Wilson’s first experience of the Milan Furniture Fair cemented this path. He went while he was travelling the world as a backpacker before the global financial crisis. “It was intensely opulent. People were just throwing money at every single new project. It felt hard to justify making anything, ever, as I thought we were so furnished in every way,” he recalls. “I felt a bit disheartened by that and then I found the Design Academy Eindhoven [in The Netherlands], which was looking at design in a very Dutch way — it was very conceptual, where the thinking and the analysis come first and the product comes second. It was very different from dreaming up an idea and figuring out how to make it work. It’s really highly intellectualised.”
He was the first Australian to attend the school and spent three years pursuing a “design education rather than a making education”. Upon graduation, he came back to Sydney and set up a studio in 2010; one of the first things he designed — the A-joint — won an award. “The prize enabled me to put it in production,” Wilson says. His inspiration for the A-joint was a plastic saw-horse bracket he found in the US equivalent of Bunnings.
“I saw this idea there, this wedging, and I thought it was such a good idea that had been so poorly executed and so roughly cheapened by making it out of plastic. It was a pretty poor resolution for what originally was a very good idea,” he says. “I looked into the product and it had a patent on it — for the wedging mechanism — and the patent had expired, so I thought it was worth having a look at this and seeing what could be done. I took it to an engineer and started the process of completely changing it into something that would last a lifetime.”
Wilson reinvented the saw-horse as a part used to manufacture tables, benches, stools and desks in a “very quick, glue-less and adjustable” way. “It started as a purity of design for me and it’s turned into something that has filled quite a gap in the market.” The main clients for Wilson’s A-joint are Australian businesses that used to wait up to 26 weeks for a high-quality customised table to be shipped from Europe. “There used to be these big boundaries in place, whereas the lead time for the A-joint is two weeks, with an infinite amount of materials and adjustments,” he says. “So I found myself a bit of an entrepreneur.”
Wilson now makes more financial decisions than design ones but hopes to hire someone soon to assist with that side of his business so he can concentrate on creating new work. In the meantime, he gets great pleasure from knowing his furniture exists in many offices, homes and restaurants. “A lot of people would have sat at an A-joint desk and they wouldn’t even know it,” he says. “That’s kind of what I like. It does its job but you could easily miss it in a room. It’s not a statement; it’s just quietly working away there.”