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Above: Hup Hup folding chair by Tom Skeehan, 2016. Photo courtesy Tom Skeehan. Written by Marcus Piper.
Our nation’s capital is synonymous with design, a city planned for the people and home to some of our most iconic architectural endeavours. Looking beyond the roundabouts and political machinations, Canberra is fast becoming a breeding ground for the fresh faces of Australian furniture design.
Christopher Hardy, Australian furniture and lighting designer, and a Canberra native, says: “It has always felt as though Canberra is the baby brother to Sydney and Melbourne.” Hardy has developed a wide network of connections, enabling him to produce work across the east coast of Australia and further afield. Through his collaboration on the Langdon range of chairs and stools with Own World’s ‘house’ brand, Worthy, Hardy ‘s work now also enjoys an international audience.
Hardy’s Triple table (2011) overlooks his hometown at the National Arboretum. His designs show influences of modernism and sustainability, fused with a process-led approach to create designs with a unique user focus. Hardy is also influenced by his mentor, Don Carson, a long-term lecturer in industrial design at the University of Canberra, where Hardy has held a similar role for the past decade.
One of Hardy’s former students and fellow Canberran, Tom Skeehan, is another rising star in Australian furniture design.
A productive start to 2016 has seen the launch of Skeehan’s extensive Hoshi range with Stylecraft, as well as the Hup Hup folding chair launching at the Local Milan exhibition at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair and at DENFAIR. “Tom’s story with Stylecraft is particularly rewarding for me,” says the brand’s owner, Anthony Collins. “He came to see us five years ago with a view to designing for Stylecraft. We were busy working with other Australian designers and asked him to be patient, which he was. Five years later we have a beautiful range called Hoshi, designed by Tom Skeehan, which Stylecraft is very proud to distribute throughout Australia and Asia.”
Not surprisingly, Hardy and Skeehan share a similar design process in creating their work, driven by material, with both designers moving effortlessly between analogue and digital platforms in the development of their pieces, a balance of skills required by the modern designer to successfully translate a sketch into something that can be manufactured. “We’re lucky in Australia to have an industry that’s open to looking outside of the physical hubs of established cities,” says Skeehan, a sentiment he shares with Hardy and one that signals a change in the way Australian designers can consider location
“Living in Canberra hasn’t affected my attitude in a design context,” Hardy says. “We live in a digital age that affords an instant portal to the rest of the world. The days of geographically specific movements of bygone eras are quite blurred now because of this.”
The ANU School of Art has produced some of Australia’s leading woodworkers, among them Sydney-based designer Henry Wilson. Wilson, who was the 2015 IDEA Awards Designer of the Year for his A-Joint Stretch table, like Hardy and Skeehan, has a fascination for materials. Boasting an international audience, Wilson was recently commissioned by Australian brand Aesop to design the interior of its new Sydney store in Balmain.
“The A-Joint came from an enquiry into sandcasting and a previous product known as a sawhorse bracket,” explains Wilson. “I noticed the germ of a great concept in this piece and spent a year trying to realise it in a more robust and meaningful way. The resulting piece has been in production for six years, with many variants.” This dedication to an idea has led to the creation of a table that is 1500mm by 3000mm and, as Wilson says, “That is a true feat in the table world!”
It is an innovation that caught the eye of Sydney-based British graphic designer, Vince Frost, in fitting out his studio’s Redfern offices. As Frost recalls, “I was attracted to the table before I was attracted to the designer. Wilson’s A-Joint stood out as the perfect solution for us from a broad range of international options.” Through Wilson’s work, Frost has been able to create 64 workstations over just eight tables, with delivery made in just one month from ordering.
While Wilson’s new modular storage system, part of the JamFactory Furniture Collection launching this June, shows off skills he learned through his time in Canberra, he is also aware of the emerging reputation of Australian design internationally. “I think that as we find our feet locally we have become much more appealing overseas. It’s taken a while for Australians to build a language that is exportable,” he says. “It’s great to be in a growing national movement driven by local talent.”