brands. Compounding this is a rising sea of talent – some with surprising international clout, others with stardom borne of their product. And while each has hit on a product that sells and sells well, the commonality is a handcrafted unique quality. Indeed, Australians are getting much better at not mucking this element up. Edges are messy, colours are allowed variation and form celebrates the influence of materiality. This then is a short list of just a few of the other Australian designers making their mark in the world.


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Christopher Boots Asterix lamp, polished brass



The sheer audacity of Christopher Boots’ lighting is undeniable: beautiful, sculptural and always decidedly and singularly unique. Boots has never wavered from the simple principle of designing and hand-making each design himself. Granted, he now has a team of exceptional artisans in his Melbourne atelier, including glass blowers, coppersmiths, ceramicists, sculptors and bronze casters, but the primary tenet remains. Or, as Boots puts it, all products are made with love and care. And it is this element that simply cannot be faked; the objects are quite obviously handcrafted with care and sensitivity to the nuance and irregularity of material, where it is these very irregularities that are brought into the light. Specialising in limited edition and unique pieces, his work has most recently been showcased as the central design for Hermès’ holiday windows in both Madison Avenue stores, New York.



Paint and Paper Library's matte paint in Porcelain II and V.  Photo: Paul Raeside

Paint and Paper Library’s matte paint in Porcelain II and V. Photo: Paul Raeside


Launching 11 new wallpapers and three coordinating fabrics under licence worldwide to F Schumacher Inc in New York this past May, David Oliver is fast making a name for himself. The founder of David Oliver Original/Paint and Paper Library brands, after 20 years, he has recently sold the operation, while retaining a retail arm in Chelsea, London, where he continues to sell the architectural colours and original paint library that have garnered him the ‘darling of interior designers’ moniker. This rather substantial sale has allowed him to pursue his love of interior and travel photography, including a large and comprehensive body of work for a 2017 Rizzoli publication of preeminent New Zealand interior designer Veere Grenney. Moreover, his interior photography and portraits have recently been published in both the US Architectural Digest (Top 100 issue) and the US Vogue (Hamish Bowles March 16 Issue).



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With flagship stores in Sydney, Melbourne, New York and London, as well as stockists across Australia, Canada, the US, the UK, France and the Netherlands, there is nothing of the small town ceramicists to Mud. Yet this is exactly its charm. Designed by Shelley Simpson to combine craft, colour, clean lines, palette and functionality, each piece retains the feeling of having been handmade. The secret to this feeling of authenticity is astoundingly simple: it is handmade – and not in a factory where blemishes are worked into the design. Rather these remain handmade in Sydney by a team of in-house ceramicists. With so many looking for ways to fake it, it’s a delight when the real emerges as the winning formula. To wit, Limoges porcelain is tinted throughout to give depth to even the palest of hues. Clear glaze is applied only to the interior, leaving the vitrified surface slightly rough, slightly stone-like and, more importantly, able to wear and age with use, so that smooth patches that match the user’s hand form over time.



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Nick Rennie’s Softly sofa, manufactured by Ligne Roset


Quite possibly the first Australian designer to have a sofa go into production with a major European manufacturer, Nick Rennie, AKA ‘Happy Finish Design’ is an Australian designer very much in the international eye. His Softly sofa, manufactured by Ligne Roset, is certainly testament to his particular and exceptional talent with sumptuous comfort, quirky lines and an overall elegance not generally associated with this degree of comfort. (Softly should shortly be available in Australia, through Domo.) Rennie states that he “looks to explore design that takes its inspiration from interaction with everyday items”; his Chart rug, also for Ligne Roset, is simple, beautiful and one of the great interior design tools of the past few years with a diagonal fade of squares that allows myriad forms of visual manipulation.



Third Drawer Down, Louise Bourgeois Champfleurette tea towel

Third Drawer Down, Louise Bourgeois Champfleurette tea


Bridging the gap between artists and cultural institutions in the most sensitive way possible: the humble tea towel. Rather than whack a Mona Lisa on a piece of stiff cotton, Third Drawer Down sets out to work directly with artists of considerable note. The result is an impressive foray into cultural retailing with stand-alone projects realised as hand-screened scale-specific art works on really fabulous linen. Early collaborations included Louise Bourgeois, Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama, but have expanded to include Kathy Temin and Chris Ofili among the 150-plus artists to date. Not bad, for a small Melbourne outfit that set its sights high with institutional collaborations including the Tate, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), the Guggenheim and Whitney adding considerable calibre from the beginning. Moreover, beside the exceptional tea towels, the group has developed and produced an extensive range of licensed art objects.



TRULY TRULY's OTI – Dark Matter Light Collection

TRULY TRULY’s OTI – Dark Matter Light Collection


Operating from the Netherlands, Truly Truly was founded by Australian husband and wife design team, Joel and Kate Booy, just three years ago. That said, they have been working in one capacity or another for considerably longer, with a portfolio that includes textiles, lighting, furniture, objects and exhibition design. Collaborating with designers of calibre, including Hella Jongerius (Translation blanket for the ‘by TextielMuseum’ label), Truly Truly has also designed a range for the 2017 IKEA PS collection. Effectively playing with industrial process to test limits, while exploring decontextualised abstractions, the studio’s designs are wholly grounded in the scope of materiality. As are its spatial explorations for exhibition or sculptural form, which similarly juxtapose ideas of weight and fragility to create a sense of the unreal.



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Making its mark in San Francisco, Texas and New York, Utopia Goods, an offshoot of Deuce Design, produces incredible fabrics for furnishings, soft furnishings and anything else requiring amazing textiles. Designed by Bruce Slorach and Sophie Tatlow, each design is illustrated by Slorach (his work is included in the permanent collections of both the Powerhouse and the National Gallery of Victoria, and, for those old enough to have been groovy in the eighties, he was half of Sara Thorn). Hand screen-printed on premium linen, the collection features Australian fl ora and fauna, but not as your grandma knows it! Rather, the flowers are stylised and voluminous with colour and detail writ large, while kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras are used as repeating print motifs of exceptional beauty.



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