May 19, 2018 / Luxury Lifestyle

Wizards of Oz: Australia’s Best Designers

From furniture and lighting to interior decoration and fashion, these five Australian design studios are names to watch…

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A new generation of Australian designers is celebrating local influences while increasingly—and confidently—working on the international stage. Whether you’re collecting investment pieces or commissioning an apartment makeover, take inspiration from these five leading lights in the Australian design world.

1. Christopher Boots
Lighting, you could say, is like jewelry for the home, and Christopher Boots’s dazzling designs are the ultimate adornments. Handmade in his edgy warehouse studio in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, his large sculptural lights radiate modern glamour.

Lighting designer Christopher Boots is one of the young Australians bringing a new aesthetic to the design world. Photograph: Sean Fennessy. Banner image: David Flack's Caravan project. Photograph: Sharyn CairnsGraphic pendants such as his brass Asterix lights reinvent traditional lanterns. His futuristic BCAA pendants are inspired by amino acid chains. And Boots’s ravishing, limited-edition Prometheus I+II pendants flaunt brass rings decorated with quartz crystals: a “rough-luxe” aesthetic combining tough metals with the precious and refined.

“My design style is driven by experimenting, and taking materials as far as they can go,” says Boots. “Light is energy in motion—or emotion—and I connect with people through this universal experience of light.” Boots studied industrial design, but takes his cue from plants, animals, minerals, and mythology. “I am interested in scales of time,” he says. “The natural materials I use can take millions of years to form.”

Related: Discover the Story of the Chandelier

Christopher Boots’s "rough-luxe" limited-edition Prometheus I+II pendants are made from brass and quartz crystal.Established in 2011, Boots’s eponymous label crafts collectible designs, including bespoke one-offs showcased in Hermès’s store windows in New York, at 2017’s PAD Paris fair, and in 2018 at San Francisco’s FOG Design+Art.

I am interested in scales of time. The natural materials I use can take millions of years to form

Australia has “a strong, dynamic, creative designer-maker industry,” but inadequate trademark protections spawn cheap counterfeits, warns Boots. “Time is the ultimate luxury. Having something delivered instantly never offers the same experience as waiting and pining for an object to be crafted to the highest standards.”

2. Pascale Gomes-McNabb
Step into a stylish Australian dining destination, and chances are Melbourne architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb will have been involved. “I’ve owned and operated restaurants, so I understand the way they work,” she explains. “You can create real drama in a restaurant environment. They are fun, voyeuristic, and playful arenas where people want to encounter new experiences.”

Pascale Gomes-McNabb is the brains behind some of Australia’s most beautiful restaurants, including Cirrus in Sydney and Melbourne’s Stokehouse. Photograph: Sean FennessyRecent successes for her 2009-founded studio include the romantic fine-dining eatery upstairs at Stokehouse in Melbourne, teaming pink tubular pendant lights with elegant indoor–outdoor spaces. She crafted contemporary coastal interiors for new seafood restaurant Cirrus in Sydney (as well as moody decor for local sisters Bentley, Monopole, and Yellow), designed Adelaide’s idiosyncratic Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant, and collaborated with her former partner, chef Andrew McConnell, on Melbourne’s beloved Cumulus Inc and Cutler & Co.

The striking light installation in the Stokehouse dining room was created by Mark Douglass and is made of 2,400 individual glass rods with a light-pink wash running through them. Photograph: Murray Fredericks“I can design very clean, minimalistic spaces or completely over-the-top hedonistic experiences; however, I always defer to a certain quality,” says Gomes-McNabb. “I like to juxtapose elements, usually mixing luxe materials with raw, and balancing tactile, sensory pieces with the visually evocative, while ensuring a harmonious, poetic sensibility.” She gleans inspiration from art, movies, set design, cars, music, and nature.

Related: Take Inspiration from Restaurant Designer Elizabeth Ingram

Gomes-McNabb says “design can make a better world”—enhancing our lives through functionality or beauty. “Australian designers are forging a new identity in this globalized community.”

3. David Flack
Rising Melbourne interior architect David Flack has coined the verb “to Flackify,” meaning “to transform a client’s vision into an experience.” Describing his design style as “nostalgic modernism—bold, brave, and curious,” Flack embraces a color-saturated aesthetic. In demand for his casually grand residential, retail, and restaurant interiors, he combines textured layers of materials with contemporary twists on vintage.  

David Flack says he was obsessed with interiors as a child, and now his colorful designs are creating a buzz in Australia and beyond. Photograph: Amelia StanwixLaunched in 2014, Flack Studio occupies a 1920s factory in Melbourne’s hip Fitzroy neighborhood. Local projects span striking homes, elegant steak restaurant Entrecôte, and industrial-chic design store Criteria, plus Ginger & Smart’s “polished yet playful” fashion boutique on Queensland’s Gold Coast. International commissions include Caravan’s richly hued cafe/restaurants in Seoul.

David Flack's interiors are characterized by their bold, brave, and curious nature. Stylist: Marsha Golmac. Photograph: Brooke Holm “I’m inspired by the play of material, color, and form. Design is the exploration of these three things; nothing is off limits,” says Flack. “Usually the element you question will make the project.” He creates collaboratively. “I spend time with my client and the space, as our design comes from the personalities of both. I start with drawing, and ideas around detail­. Material and color follow.”

There’s an expectation of great design in Australia, and the local industry is vibrant and constantly evolving

The healthy Australian design scene is “pushing the envelope,” he reckons. “There’s an expectation of great design, and the local industry is vibrant and constantly evolving.” Engaging design matters, enthuses Flack. “I live for the day my clients see the unveiling of their new home. Design for me is art—it’s important to surround yourself with beauty, otherwise what’s the point?”

Related: Learn How to Reflect Interiors Trends in 2018

4. Kacey Devlin
Sydney is a city with a keen eye for seductive fashion, inspired by its subtropical climate and beach-loving lifestyle. Now Kacey Devlin is offering a fresh perspective, bringing dreamy draping, sinuous silhouettes, and subtle, less-is-more sophistication to her covetable womenswear. 

Kacey Devlin in her Paddington studio alongside some of her flowing designs, perfectly tailored to the hot and humid Sydney weather. Photograph: David WheelerA 2012 graduate of University of Technology Sydney, Devlin’s fledgling brand KACEY/DEVLIN won Australia’s 2017 National Designer Award, and recently launched internationally with online luxury fashion retailer Farfetch.

A “deconstructed approach to soft tailoring” sets her wearable work apart, creating modern classics. “The brand’s aesthetic is fluid and relaxed, redefining elements of the female form,” says Devlin, whose studio is in Sydney’s fashion hub, Paddington. “My process is very organic. I use drape to discover new shapes and cut ideas. I also get inspiration watching people walk by and seeing how they interact with their clothes.”

The dreamy dresses created by Kacey Devlin have a less-is-more sophistication . Photograph: Ben SimpsonColor and fabric are key to capturing “a sense of strength and sensuality in the KD personality. We use a lot of ‘liquid’ silks that are very sensitive, and also knitted metallics with a soft chainmail-like aesthetic that convey that sense of confidence.” Devlin flirts with asymmetry and favors minimal block colors, from neutrals to vibrant electric blue.

My process is very organic. I use drape to discover new shapes and cut ideas

Australia is a “melting pot rich in design voices, and as a creative it’s an exciting time to be adding another voice to the conversations,” says Devlin, who believes fashion can inspire and empower. “As a designer you can change the way someone feels. That’s an amazing gift and privilege.”

5. Daniel Emma
A little attitude goes a long way, and Daniel Emma have it in spades. The Adelaide-based duo—Daniel To and Emma Aiston—inject witty personality, quirky detail, and lots of vibrant color into their contemporary furniture and products, “creating the unexpected from simple objects using simple forms.” Their designs are “happy and always ‘just nice,’ making the everyday fun and enjoyable.”

Related: Add Touches of Color to Any Room

Design partners Daniel To and Emma Aiston take a playful approach to  their furniture and accessories. Photograph: Bo WongPartners in life and work, both graduated in industrial design from the University of South Australia, before founding their label in 2008. Stints at studios in Paris and London (including Marc Newson and Thorsten van Elten) honed their skills. Daniel Emma’s diverse collection now spans sculptural outdoor furniture for Australia’s Tait, eye-catching lighting for France’s Petite Friture, watches for homegrown AÃRK Collective, and accessories for Denmark’s Hay, and Field and Good Thing in the US. Their own-line D-E range features chairs, tables, a vase, and desk objects.

The Anna Vase from Daniel Emma reflects the design duo's penchant for creating the unexpected.The pair exhibit globally, with 2016 installations for Swedish fashion brand COS and New York’s Cooper Hewitt museum. And 2017 saw a show at London Design Festival, new jewelry boxes for Melbourne gallery Pieces of Eight, and wallpaper for Sydney’s Local Design group, which will share their work at this year’s Milan Design Week.

“We always work together, equal parts Daniel to Emma,” says Aiston. Daniel brings the “computer prowess and chaos” while she adds “organization and color.” Both are inspired by Australia’s current design scene. “It’s exciting to be a part of it!”  

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Sophie Davies
is co-founder and editorial director of global design website DesignFizz, and writes about design, travel, culture, and lifestyle for Habitus, Vogue Living, and Condé Nast Traveller

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