CREATIVE DUO DESIGN BY TOKO BRING A THOUGHTFUL AESTHETIC TO THEIR DYNAMIC CREATIVE PROCESS THAT SPANS ACROSS ARCHITECTURE, FASHION, EXHIBITION DESIGN AND ARTISTIC COMMENT, WRITES FREYA HERRING. PHOTOGRAPHED BY DAVE WHEELER.
DESIGN BY TOKO is no ordinary Sydney graphic design practice. “We called it Design by Toko because we believe that design is always derived from conceptual thinking,” explains Michael Lugmayr, who founded the company with life and business partner Eva Dijkstra. “We like to think that we can design everything, so we get involved with architecture, we’re into exhibition design and even fashion.” Lugmayr and Dijkstra founded Design by Toko in 2001 in the Netherlands, where they were previously based. The word ‘toko’ comes from the many independently owned Indonesian shops in the Netherlands known as tokos, and now exists as a slang word meaning ‘independent business’. After visiting Australia on a two-week holiday, they decided to move themselves and their business here permanently. “We fell in love with Sydney,” says Dijkstra. “We went back home and within two months we put our house on the market. It was a really emotional decision; a gut feeling.” Today they live in Sydney’s Bellevue Hill with their “biggest project”, the couple’s seven-month- old baby, Pip. “Sydney is just so beautiful and the lifestyle is so fantastic,” Dijkstra says. “That combination is pretty unique.” Although much of their day-to-day business is focused on graphic design and branding for such companies as Cult, Oscar Wylee, the Powerhouse Museum, and Hansen and Søn, Design by Toko continues to work outside the realm of graphic design. They recently collaborated with Sydney’s Hill Street Precinct to make an artistic statement against the proliferation of designer copies. “We built this tower of replica furniture to look like a bonfire,” says Lugmayr. “It started a discussion ››
‹‹ about replicas and reference culture in general.” Dijkstra continues. “It had lights underneath and a smoke machine, so it actually looked like it was on fire.” The duo also worked on the exhibition and identity design for the Australian Institute of Architects at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, creating nomadic spaces of exchange out of a rug decorated with the floor plan of the Australian Pavilion. “On it we held discussions and talks about architecture around the city,” Dijkstra says. The subject of architecture holds a lot of weight for them. “We probably love architecture more than we like graphic design,” says Lugmayr. “But what we both really enjoy is simplicity,” says Dijkstra. “It starts with the concept and then it’s just a case of finding the purest form of that idea.” Lugmayr adds, “The majority of the work we do is idea generation. There are so many designers out there, the only thing that can really blossom and be unique is a strong idea.” So how have these guys continued to create and innovate together for some two decades? It’s all about balance. “Eva is amazing at detailing, seeing the bigger picture and having incredible, exceptional ideas,” says Lugmayr. “Whereas I’m less interested in the details and more into a simpler, conceptual thinking. At the end of the day we just really complement each other.”
“The majority of the work we do is idea generation. The only thing that can really blossom and be unique is a strong idea”
from left: in the studio, Dijkstra (left) and Lugmayr before an artwork by Dijkstra; the table is self-designed; ‘Doll Steel’ chair by Emilio Nanni. Examples of the powerhouse couple’s previous work.
Blue artwork by Dijkstra; ‘Concorde’ table by Poliform. clockwise from top left: In the hallway, artworks by Gio Schiano, Will Coles and Nicholas Krushenick. In the dining room, Hay sideboard and ‘Dome’ lamp by Todd Bracher, both from Cult; artworks by André Hemer and Louise Blyton. Posters in the Toko studio. In the kitchen, artwork by Paul Insect. In the living room, ‘Toro’ chair by Blu Dot; artworks by Otto Piene.