Now in it’s 26 year, designEX is Australia’s leading furniture, lighting and architectural materials exhibition. While it obviously can’t compete with some of the more glamorous fairs around the world, it does allow local interior designers and architects to stay abreast of what’s new, innovative and available. It has been attempting of late to encourage its exhibitors to try harder to impress their audience and inject some excitement into the proceedings and this year was definitely the best in this regard for as long as I can remember. As a consequence there were some beautifully presented stands from furniture importers, paint manufacturers and textile companies but what stole the show from my point of view was the number of new Australian furniture brands and young design studios scattered about the halls.
Sponsored by Green magazine, the green room, brought together some exceptional examples of ecologically sound design in furniture and lighting from Edward Linacre (from Copper ID), Mark Tuckey, Temperature Design, Urban Commons and Eco Wood Design. The ‘Nest’ pendant light by Melbourne based designer, Edward Linacre is a beautiful concept that resembles a piece of honeycomb.
While organic looking in many respects, the design is actually highly mathematical. According to the designer it pays homage to the complex natural geometry of a bees nest and symbolises the convergence of craft and modern manufacturing. Made from of bamboo it is finished in natural oils. Check out a short video on it here.
The ‘K’ bowls by Stephen Ziguras were a lovely small geometric piece in exterior grade plywood finished in low emission paints and water-based polyurethane. The three sizes of bowl, 'Tegl' (tile), 'Seks' (six) and 'Kurv' (basket) are all washable and food safe. Playing on geometry in a Gio Ponti style, the bowls are both decorative and practical.
A division of Design Institute of Australia (DIA), Interwoven is a body set up to promote Australians working in textiles – upholstery fabrics, rugs and one off art pieces. The stand, based on the warp and weft principle displayed a number of new works by designers and designer makers including Karinna Gobbo and Danielah Martinez of Tappeti (rugs) and Claire Beale (textiles with digital embroidery).
Sarah King, a designer in her own right as co-founder of Blakebrough + King studio, has an amazing capacity to encourage collaborations among others. Her environmentally aware label supercyclers (with Lianne Rossler, Henry Wilson and Tamara Maynes) is just one of her many projects. Periodically Sarah curates a showcase of Australian design called The Other Hemisphere and organizes the designers to show their work internationally and at home.
This year saw the group of 24 designers travel to Milan to exhibit as part of Ventura Lambrate during Milan Design Week. The same show was brought back to Sydney once this was over and the display redesigned for designEX. The large body of individually small works by Elliat Rich, Dowel Jones, Henry Wilson (with Benja Harney & Bianca Chang) , Groupwork, The Fortynine Studio and others, felt much stronger and more contained within the restructured set created for designEX.
A collaboration between architectural surfaces company, Axolotyl and furniture manufacturer Evostyle, Anomaly only launched late in 2013 but is already launching its second collection. On show at designEX were new furniture pieces by Ben Wahrlich and Darren Palmer along with new lighting designs by Coco Reynolds. Finishes remain at the centre of the collection, with many items in Axolotyl’s signature copper, slate or bronze finishes applied to oak.
Nomi is a name that may not be ringing a lot of bells just yet but it is seen by many as one of the most audacious launches of a furniture brand in Australia in many years. Launching an entire collection at prices that would make most bricks and mortar retailers weep, Nomi has a created an online sales model that offers great designs by Tomek Archer, customization of timber colours, free delivery to numerous cities and a easy to navigate online ordering system.
Currently offering around a dozen designs the brand showed many of it’s first collection at designEX – both in natural finishes and some of its brightly coloured stain options along with a new stackable box-style storage system called 'Chevron' by Henry Wilson.
‘Nest’, the Anne-Maree Sargeant curated group show of small studios, young designers and fledgling brands, was a definite highlight of this years exhibition. Showcasing the work of DAAST, Porcelain Bear, Design by Them and Vert Industrial Design House along with several other studios and designers, the quality was extremely high.
The work of Gregory Bonasera under the banner Porcelain Bear may well have taken out the people's choice award based on the amount of Instagram action that was going on. The stand included new pieces like the ‘Tojiki’ occasional table and ‘I-O-N’ pendant lights both made from slip-cast porcelain. The forms are beautifully simple and incredibly executed with only subtle crackle glazes and the controlled use of grey and blacks to add a decorative element. With 10 lighting designs and many tabletop accessories, the brand has even stretched the normal boundaries of porcelain making with a modular dining table completely made from glazed porcelain. Since 2010 Gregory has worked with Anthony Raymond, a fellow Monash University graduate and Industrial Designer. The work of Porcelain Bear also formed part of the Sarah King curated, The Other Hemisphere.
Since their nomination as a finalist at last year’s Launchpad event by Indesign for their 3D concrete ‘Numeral’ collection, Andrew Southwood-Jones and Alexander Kashin have been on a roll, becoming the winners of the Qantas SOYA Awards for Craft and Object Design and picking up the peoples choice award at Workshopped 2013 for their ‘Aligned’ table lamp. On show at DesignEX was a new range of chairs and a cabinet called ‘Shrink’, along with some glass lights appropriately named ‘Spyder’. The designers came together in 2011 having met at UTS, to form KINK Studio. Their new studio, DAAST continues their playful approach with door handles cast in plastic from fingers and rubber-clad chair legs. Their work wont be to everyone’s taste but nor is it meant to be. The studio's main interest is to offer a real point of difference to mainstream Australian design.
The new designs combine waterjet-cut aluminium with black stained timber and heat shrunk rubber for a slightly sadomasochistic approach with Daliesque elements. The glass lighting pieces ‘Spyder’ are held in place by magnets and can be used in several different ways beyond just a standard hanging pendant.
While Tait has long been considered a high quality manufacturer of metal outdoor furniture, it’s recent forays into more alternative independent design is starting to gain it some kudos within the design industry. The Melbourne based manufacturer is really pushing the boundaries with recent pieces by Daniel & Emma like their ’Pick ‘n’ Mix table and benches and the Christina Waterson designed modular wall sculpture, ‘Stellar’.
The Cult House was a great installation showcasing some of the key brands represented by Corporate Culture in Australia. The mint green walls of the caricature house lent themselves to a wonderful collection Hay accessories, Cappellini and Cassina furniture items along with lighting from Lightyears and Gubi. Elsewhere in the designEX halls, Carl Hansen and Son, another of Corporate Culture’s key brands supplied a long series of tables surrounded by dozens of Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs for informal gatherings of interior designers and specifiers to participate in discussions with Carl Hansen’s dynamic CEO, Knud Erik Hansen.
With a floor to ceiling pink curtain full of soft folds to cordon off the distractions of the rest of the exhibiton, the Ke-zu stand was a colour-fest courtesy of over-scale photographs of murals from Sancal’s factory in Spain. (For a full run down on these in an earlier Design daily post, click here). The stand was designed by Dana Tomic-Hughes from Yellowtrace. Sancal has gone from strength to strength in recent years with some amazing new pieces by Ionna Vautrin, Sebastian Herkner and Rafa Garcia. Original forms in bright colour combinations worked surprisingly well with the pale pink backdrop and the big version of the ‘Folk’ sofa by Rafa Garcia was given a thorough workout by the stands visitors with a few actually falling asleep in it. Ke-zu were also celebrating their acquisition of French lighting brand Forestier to add to their existing ranges from LZF and Hive.
With designEX finished for another year I can only hope that this trend towards supporting small brands and young designers continues to grow in the future. Only with this type of talent will Designex become the event it has been striving to become in recent years - exciting, diverse and relevant. A big thumbs up must be given to Kobe Johns, the exhibition manager of designEX for pointing the trade fair in the right direction and involving international design luminaries such as Li Edelkoort and Margo Konings in this year's Speakers Series. With Johns at the helm I am sure designEX will go from strength to strength.