Ok, so I’m going to do it again and ‘re-blog’! This time though I think I have a legitimate case as the story is about me! This is an article that is hot off the press, written by Jenny Tranter from ‘State of Green’. Many thanks to Jenny for making me sound so impressive 🙂 enjoy…
Stepping into the old Young and Husband’s old wool mills in Kensington is like walking into an Aladdin’s cave of sorts. There is sensory overload everywhere you look from the original art deco lighting, to wide worn timber staircases, exposed timber ceilings revealing intricate carpentry work, floor boards with holes and wide open warehouse space framed in steel trusses. And this is just the beginning. Behind many closed doors (and some open offering a peek), there are creatives and makers spanning all industries industriously working away. Putting these distractions aside, the purpose of my visit here this week was to speak to local furniture designer and restorer, Gary Pennington of Tane Design.
Gary’s background and training is in industrial design. Graduating in 1999 in the United Kingdom, Gary says he gained invaluable experience working with modern high end commercial furniture manufacturers, in addition to teaching stints sharing the tricks of the trade with upcoming students. His move to Australia came after a back packing holiday to Australia, where he met his UK girlfriend (now wife) in Coober Peedy. They loved it so much, they decided to trial a move abroad, and moved to Adelaide in 2008. Gary picked up work as an industrial designer with a creative team at the Adelaide Zoo, a job he says he loved. He and the team were responsible for coming up with innovative and interesting displays for visitors, which also included him being responsible for fitting out the Panda enclosure. Not something many of us can put on our CV!
In 2011, Gary moved to Melbourne, where he decided to pursue his passion of making and restoring furniture. Winning a start up business grant from the City Of Melbourne in 2013 enabled him to set up his studio space, which is an impressive upcycled work space. Stylish mid century desks were purchased from ex government auction sales, the entry doors and windows were obtained from salvage yards, and gym lockers found abandoned were re-sprayed a bright orange. In fact most of the materials Gary has used were obtained within a 5km radius. And this very much reflects Gary’s design philosophy. He holds a strong belief in community, in supporting local business and making things as efficiently as possible.
In 2013, Gary exhibited a nest of coffee tables at Melbourne’s Design Made Trade event, which were selected to go to London as a showcase for Australian design. The irony is not lost on him as someone who moved to Australia from the UK, and having participated in major furniture design events in Milan and London. Whilst Gary says he originally had big grand visions to become the world’s greatest designer, it is restoring classic pieces (check out his before and after shots!), making commissioned items and creating his own sustainable designs where he finds utmost peace.
In his restoration work, he enjoys the process of reinvigorating an old piece. He points out it is not his aim to make old items look new again. It is to freshen them up, and make them usable and functional again. Standing in the workshop, Gary points to two mid century steel based stools which he is refurbishing for Australia Post. They are solid and classic in design, but the fabric and foam has worn through from years of use. Another lady has delivered a pair of mid century chairs covered in outdated fabric, and a break is evident in the timber framing. Gary ponders how he can make these pieces functional again. He says textile designers Ink and Spindle who work upstairs from him in their screen printing studio will assist in fabric choice, and he uses the most eco friendly foam he can source. On the work bench sits a timber trolley table broken down into pieces. One piece has been striped back revealing the beauty of of timber grain, complete with dents and dings created by use throughout the decades. Gary shares he won’t remove or fill these dents. “It adds to its character and tell a story about its past”. Speaking to Gary, I am seated on a comfortable chair made from numerous pieces of cardboard. A matching footstool was created from the space under the chair, maximising material use, and minimising design waste. Sitting in the workshop amongst the broken down furniture, designs in the making, finished pieces and surrounded by tools of the trade it is a truly inspiring environment. This is Gary’s passion, which is evident in all of his work.
Reflecting on his upbringing, Gary says he always held an interest in working with his hands and creating things. He loved the days at primary school when they had been asked to bring in toilet rolls and empty cornflake boxes to create a project. This continued in latter years in high school, where he took as many art related classes as he could. Having made everything from top end commercial furnishings, to timber trays for the wine industry, tables and lamps I asked Gary where he would like to be in 12 months time. He says he is in a good place right now as his business is growing, and would like to continue achieving that happy balance – working and collaborating with local business, getting his designs into peoples homes and breathing life into old pieces of furniture. And how about his original vision of becoming the world’s best designer – he says he is up for the challenge any time!