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This article appeared in Inside magazine 72: Homegrown.
Above: Form wall shelf. All images courtesy Jon Goulder.
You’re a fourth generation craftsman trained in upholstery and furniture making, and up until recently, you created your own prototypes before seeking out other manufacturing opportunities. How has this shift in process affected the way you practice?
I decided when I launched my solo exhibition of limited edition collectibles at FORM two years ago to exploit my difference as a designer-maker because I had a niche cornered in the market place. I come from a furniture manufacturing family, so I have that grounding and can always fall back on it. It’s an understanding of that craft and the skill base that comes with it that gives me the ability to pick and choose. I’m very interested in economic sustainability for creative practice in Australia, which is a localised industry, to a degree, because of our distance from international markets. So I’ve identified three different modes of practice that represent my three streams of income. The first is through royalty arrangements made on select product licensing agreements. I also have my limited edition collectibles, which include the Glissando credenza, and I undertake commissions for the private and public sectors in collaboration with architectural firms.
Is the designer-maker model of practice ultimately a sustainable one?
We were told when we left art school that the chances of surviving in this game are very slim, so I’ve spent the last 10 years setting out to prove them wrong. All my peers, generally, are designers only, they don’t make. Many Australian designers spend their time trying to get produced or flying in and out of Milan, which is only successful for very few. I’ve never really been able to relate, because it never really amounts to an income. So it begs the question, why would you do it? Obviously I would jump at the opportunity to be produced by an Italian manufacturer, but I probably wouldn’t spend an airfare to make that happen, but for some, like Adam Goodrum, this has proved very successful. I’ve always been a bit different to my peers in that sense. I’m basically trying to exploit the fact that I have skills as both a designer and a maker. Here in the Midland Atelier’s Pattern Workshop we’re trying to work with people, like Nick Stratham, that have both skills, or, at least, we’re trying to foster that. It’s very rare, because you definitely can’t teach it – you either have it or you don’t. That’s not to say we’re exclusivey designer-makers; we’re a multi-skilled collective that thrives on cross-disciplinary practice, but we do need highly skilled labour.
What made you decide to become involved with Midland Atelier?
I decided to get involved with FORM because I think it’s an inspirational organisation that has a really innovative program. The executive director, Lynda Dorrington, and the whole FORM team are really driven by a passion to build a creative culture. I’ve always been interested in contributing to the Australian design landscape and FORM offered me that avenue.
How do you see the Pattern Workshop developing in the next five years considering the limited funding it receives?
We’ve been working towards economic viability and sustainability for the past three to four years, and we’ve got to a point now where we’re well known enough within local networks to be working within those three modes of practice and streams of income that I mentioned. We look forward to Midland Atelier becoming more of a national interest rather than just a West Australian interest. The Pattern Workshop is going to go through the roof in the next five years, and we hope it will become a beacon for this style of practice in Australia. We’re gathering amazing talent, and we think we’ve got the connections to make a name for ourselves. We’ll also be looking at offering apprenticeships to try and build an industry in high end design and making. One of the Atelier’s great hopes is that the foundry building can be developed into a digital hub with studios, gallery and retail.
What does Midland Atelier contribute to the Australian design industry that wasn’t being contributed before its formation?
The Atelier relies heavily on self-funding, and we have developed a model that is unique in being the first economically self-sustainable collective of this scale in Australia. The way it works is that a percentage of commissions and design sales go directly back into the pool to support the facility. If you are in the development phase of your career you can work here for next to nothing and be exposed to some of the best designers and makers in the world. We choose people who we think have an outstanding portfolio that is inspirational, diverse and original; people we think can contribute to the dynamic energy of the collective. It’s about creating culture and opportunity.
Working with Edra from the start, Italian designer Francesco Binfaré has produced some of the brand's classics, including the recent Pack and Chiara sofa.