In August 2012 I was selected to exhibit my furniture designs in the Salone Satellite, part of the Milan Furniture Fair 2013. This news was met with instant delight as it was something I had been working towards physically since starting my business in May 2012 and mentally since first visiting the show in 2000. Every resource I had both in time and money was used to ensure that I would not only get to the show (from my base half way around the world in Australia), but that it would be a success for my new enterprise. On March 26th 2013 my furniture set sail for the show, the dream was taking shape, or so I thought! Over the next few weeks, I was pushed to my absolute limit as I fought to keep my dream alive. Here is my account of the 2013 Milan Furniture Fair written in the days after the event.
17th April 2013 – Cannes, France
Well after nearly a year of preparing and developing designs, the Milan Furniture Fair 2013 came and went. As I sit and write this blog entry in the hazy aftermath of the event, that first sentence sounds so simple, the truth of the matter is far from simple. I decided to record my thoughts about the show sooner rather than later, so that all the hard work, problems, challenges and disappointments will not be resigned to the dark corners of my mind, or diluted over time, eventually to be recalled with warm fuzzy coated words.
Stand A15 – Tane Design – Milan Furniture Fair 2013 – CAD plan
The plan, well let’s say it took some planning! But eventually I was left with something that felt manageable in the time frame leading up to April 2013;
1) Design new exciting, ethically and sustainable conscious furniture.
2) Develop and produce final prototypes of designs.
3) Send furniture to Manchester, England from Melbourne, Australia.
4) Fly to England, pick up furniture in Manchester, take to parent’s house, assemble and make good.
5) Load furniture into a van and drive to Milan.
6) Set up stand in time for opening and competition judging.
7) Glory, accolades, blah, blah, blah…
What actually happened…
My first phone call to British Airways (BA) cargo came on Tuesday 2nd April, the date given to me by the baggage handler in Australia, as the day my goods would arrive in the UK. Tuesday 2nd April was four days prior to our (me and my dad) departure day on our road trip to Milan. It just so happened when I made the call I was half way up a snow capped Welsh peak, (I was expecting to go and pick the furniture up on Wednesday once it had cleared customs) which I was attempting to climb in a pair of fashion sports shoes borrowed from a friend. The shoes in question had no grip whatsoever and had holes in both toes!
When the phone call to BA didn’t quite go as I had anticipated (I was told my furniture was not in Manchester and in fact had not even left Australia or been booked on any flight to do so) I decided to call it a day and leave the others in the group, including my wife, to tackle the remainder of the climb on their own. By that stage in the day I was already fed up with severally cold and wet feet due to the inappropriate footwear I was finding the going tough. I virtually skied back down the face straight into the nearest, warmest, Welsh pub!
This pattern of being given a date of arrival for my furniture then being let down continued over what should have been a few very memorable weeks in my life. With time running out to meet the set up dates for the show, I was given the option to terminate my packages at London Heathrow. This meant I could pick the boxes up on Friday 5th April, which would still leave enough time for a comfortable journey to Milan.
Me and my dad drove the six or so hours from Manchester to London on Thursday 4th April, so we could stay over and be ready to pick the furniture up bright and early Friday morning ready for a weekend trip across Europe and arriving in Milan first thing Monday morning. All went well with the drive to London; my dad is a retired chauffer, so it was with real style that we arrived at our hotel in our rented van! We were both in good shape, happy to have made progress and I think secretly looking forward to the journey ahead.
‘Jive’ range of soft seating, for commercial and residential interiors
Alas it was not to be, one phone call from BA was all it took to send our plans spinning for a second time. We were left with no option but to travel back up north to Manchester, as we didn’t have the budget to stay in London for three extra nights waiting for my furniture at the new arrival time of Monday 8th April!
This new date meant a new plan; I employed my wife Holly as new co-driver. This decision was based around my now ever decreasing confidence in the information I was being given by BA. If the furniture did not arrive on Monday morning we could at least stay at a friend’s house on the sofa, in this situation my dad would have felt very uncomfortable and out of place. But let’s not jump the gun, surely at the third time of asking my furniture would arrive, come on let’s stay positive!!!
As it happened my worst fears were realised. Yet another phone call to BA and yet more complete and utter disappointment, this time it felt my world was falling apart. My dream I had been working towards ever since graduating from university over fourteen years ago was now hanging by the thinnest of threads.
‘Groove’ range of cardboard seating and lighting
I had been given a new date of Wednesday 10th April, I tried to take my mind off things but stress and fatigue were slowly getting the better of me. We had flown half way around the world, spent all my savings, and pinned all my hopes and dreams of my future on an event that now looked extremely likely that I was going to miss. I fell ill, so did Holly, but we had to stay awake past midnight to communicate with the Australian company I had employed to transport my furniture to England.
After a long phone call, I was told my furniture was not guaranteed to be on the new flight which was due to arrive on Wednesday 10th. I was at the end of my tether, people close to me will confirm I am the most patient person you could ever meet, with a very long fuse….. it was about to go off!!
Wednesday 10th April, 11.11am
“Your boxes have arrived” Said the voice nonchalantly on the line. A simple sentence for the person on the other end of the phone to deliver, with no real connection to the situation or its repercussions, but to me at that moment in time, that sentence meant the world! We set off immediately, Heathrow… easy, boxes loaded 2pm and we are on our way to Folkstone, 5pm channel crossing, 1 hour time added on in Calais, France. 6 hours later we are in Lyon to pick up keys to an apartment in Milan. 5am cross the border into Italy and 8am we arrive at the Milan Furniture Fair, Milan! Sounds very easy when written like that, let’s just say it was a challenge. Non-stop driving, my wife and I drove through the night coughing and sneezing our way to Milan.
The final hurdle as we had missed the set up days of Saturday, Sunday and Monday (it was now Thursday!) “No badge no entry” was the message that greeted us at the gates of the fair! We were forced to park (by the Italian police) outside the showgrounds and carry everything in by hand, including the large armchair ‘Jive’. After no sleep and nearly 22 hours on the road, this was a real challenge I lifted ‘Jive’ on my back and like a giant Galapagos tortoise walked nearly half a kilometre into the exhibition and through the halls of Milan! Not a single person who passed offered to help with the load.
The chrome skid base of the chair touched down onto the cream carpet which lined the floor of stand A15 in the Salone Satellite and I almost cried, we had made it, fashionably late? I’m not sure about fashionably! I looked an absolute mess as I stood in the midst of all the well dressed, washed and rested young designers.
With the help of my loved ones, shear will and determination I was here in Milan. It felt as though I had dragged these pieces of furniture kicking and screaming all the way from Australia, I had lived every moment of this epic journey. Every step of which felt like people were throwing barriers up as they did not want me to succeed, but I believe in what I’m doing, I believe it is what I should be doing and nobody was going to stop me.
I sit here writing this in a small cafe, on a hill-side in the south of France, catching the last of the day’s sun through the trees. It is now three days after the show, and although I will always be wondering, “what if I had made it on time?” I know I did everything I could to get to Milan and to make the most of the time I was given. I now wait and see if the gamble and hard work pays off.
Written by Gary Pennington
Photos by Gary & Holly Pennington
Tane Furniture Design