“How do designers know how to source the cool stuff?”

Oblica Gyrofocus at Denfair2016

Secret Design Studio was recently assisting some of our Sydney clients through our Skype Design Review service and I suggested a company that they should check out for some living room furniture.  They had spent a fruitless weekend afternoon at the one of the big annual home shows and another afternoon browsing some of the big box retailers, but couldn’t find anything that they loved that complemented the aesthetic of their mid-century modern home. Sure there was lots of furniture that was comfortable, liveable and even likeable, but a lot of it was fairly generic, and nothing that they fell in love with. They asked the question “So how do designers know how to source the cool stuff?”

It is a question that I had never really thought about before, but deserved an answer.  It would certainly be very easy to browse all of the eye-candy that is on sites like Houzz and similar, but selecting furniture is not just about how it looks, it is also about the quality, the comfort and how it feels to the touch.  What finishes are available? What is the lead time? Can any changes be made? Is it an original design (preferrably Australian), or is it a low quality reproduction?  All important questions that can’t readily be answered by just looking at pretty, photoshopped images.

Meizai stand at Denfair 2016

One of the ways that I build up my knowledge of what is available is to try and attend as many of the industry trade shows as possible. April’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile (Milan’s International Furniture Fair) is the biggest (and best) annual furniture trade show in the world, but sadly not very convenient.  Most people would not have heard of Melbourne’s Denfair 2016 unless they are in the design industry.

One type of trade show is something like the Home Show which is open to anybody walking in off the street (including families with overtired toddlers)  that has a broad, generic appeal, and is quite expensive for exhibitors.  These types of trade show tend to attract the mass-market exhibitors who are wealthy enough to afford the stands, and there is often an entry charge for the public.  I do try and attend these shows every few years and I usually come away with sense of disappointment, a magic vegetable slicer and corer, and a better understanding of what trends will be exhibited in the next batch of project display homes that are being built.

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre for Denfair 2016

The other type of industry trade show is not as well publicised and it is a little bit harder to get in.  For Denfair the process was to place an online “application” with company details, including ABN and website details. Once the application is approved you are registered and issued a pass with your details and position.  This type of trade show, is a much smaller, more intimate event.  The public crowds who are looking for a cheap outing are excluded, so the exhibitors have fewer people to deal with, and fewer “tyre-kickers”.  There are lots of smaller stands, and smaller businesses being represented.  Smaller businesses can often address niche markets, and a lot of their products are less generic, and sometimes a little bit more fun and quirky.  In addition the people manning the stands are often the designers or craftsmen themselves, instead of a spokesmodel who has been contracted for the event to hand-out brochures.http://www.denfair.com.au/

A trade show gives me the opportunity to test out the furniture, look at a piece from all angles (including the back), look at how the joints and connections are made, see what options in fabrics and finishes are available, and to get an idea of lead times and the manufacturing process.  Here are my 10 best highlights, which I will be filing away for future reference:

  1. Letitia Morris Gallery – wonderful, oversized, vintage French advertising posters, many from the 1950’s and 1960’s (not reproduction) – the colours are intense and beautiful, and any digital image does not do these works justice.http://letitiamorris.com/lmg/

    Letitia Morris Gallery at Denfair 2016

  2. Envoy’s quirky but practical TOOaPICNIC combined table/seating arrangement is a wonderful out-of-the box seating range that is a new type of furnture that doesn’t have a neat descriptive label, but has so much potential for so many residential, hospitality and commercial applications. Why hasn’t anybody designed this before? http://www.envoy.com.au/

    Envoy’s TOOaPICNIC at Denfair 2016

  3. Studio Pip’s quality mid-century inspired furniture, including an elegant timber bed with some great mid-century lines (so hard to find a mid-century bed) http://www.studiopip.com.au/

    Studio Pip’s mid-century inspired bed at Denfair 2016

  4. Copper Industrial Design’s super-slim LED Taper Series pendant light in glass reinforced concrete. http://www.copper-id.com/

    Copper Industrial Studio’s Taper pendants at Denfair 2016

  5. el lobo’s macho industrial inspired bespoke furniture with a unique proposition, that if you don’t love the final designed and crafted piece then they will refund the dollars (but you don’t get to keep the furniture). http://www.ellobo.net/
  6. Pallete’s Snapshot – a clever, handheld, digital scanning device that can read the collur of any flat surface and display any colour from Dulux World of Colour Atlas, which is going to be wonderful for Secret Design Studio to match original mid-century modern colour schemes with more certainty. http://palette.com/cube.htmldenfair6
  7. Domo’s super sexy DS-600 sectional sofa (designed in 1972) which is simply the ultimate in sectional sofa design. http://domo.com.au/products/contemporary/de-sede/sofas/ds-600-sofa/

    Domo’s DS-600 sectional sofa at Denfair 2016

  8. Arko Furniture’s architectural range of powdercoated letterboxes with some great mid-century inspired colours and shapes.
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    Arko Furniture’s letterbox at Denfair 2016

  9. Missoni Home for their joyful and classic range of fabrics and textiles.http://www.spenceandlyda.com.au/page/10/Missoni_Home.html
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    Missoni Home at Denfair 2016

  10. Rakumba Lighting for their jaw-dropping stand (Best Stand Award 2016) and their range of lighting.  http://rakumba.com.au/

    Rakumba Lighting at Denfair 2016

The good news for those that would like to see all of the wonderful stands and products at Denfair  2016 is that there is a public open day on Saturday 4th of June. There may be some overtired toddlers, but I promise you that there are no magic vegetable peelers and corers.

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