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Australian soul with Italian heart: SP01

Aug 17, 2017
  • Article by Aleesha Callahan

What does it take to bring Australian design to the world stage? What embodies the Australian aesthetic? How do you get a furniture brand off the ground? These are the kinds of questions the guys behind SP01 ponder. Sitting comfortably in the brand’s new outdoor range (designed by Tom Fereday) in Milan, Italy, Aleesha Callahan chats to SP01’s product development manager Matt Lorrain.

MZ: Can you give some background into SP01?

ML: There was a group of us who had worked together for quite a long time and we had collective experience in design, furniture, marketing and branding. We wanted to put that into something that was new and exciting—something that could show Australia’s design impact to the world. We started developing the actual product about three years ago and have been selling it in Australia for about 13 months.

When we looked at what makes up the Australian aesthetic, it’s largely influenced by Scandinavian and Japanese design. There is a paring back of materials and forms, and that’s really appropriate for what we wanted to create. We’ve worked with different designers on each collection, the first being with Metrica, which is based in Milan. It’s quite an international reach, which just felt really right for us.

The pieces feature a lot of detailing, like the shaping of the timber, which has deep chamfering of the tops and complex sections. The chair legs, for example, have a soft, circular front, which becomes square through the midsection turning into a rectangular dimension. There are also a lot of intricate junctions. While we haven’t done a matching set, there is definitely a connection between some of the detailing throughout the products.

SP01's outdoor range includes chairs and stools that can be configured with different heights or arms.
SP01’s outdoor range includes chairs and stools that can be configured with different heights or arms.

What about the manufacturing?

We produce everything in Italy and there are a few good reasons for that. One is that they’re still so great at manufacturing and detailing. I spend a lot of time in the factories and a lot of time in Veneto, where our production is. All the factories work together to produce something, so the one who perfects the chairs, for example, may not be able to make every single component and they’ll work with somebody who’s local in the industry to resolve it. You have this great network of skilled craftspeople working together to come up with a single product and that’s quite different from Australia.

In Australia, I think we’ve had this slightly risk-averse approach to manufacturing and people want to own the whole process.

The first couple of years were really about setting up the supply chain and making sure we had the right factories in place. We now have craftspeople that work in all of our base materials—wood, stone, upholstery, framing, metalwork and then all the coatings. We’re pretty well-placed now to produce anything on scale.

The first indoor range by SP01 was designed by Italian-based studio Metrica.
The first indoor range by SP01 was designed by Italian-based studio Metrica.

Your new collection is an outdoor range designed by Tom Fereday?

We worked with Tom on a full outdoor collection; we didn’t want it to just be a single piece. So there are two styles of chair and within the second style of chair there is also an armchair and barstool, with different heights of bar stools as well.

How do you choose the materials? Do you work with the designers on deciding?

It’s one of the most important things I need to do – making sure the work we produce is coherent, even though it’s coming from multiple design studios. I think the design often dictates the material and I think we brief fairly well, giving the designer some artistic direction plus some background on what we see the products being. They respond to that with the designs, and the materials become evident. Some things could be a metal frame or a timber frame, but as you go through the process, you work out what you want them to be. Upholstery fabrics can always change, but there’s a unifying material palette across the collection.

sp01

Can you talk through that briefing process?

You don’t want to dictate the design, because otherwise you don’t get anything interesting. So what I try to give is some really strong direction in terms of cultural context, design references, materials etc. I’ve been working with the designer on our next collaboration. I really like a lot of the workmanship, but at the same time it was important for me not to produce something that felt retro. I hate the word retro and I didn’t want it to have that vibe about it.

We were careful to look at the pieces and work out what made them identifiable, what made them dynamic or beautiful. We’ve been focusing on things like the angle of a seat that sits inside a frame, or the stance of a chair and how the legs are positioned. We’re coming up with things that may allude to other styles rather than copying them.

When we briefed Metrica, the cultural part of it was quite deep because [its designers are] based in Italy and they haven’t been to Australia. It was important for them to understand where we come from. It’s funny; there are some strange perceptions of Australia out in the world. People think we’re running around in the desert with kangaroos as pets still. So it was important for me to show them that we have a sophisticated working and living environment that is very cosmopolitan in culture.

Photography courtesy SP01.

This article originally appeared in MEZZANINE #9: The Timeless Issue. Get your subscription to MEZZANINE here – or digitally through Zinio.

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