Three furniture designers from South Australia are making waves in the industry. They are benefiting from the state’s booming hospitality scene and a demand for locally-made, handmade products.
Josh McCallum is the self-described “object maker” behind Wholegrain Studio and said the majority of fitout jobs come from food and coffee operators. “Wholegrain is run 80 per cent off hospitality jobs,” McCallum told Adelaide Now. “I often get people who are starting coffee carts or markets approach me about getting their stalls designed so they can transport it.”
He gained a reputation in the hospitality scene through personal involvement and making coffees to pay bills through university. “You make friends working in those cafes and build a network. It’s like Facebook,” he said.
It helps with the design process, too. Knowing how everything works behind the bar helps when you’re designing one. They also know to expect a lot of geometric patterns – McCallum’s staple aesthetic.
The look is growing in popularity, though McCallum never started it for trendy reasons. “It evolved mainly out of the fact that I started out doing what I could with what I had, which was basically a starter kit of power tools,” he explains.
These days, more people are seeking out bespoke furniture, but it was a lot different when he started out: “It’s been a long time since I had someone say, ‘I saw this at Ikea…’, which is nice because when I started some people would say, ‘I saw this at Ikea – can you do something but cheaper though?’ And I would say ‘Absolutely not. That’s as cheap as it gets’.
“You quickly learn you lose a lot of money when you try to match bigger companies. Ikea products take years to produce and once that assembly line is set up they spit out thousands a day.”
Having said that, he tries not to be too expensive – on average $150-$200 for a stool. “I want to offer a price that respects the fact that it’s a handmade piece, but also design should really be accessible, so if people come to me with a budget I try my best to work in a way that fits that budget,” he said.
Robyn Wood spent 20 years working in interior design, but always longed to be the one working on furniture. In 2015, she set up her own studio. There, she works on her chair and table designs, plus some more experimental things – she’s just completed a prototype of a wooden clock, for example.
“My focus is on design furniture but you have to diversify and part of the business is also focused on smaller objects, like candle holders and homewares,” she said. “Some of the pieces I take to design markets – Bowerbird and the Big Design Market in Sydney and Melbourne. I’m just looking for retail at the moment.”
Caren Elliss has always loved furniture and household appliances. Elliss, who teaches at UniSA and runs her design studio from home, went on to study industrial design and intern in Mexico, where she designed furniture for New York loft apartments.
On her return home, she scored a Furniture Design Associateship at the Jam Factory and she’s been crafting away ever since.
“I’m a designer-maker generally, so there’s not anything that I design that I don’t have my hands on – it might be 100 per cent or 20 per cent, but it’s always something,” she said. “When you design something you’re constantly refining the process – you start to build a bit of a soul into the product.”
Elliss designs lighting, tables and other objects but is best known for her range of stools. One of them – the LUHNe – is manufactured in Adelaide and another – the Splinter – is manufactured in Sydney by a company called Woodmark, which discovered Elliss in 2014.
Hospitality fit-outs also take a lot of her time. Elliss says the call for Australian-designed and locally-made objects is getting louder. “I think Adelaide is starting to grow up and there’s lots of night-life and small bars and … people don’t necessarily want off-the-shelf kind of things,” she said.
What Elliss loves most about her practice is the way it constantly goes off kilter. At the moment, she’s preparing to help an architect design a staircase, something she’s never done.
From Adelaide Now