Seeking mid-century modern at DesignEX 2012 Part 1
Alistair McLean
Category: Interiors

Alistair: Posted on Wednesday, 16 May 2012 1:30 AM

Seeking mid-century modern at DesignEX 2012 Part 1:


DesignEX is the big trade show for grown-ups in the architecture and interior design field.  Secret Design Studio has learnt to be cautious of trade shows in big convention centres, and finds that DesignEX is always a good one to make the effort.  This year it filled a few of the halls at Sydney’s Darling Harbour Convention Centre, and Secret Design Studio attended to try and sniff out some new products suitable for our mid-century modern clients/fanatics.

Part of the appeal for professionals is that it is well promoted in the industry, but not promoted outside to the public.  Registration is by proof via a business card that demonstrates that you work in the industry, and children and prams are discouraged.  Probably the closest analogy is the Qantas Club to airline passengers – access is restricted for the benefit of those who can attend.

So the things that you don’t get at DesignEX include the following (which are commonplace at many building industry related tradeshows):

  • Prams, kids, balloons, sticky fingers, temper tantrums,
  • Leggy spokesmodels with dazzling teeth, stilettoes and skin tight outfits, who can talk about their tans, but not about the companies or products that they represent  – “you should speak to Shaun, he knows all about ACME products but he is on his lunch break until 3”,
  • Steam Mop sales stands, slice and dice kitchen wonder tools sales stands, etc,
  • Asian granite and marble importers of underwhelming presentation and questionable quality,
  • Stands of vases, knick-knacks and “art” from third world “artisans” who have a Fine Arts degree from Copper-Art.

So for a trade show, DesignEX is a relatively sedate and civilised affair, generally manned by people who know what they are talking about, and attended by lots of people either wearing black, or looking effortlessly stylish, or slightly bohemian, or a combination of the above.  One of the coolest things about DesignEX is the post five o’clock champagne.  A few select stands bring out platters of nibbles, with champagne flutes and drinks for anybody who will have a drink, and a chat with their sales reps.  Secret Design Studio is always happy to oblige, and wishes that more exhibitors would do this.

So the first stand of interest was the Great Dane Contract stand, which was manned by the charming Sarah Rupley, head of National Contract Sales.  Great Dane furniture has been long admired by Secret Design Studio for its beautifully crafted Scandinavian furniture, which is the complete opposite to Ikea which we all have a love/hate relationship with.  Their pieces are new, not pre-loved, with a solid Scandinavian design heritage, some of which are familiar.  The list of designers on their website has more Umlauts than an Ikea catalogue, so they are new, original design pieces and not reproductions.


The Great Dane range is an easy fit into mid century modern houses due to its clean, elegant lines and beautiful timber that has been well put together (no Allen keys required).  Secret Design Studio has not had an opportunity to visit the new Great Dane showroom yet in Fitzroy, and Sarah has promised me a tour to get a better idea of Great Danes contract range the next time she visits Melbourne.

There were two stand-out pieces for Secret Design Studio from the Great Dane display. There was the tall-boy chest of drawers with wonderfully sculptural drawer fronts, and finally executed dovetail joints to the drawers, which was available in a number of sizes. Originally designed by Arne Vodder in 1959 it is a classic mid century modern piece, and the quality of construction says heirloom piece to Secret Design Studio.  In Ikea dollars you could probably buy 10 Ikea tallboys for the same price as the Vodder tallboy but it would last more than ten times longer than Ikea, and look better doing it!

The other lust object was the Great Dane Pod Privacy Chair by Benjamin Hubert, which received a reddot design award this year.  While it is a contemporary piece it has mid-century modern feel to it, with its angled, turned light timber legs.  A description of it would fail to do this chair justice, you really need to sit in it to experience the acoustic benefits.  It consists of a large felt-like cocoon/shell that surrounds the sitter and makes the sitter and chair feel like a small room in a larger room.  The high sides, which appear to be a stiff felt, seem to deaden surrounding sound and create its own little island of quiet.


Experiencing the sound deadening qualities in the reverberating halls of Sydney’s Darling Harbour Convention centre was remarkable.  And it was quite comfortable.  Secret Design Studio imagines it would have great application in a family room, airport or warehouse conversion.  The stiff felt-like cocoon was actually made from recycled PET bottles, and Secret Design Studio would like to know how many soft drinks need to be consumed to make a Benjamin Hubert Pod Privacy Chair?


Some of the DesignEX exhibitors don’t sell directly to the public, but through the middleman.  One such example is Gummerson’s Fabrics who had some wonderful mid century modern curtain fabrics that were very reasonably priced.  The Delamere Retro fabric worked it’s mid century modern magic for Secret Design Studio, and we got a chance to review the fabric sample book for this range.  The curtain fabrics that were hanging were bold, vibrant mid-century modern colours, reminiscent of Orla Kiely’s fabric collection.  For those who love the mid-century modern patterns of the Delamere Retro fabric, but are a little bit colour shy there was also the same patterns in more muted earth tones, in sepia tones, and greys which still had the mid-century modern feel, but were more understated.

Secret Design Studio will do a follow-up to this blog posting in  “Seeking mid-century modern at DesignEX 2012 Part 2”, where we will look at some contemporary (and electrically safe) mid century modern style light fittings, as well as the ultimate Mad Men style study desk with very non-mid century modern cable management.   For more information on DesignEX 2012 go to, closes tomorrow.