Furnishing innovation

proberts's picture

Like most men I rarely find much to look at in shopping brochures. But glancing through a Harvey Norman catalogue on the weekend brought me face to face with something new. Australian furniture designers appear to be discovering the power of design.

Gerry Harvey does us all a great service by choosing to showcase Australian made furniture in his stores - he knows bulky fashion items like sofas can be made competitively here and there are no months-long supply chains to worry about.

But until recently while competently designed, the Aussie product was more derivative than innovative or inspiring. This is a product of history - furniture makers in the past would visit Italy for furniture shows and then intepret what they saw.

But Harvey Normal's latest catalogue shows the first signs that mainstream local manufacturers are waking up to the fact that design can create value in the eyes of the consumer. Some furniture makers have even begun to use better design to build their brand names - names that have been largely anonymous in Harvey Norman stores to date.

Australian furniture is still more Mooney Ponds than Milan, but you could imagine some of the sofas and bedroom furniture in a smart inner city warehouse or loft.

Of course there have always been local design leaders such as Moran in lounge furniture, Schiavello in office furniture and at the very apex of global design, Marc Newsom. But these are rarities. Newsom had to go overseas to make a name for himself but has been welcomed back to design aircraft and airport lounge interiors for Qantas.

We continue to export good designers. In the industrial field Michael Simcoe was promoted to head exterior body design for GM in North America, having cut his teeth on the local Monaro. GM is embracing design innovation to rekindle the competitiveness it enjoyed in the 1950s and it is fascinating that the company turned to an Australian working for Holden to help achieve it.

Looking round the streets of Australian cities you can see that good design is no national obsession - while Melbourne boasts classy streetscapes, Sydney still struggles to lay a footpath that is flat.

But maybe, just maybe, Australia's future will be better designed than the past.

- Peter Roberts web column also appears at www.BRW.com.au


Um, if you're the kind of

Um, if you're the kind of man who 'rarely looks in shopping catalogues' then how come you're the kind of man who notices a rebirth of Australian furniture design and know so much about "Moran in lounge furniture, Schiavello in office furniture and at the very apex of global design, Marc Newsom"?

Instead of 'creating value in the eyes of customers' why not try offering real value for money instead? Ikea became a huge international phenomenon because they offered exactly that value for money and convenience to customers. It wasn't just their screw your own chipboard take on Scandinavian minimalism, it was the fact that at last you could actually go to a store and buy a reasonably priced bookcase.

Office furniture is ludicrously over priced because no individual actually buys it with their own money. If you want to corner the market, try competing on price before worrying how flared the arm rest should be and what exact shade of black would match your designer stubble. A sofa that's comfortable to sit in, robust with kids and animals, won't break the bank and will last twenty years is a 'well designed' sofa, not something which costs three thousand dollars and will fall apart if the dog so much as barks at it, never mind sits on it.

Australian furniture prospering

Yapp, if you see some furniture mart, you may get the idea also how these furniture shops are doing well on the design of various furnishing equipment and the furniture too. Recently I've visited NOMI and I've seen how the Australian furniture is prospering.