Robyn Wood crafting bespoke furniture pieces from Adelaide

Despite still being on the road travelling home from three long days at The Big Design Market in Melbourne, furniture maker Robyn Wood is keen to talk about her passion for the South Australian industry.

The talented designer runs her own studio from The Mill creative studios in Adelaide and is firmly behind the state’s craft and making industry growing its presence on the national stage.

“We have such an amazing culture for the arts, the next step is getting people to embrace the designers and makers, the artisans along with that, to somehow connect the dots,” says Robyn, Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador.

“I’m really keen to see the craft and making industry becoming like the food side of things, the wine, food and cheese in SA that is so well known.”

It’s been four years since the aptly named Robyn Wood – she married into the name, “how is that for serendipity?” – set up her own design studio at The Mill in Adelaide’s CBD.

After working as an interior architect for 20 years, her interest in furniture making was particularly stirred during a seven-year stint with joinery firm IJF.

Furniture designer and I Choose SA ambassador Robyn Wood at Neigbour Workshop. Photo by James Knowler/JKTP.

Robyn remembers a moment working with IJF after the Adelaide company won a three-year contract to fit out Federal Government embassies around the world.

“It was in Paris, 1995, 15th arrondissement. I was overseeing moving furniture out of an Embassy apartment complex as part of an interior fit out,” she says. “But this wasn’t just any furniture – it was mid-20th century. Timeless, elegant, iconic, built to last. It was beautiful.”

The experience stirred a growing appreciation for beautiful furniture, and in 2014, Robyn opened her own studio.

She now makes furniture and bespoke objects for architects, galleries and “lovers of good design” throughout Australia, selling at galleries, online, at two markets – The Big Design Market and Bowerbird – and on commission.

Her very first piece made for small production is a favourite, a hand turned timber base Bud Lamp. It drew committed fans among the 70,000 people streaming through The Big Design Market held in the Carlton Royal Exhibition Building last weekend.

“Some of those people at the market saw me there four years ago and they bought my lamp and they came in just to say hello and thanks for the lamp,” Robyn says. “I can still remember their faces from when it was sold, I have some bizarre connection with it.”

There’s also a Reflect desk, vases, candle holders, along with a glass topped coffee table she’s recently finished. Most are made from wood and Robyn has a particular soft spot for sycamore maple and “walnut is lovely to work with too”.

There are other pieces made with glass and steel, with Robyn committed to ensuring each is made from sustainable, renewable materials.

“My design philosophy can be summed up in three words: warmth, simplicity and connection,” she says.

Her plan is to scale back selling smaller pieces with the focus turning to one-off larger designs “to show what I can do” through exhibitions, high-end galleries and stores.

It’s a carefully considered decision in a local industry where artists and designers are working to raise their profile and build stronger business models.

Robyn is a member of craft and design industry group Guildhouse and features on the organisation’s Well Made website, also regularly attending its professional development programs to hone her skills.

She believes there are enormous opportunities to develop a more vibrant local industry.

“I think there’s growing confidence coming through from artist and designers,” Robyn says.

Her career has been marked by the local scene’s strength in collaboration. Robyn regularly works with other makers like Tony Neighbour from Neighbour’s Workshop in Kensington.

“Adelaide is still small scale, its designers and makers are a tight community and I have access to all of that, there’s a lot of old school skills that are still around and I’ve a lot of people mentoring me,” she says.

“The collaboration and skill sets in SA are wonderful, we have so many great makers here.

“Guys like Tony, they don’t get the press and they don’t look for it, but he would be one of the preeminent production makers in SA – if you speak to (acclaimed furniture designer) Khai Liew and others in the know, Tony would be a guy they would all work with.”

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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MJP Studio a showcase of quality craftsmanship in our city

Crafting timeless pieces that are made to last is at the core of South Australian furniture designer Matt Pearson’s studio in Adelaide’s north eastern suburbs.

The craftsman is behind MJP Studio, maker of handmade and one-off designs that are manufactured from high quality materials with precision and passion.

Matt has an eye for refined style and a drive to make use of SA’s local supplier base wherever he can, and says Adelaide’s strong support networks allow the small but strong craft and furniture industry to flourish.

Matt Pearson in action at the Hendon-based MJP Studio. Photo by Lewis and Wilson Photography.

“The thing about Adelaide is that people support each other, they support good design and culture, they give back, and that instils confidence in me and my business,” he says.

“Supporting local is incredibly important and it’s something I’m doing in my business as well, I use local suppliers as much as I can. If local businesses expect people to buy local then they should be supporting local too.”

Matt strives to craft furniture pieces “to be woven into the fabric of the family home” but also builds custom designs for commercial and retail markets.

The Husk chair features Australian Wool-blend fabric. Photo by Heidi Wolff.

He encourages consumers to see the value of investing in high-quality locally made products and not fall victim to “high turnover consumerism” where furniture is mass manufactured and likely to be thrown away – not repaired – if broken.

He says a market of consumers who choose well made and sustainable bespoke pieces does exist, helping to sustain not only his own business, but the industry as a whole as the effects trickle through.

“With low cost furniture, if it breaks people will just throw it away, whereas if you’ve spent time with a furniture maker along the process you become connected to the maker … good furniture is made so it can be repaired,” Matt says. “A lot of contemporary makers push that and it’s always something MJP Studio has always done.”

His playful yet sophisticated works are made from high quality, locally sourced timbers from Australian and American origin, while leather and Australian wool also works their way into the fabric on some pieces, such as dining chairs and armchairs.

MJP Studio’s coffee table, the ‘Crossover’. Photo by Heidi Wolff.

Matt is originally from Sydney and moved to Tasmania in 2011 to complete a Bachelor of Environmental Design with Honours at the UTAS School of Architecture and Design, majoring in furniture.

He had heard of SA’s renowned craft and design hub JamFactory during his time at university and ended up applying for a coveted associate position within its furniture studio.

Matt was successful in gaining the spot at JamFactory in Adelaide and worked under the guidance of furniture designer Jon Goulder before going on to have his own studio there for one year.

Matt says he made the decision to remain in SA because Adelaide “ticked all the boxes”, with MJP Studio now settled as one of the city’s high end furniture manufacturers.

“Aesthetically, my style is influenced by Scandinavian design and contemporary Australian architecture and I think that comes from my training in Tassie,” he adds.

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Agostino & Brown craft timeless pieces for much-loved spaces

From historic Adelaide Hills hotels to trendy metropolitan eateries and regional distilleries, Sam Agostino and Gareth Brown’s timeless furniture pieces can be found in popular places throughout the state.

The furniture and interior designers are behind custom furniture label Agostino & Brown (A+B) and are strong believers in the power of using high quality materials, while employing skilled South Australians to make the goods here in Adelaide.

“Our focus is making furniture in Adelaide where we can supply a national client base,” says Sam Agostino.

“We make everything in South Australia, we also work with other local makers and manufacturers to keep the making business local in SA.”

Aside from Sam and Gareth, A+B employs at its workshop in Wingfield four highly skilled furniture makers who have more than 70 years’ of experience between them in crafting handmade furniture.

The label’s showroom is based in Adelaide’s CBD where Sam and Gareth will meet with clients, usually interior designers after classic yet stylish timber pieces developed in strong consideration of the environment.

A+B’s work can be found in award-winning projects including the redeveloped Crafers Hotel which took out Best Hotel in Australia this year, as well as in the Stretton Centre which won Best Architecture Award in 2016 and at the Stirling Hotel which took the gong for Australia’s Best Restaurant in 2016.

Sam Agostino and Gareth Brown of Agostino & Brown. Photo by Mark Brake.

A+B works are also scattered around bars, restaurants and retail spaces including Twenty Third Street Distillery in Renmark, the Adelaide Central Market, Mitolo Winery, Angove Winery, the Feathers Hotel pavilion, and the Morphett Arms Hotel, among others. Other clients include Bendigo Adelaide Bank, Origin Energy, Westpac, Jones Lang LaSalle, RAA, Beerenberg, Monash University, Hub Australia, Qantas, and the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

“Having our furniture in beautiful public spaces designed by the most amazing interior designers and influential business entrepreneurs is most inspiring for us,” they say.

“We feel proud seeing our products being used by the general public and the great thing about using natural materials in our products is they tend to wear in not out, so they get even better with use. We welcome people looking for these same quality customisable furnishings in their own homes.”

Hub Australia Melbourne by Hassell Studio Adelaide, photo by Rachel Lewis, featuring A+B’s Woodsi table and olive stools.

Sam and Gareth started their working lives on differing career paths, they hadn’t yet met each other when Sam studied interior architecture at the University of South Australia, and Gareth worked as a chef in Adelaide before heading to Europe to broaden his culinary repertoire.

Gareth ran restaurants in the UK and France for many years before deciding it was time for a change, deciding to study traditional handcrafted furniture making in Bristol.

In 2007 he headed home to Adelaide, taking a spot as an associate in renowned craft studio JamFactory, and deciding SA was home once again.

During her studies, Sam had worked with designer and curator Khai Liew at Augusta Antiques, home to extremely rare and old Japanese, Danish, Australian and French pieces restored by hand.

Once she had graduated university, she worked as an interior designer at Adelaide graphic and interior designer company Enoki, and fast realised the difficulty in sourcing locally-made products.

It was while working for Enoki that she met Gareth, and later the two decided they would work well together and that making furniture from Adelaide was a viable venture.

Twig House by interior designer Allison Pye, photo by Lisa Cohen featuring A&B’s Tambootie table in custom colour finish.

Their business was registered in 2010 and soon after they began designing their first product, the Fig stool, a classically shaped solid American oak and Australian pine piece that “set the tone for our style”.

“Our furniture style is simple, functional and practical with a clean aesthetic,” Gareth says.

“It is always custom made with the highest quality of finish and construction and an environmentally conscious design process. We simply solve problems in manufacturing and the availability of good furniture. We respect our craft, value craftsmanship and enjoy the process of making objects that will last a lifetime.”

The main material used for their collections of tables, seating, storage cabinets and shelves, mirrors and lighting is solid hardwood oak sourced from ethically managed and sustainable forests in Australia and America. A+B also uses re-claimed timbers such as Oregon and Messmate, as well as quality leather, marble, stone and steel.

Sam and Gareth say design and manufacturing in Adelaide is of high quality and that the city is home to strong support among businesses.

“We feel part of an exciting, innovative and growing community,” Sam says.

“Adelaide is an amazing place to live and provides endless opportunities to work with prominent clients on superior projects.”

Header image: The Stirling Hotel by proprietor Sarah Matthews, featuring A+B’s olive stools and doughwood table.

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Slowing it down in the world of craft

In an industry consumed with fast fashion and big brands, Adelaide shoemaker Matea Gluscevic is proving that slow and sustainable is best when it comes to the world of custom-made creations.

“I can’t really participate in fast fashion or trends because by the time a trend comes and goes, I’m only at the research, development and pattern making stages,” says Matea from her workshop at creative hub The Mill on Angas Street, Adelaide.

“My satisfaction comes from making something that I know will last a long time. I want somebody to be able to have my shoes for ages.”

The 30-year-old designer and maker launched her own shoe brand just over a year ago, with the first order placed by a woman in Portland, Oregon, in the US who had spotted Matea’s shoes on Instagram.

Matea’s workspace at The Mill. Photo by Christopher Arblaster.

Since then Matea’s brand has transitioned through a few name changes and different style directions, from minimalistic and basic block coloured sandals to more futuristic and colourful designs.

Her label underwent a rebrand recently to become Matea Gluscevic Handmade, – in response to Matea’s desire to adopt to a more genuine and sincere style suited to her own personal taste.

The shoes are made to order, taking about three weeks to craft from sustainably sourced materials including wild kangaroo leather, cork and recycled rubber.

The vegetable tanned kangaroo leather is considered more environmentally friendly than typical chrome tanned bovine leather and is sourced from South Australian kangaroo leather tannery Vacel Leather in Adelaide’s north.

“Veg tan leather is made using bark tannins, so it’s better for the environment … I would rather not have too much of a guilty conscience in terms of what I’m doing,” Matea says.

“Even the rubber I use is made from 20% recycled content.”

These custom fit house slippers feature green holographic vinyl, yellow kangaroo leather and a medium density orthopaedic insole.

Matea has been a resident at The Mill for three years, with the first two years of her tenure spent as a sculptor and installation artist.

She brought with her qualifications in shoemaking as well as a Bachelor of Visual Art specialising in sculpture and installation from the University of Adelaide. She even studied a year of dental technology to learn more practical skills with plastering and mould making.

Matea admits that life as an artist can be a tough gig compared to a regular nine-to-five job, and so she works on weekends as a bartender and is also an event manager for a dance party held at an Adelaide nightspot roughly once a month.

Matea’s shoes are made to order and take about three weeks to create. Photo by Michael Papez.

“In terms of being a maker I prefer it here in Adelaide, the environment is better and it feels like a more supportive scene,” she says.

While the life of a craftsperson is usually seen as one spent tucked away in a one-person studio, Matea’s everyday surroundings are quite the opposite.

Although she occupies her own dedicated workspace at The Mill, she’s surrounded by a number of like-minded creators, artists, makers, writers and designers – some emerging, others established.

There’s JamFactory trained jeweller Tanis Blines who shares a studio with her husband John Blines, an artist whose works are entrenched in medical and behavioural science.

Other associate artists include Lisa Penny of Hey Reflect’o, furniture designer Robyn Wood, ceramicist Kate O’Callaghan and tattoo studio XO L’Avant.

Furniture by Peter Fong.

Illustrator and furniture designer Peter Fong has been at The Mill since its establishment in 2013.

Graduating with a visual communications degree at the UniSA, Peter went on to become a freelance illustrator using traditional tools of nibs and ink.

Peter’s portfolio includes wine labels and magazine illustrations and says Adelaide’s close-knit community means he’s rarely had to promote his brand to find work.

He recently pushed the pen to the side to pursue his love for woodwork and furniture design and is preparing to launch his first collection of custom furniture including tables and stools in the near future.

“I mainly use hand tools and try not to use many screws or nails, it’s all joinery,” Peter says.

“I just love building things that last. It makes me happy seeing something down the road and saying ‘yep, it’s still there’.”

A sideboard by Peter Fong.

Industry in focus: Craft industries

Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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