CREDIT: Fiona Susanto/Supplied
With its distinctive pastel palette and eye for symmetry, you would imagine that Wes Anderson’s filmography should prove to be irresistible fodder for a designer.
Industrial designer Tom Fereday is one such creative not immune to Anderson’s charms. Ferreday not only exhibited pieces of furniture from his Wes range at Salone del Mobile, but also co-curated the Local Design showcase to spotlight Australia’s nascent talent in association with stylist Emma Elizabeth. Having achieved critical acclaim early on his career, Fereday has not only witnessed but also helped shape the local industry’s transition in recent years. Here, he speaks with candor about the challenges facing young Australian designers and how (and why) you should invest not only in their individual work, but in the the future of the industry itself.
How did you come to be involved in not only showing your work here, but co-curating the selection of Australian designers showing through the Local Design showcase? “Through Local Design, we’ve been holding exhibitions in Sydney to showcase emerging creative designers in Australia that we think are the next wave. So the focus was not to handpick the most established designers who have already made their mark in Australia and Europe, but to pick designers we think are making super refined products and managing it all themselves, while also being on that new wave that we think are the next big things in Australia.”
What do you think is the quality that unifies all these chosen designers as being quintessentially Australian? “For me, we’ve chosen each person for how refined their product is. So they’re making extremely sophisticated products with really limited resources, which is Australian made furniture. They’re making them and they’re selling them and creating their own business. The common thing for me is also a clean, super refined aesthetic with this addition of colour and texture that is unique to Australia. There are elements of a minimal aesthetic usually associated with Swedish or Danish design, but I see that next addition associated with the richness of Australia. It’s not so serious, but it is special.”
Can you sketch out your career progression as a designer for us? “I’ve been making furniture for the last six years. It started out just on the side, exhibiting pieces just as a hobby to develop what I really loved doing outside of other practices and work. My background is in industrial design, designing engineered products and I’ve slowly moved into building a studio as a more holistic designer, meaning that I create other products – I do furniture, but I also do objects, industrial design, watches. So really, I’ve been an industrial designer for ten years and a self-practicing designer for about five.”
And did you study design formally? “I studied industrial design at UTS under the likes of Adam Goodrum, Charles Wilson, these kind of really key figures in Australian design. If you look back six or ten years ago in Australian design, it was super challenging to get any product into production. The industry has changed rapidly in the last few years so those guys were pioneering designers because they forged out a career from something that didn’t exist yet – a market. Now we follow in the new wave of design becoming now appreciated in Australia. ”
As part of this new wave, how do you see the Australian design scene and that aesthetic that you mentioned before evolving? Where are we going? “I think that the number of amazing designers emerging is incredible. You’ve got young 25-year-olds making world class furniture, so the product range and the market are broadening and now it’s a matter of what is going to be sustainable. So for me, it’s a beautiful explosion of design at the moment and over the next few years we’ll see what remains as key identifying pieces for Australian design and what makes for a sustainable career.”
Have you exhibited your work here at Salone before? What has this experience taught you? “I’ve exhibited once in Milan a few years ago with a bar stool and chair range with Hive furniture. It was a prototype launch. So this for me is my first proper showing of design, and for us it’s an opportunity to present Australian design to Europe. It’s something that still needs to be understood. We’re aliens to the Italians. It’s a bridging process, to connect Australians to a worldwide market.”
How have you found the reception to Australian design in Europe? “It’s been really good. We’ve been described as ‘super fresh'[laughs]. I think most people that come here may not know we’re Australian, so we’ve deliberately not been shouting that this is Australian design [in the space]. We just want to be judged by our products and who we are, so we let people come in and see. And we see their reaction when they find out that we’re from Australia.”
And what is that reaction? “Surprise. We want to present the furniture first, and the details afterwards.”
What would you say to encourage an aspiring designer hoping to emulate your level of success? “Stick to one thing and do it well. There’s an incentive now that it’s so easy to produce something to just keep pushing product and make as many different things as you can. But doing one beautiful product and resolving it to the end will be much more enduring.”
What do you consider to be the major misconceptions about your industry, and the challenges facing it? “Making a career, and by career I mean income, out of furniture is extremely challenging in Australia and worldwide as well. For me, I think the next challenge is to get furniture brands to embrace Australian design not just for the love of it, but actually to invest in it. [Australia] isn’t filled with Australian products, so the next challenge is to see people invest in that. Over the last couple of years, Australian design has improved in its quality. The real limiting factor is price point. It’s not cheap to produce these products so we can’t compete in price, but what we can compete on is longevity, short lead times and products that are enduring. So the investment has to come from people to say, ‘This is worth it and I’m investing in a product that’s going to last’.”
Is the future of Australian design bright? “Absolutely. I’d like to think that more and more Australian design will come to be seen as an export, and I think there’s a real opportunity now for Australian design to be seen as a brand for Asia Pacific, particularly. It should be seen in the way that Swedish design is: as something to look for, as an accent piece. That’s just the sign of where we’re at. We’re emerging, but it’s exciting how quickly we can progress.”
COVER IMAGE: Fiona Susanto/Supplied