MELBOURNE DESIGN STUDIO PORCELAIN BEAR CELEBRATES THE CONTRADICTORY ASPECTS OF A ROBUST YET REFINED MEDIUM.
There’s a ceramic white bear sunbathing on the sill of a Melbourne showroom that objectifies the brand identity of its business, Porcelain Bear. It’s an incidental, easily overlooked analogue for both the attributes of the company’s designer-directors and the base material with which they work. “Clearly we are bears,” says Gregory Bonasera, in beard-stroking acknowledgement that both he and his creative partner, Anthony Raymond, are hirsute and huggable. “But the polar bear is also the perfect metaphor for porcelain. He is white, robust and strong, an adaptable species that survives; both beautiful and fragile.” And adaptability in a fast-changing world has whipped the ‘Bears’ — makers of timeless ceramic lights and furniture — into a recent frenzy of renovation (the showroom’s switch to pitch), reintroduction (key pieces have been honed to an essence) and a radicalisation of traditional form (new furniture pays homage to the Paris train system). “Métro sounds so much sexier than the fast-food suggestive Subway,” says Bonasera of the epithet given to a series of tables featuring bevelled-edge marble slabs perched on podiums of porcelain brick that bring to mind the tiled vaults of the Paris underground. “You’ll notice the tables have a shadow-line profile at the top, allowing the stone to transmit light while seeming to float.” Presenting in three functional variations (dining, coffee and occasional) in two marble options (Pietra Grigia or Giallo Sienna) on porcelain podiums glazed in basalt, gloss black or natural, the series remains true to the spirit of its precedent. It is two-parts turn-of-the20th-century industry and one-part Gallic shrug, the French gesture of disregard for what others are doing in a dynamic design that moves you. There’s also a soupçon of Memphis — the Postmodern Italian movement that mashed up historicism and pop culture in the 1980s — a sly reference that Bonasera acknowledges with a nod. These retro-futurist beauties float in a black-as-pitch showroom that has been restyled by the Bears to better highlight porcelain’s off-white pigment. Raymond informs that they hand-laid the floor with repurposed fence palings “into a ridiculously difficult herringbone pattern that we won’t be doing at home anytime soon” and matched its weathered complexion to walls painted in the suitably grizzly Dulux shade, Waza Bear. In this depthless space, the Bears have created legible dimension with a curtain of slip-cast porcelain links that clink with a resonant reminder of the time taken to forge the extraordinary interior feature. “It’s all about retaining our design DNA while allowing for evolution,” says Bonasera, with a Darwinian acknowledgement that small adaptations mean survival. “We won’t ever change our aesthetic because it is who we are, but we will hone and refine.” And this refinement delivers a black-on-black punch in an adjacent room, where two new luminaires — the ‘Bident’, a buck-shot weighted brass-arm chandelier with feature porcelain sleeves, and the ‘Spider’, a 10-leg mutant that has seemingly survived a nuclear meltdown — shine new light on a design legacy that dates back nearly three decades. “We decided to blowtorch the floor,” says Bonasera of the finish needed to complete this picture of post-apocalyptic night. “We just love the visceral nature of it, the unevenness of texture that says handmade.” And it’s this commitment to push beyond the prescripts of ‘preciousness’ that has placed this design duo at the apex of their species. Just like the Arctic giants who lend them metaphor and mascot, these Porcelain Bears are the masters of their domain. Visit Porcelain Bear at Denfair, at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre from 2–4 June; porcelainbear.com.
Porcelain Bear’s porfolio of furniture and lighting includes the ‘Métro’ coffee table in porcelain and marble, porcelain box with 24-karat gold hand, Architect’‘ fruit bowl, ‘Métro’ plinth, ‘Porcelena’ beaker, ‘Mili’ bowl, ‘Doc’ vase and ‘Cloche’ pendant.
from top: detail of the ‘Bident’ luminaire, a solid brass construction in an aged bronze finish sealed with beeswax. Porcelain Bear founders Raymond (left) and Bonasera.