MI­LANDA ROUT

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Aia Awards 2014 -

enry Wilson talks more like an in­ven­tor or per­haps a res­cuer of long-lost in­ven­tions than a fur­ni­ture de­signer. He is sit­ting in front of a wall of his prized an­tique gad­gets and is hold­ing what can only be de­scribed as a rather unattrac­tive white porce­lain Ger­man toi­let roll holder.

“This is one of my favourite ob­jects. You look at it and, for me any­way, it is an ob­ject of in­cred­i­ble beauty,” he says. “Imag­ine you put a toi­let roll in there; you don’t need an axle and, be­cause it is glazed porce­lain, the pa­per slides out eas­ily — there is noth­ing to catch be­cause there are no mov­ing parts … [Artist] Henry Moore couldn’t sculpt that. And yet it wasn’t de­signed; it is that shape be­cause that is how it works.’’

Wilson clearly has a pas­sion for func­tional de­sign and is quickly gain­ing a name for him­self for his sim­ple but beau­ti­ful fur­ni­ture. He has just opened his first show­room in in­ner-city Syd­ney and his A-joint ta­bles, desks and benches (based on a rein­ven­tion of a plas­tic saw-horse joint he saw in a hard­ware shop in the US) are ap­pear­ing in homes and board­rooms across the world. He just fin­ished fit­ting out Ae­sop’s new shop in Bal­main from re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als and is mak­ing very popular bronze cast keys/ iPhone trays called Vide Poche (French for empty pock­ets).

He also loves hang­ing out in junk­yards, find­ing “amaz­ing ob­jects” that have lain derelict in the piles of rub­bish. He spent the past two years work­ing out of a con­verted shipping con­tainer in Rozelle be­fore grad­u­at­ing to a proper show­room. “Ev­ery time I see some­thing, you are al­ways glean­ing po­ten­tial from what­ever you see,” the 31-year-old says. “That is what de­sign is.”

It’s not sur­pris­ing that Wilson was a fan of Lego as a child. Ac­cord­ing to his mother, an ar­chi­tect, he would “pull ev­ery­thing apart and leave it in pieces more of­ten than not”. He ad­mits he prob­a­bly wasn’t much dif­fer­ent to other kids at a sim­i­lar age but says he al­ways had an in­ter­est in art and de­sign and how things worked. “I steered well clear of many aca­demic things,” Wilson re­calls. “That sort of be­gan an over­all in­ter­est in mak­ing and con­struc­tion.”

He de­cided upon in­dus­trial de­sign but got a “ter­ri­ble” fi­nal score at high school and missed out on a univer­sity place in Syd­ney, so he had to go with plan B, which was art school in Can­berra. He se­cured a place at Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity’s “very crafty” wood depart­ment. “It was [all about] lovely, lovely wood and how do we make lovely, lovely wood things,” he says of the course. A six-month ex­change to the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign in the US (the “cold­est year-and-a-half of my life”) ex­posed him to the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of de­sign again and re­fo­cused his ap­proach to cre­ate func­tional rather than “lovely” fur­ni­ture.

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