tasmanian conversations: interia / a visit to brad's

Friday 28 September 2012

Having said in our first guest post that writing about our work was not particularly interesting, I am going to use my (Karryn) prerogative as a woman and do a u-turn.

Last week Dean (in the blue stripy beanie) and Jonathan Wherrett , my fellow collaborators, made a trip to Kaoota in Southern Tasmania, to the workshop of Brad Latham, who hand makes our Big O range of architectural hardware. Besides sharing these beautiful photos with you, I actually thought this would be a good opportunity to explain our fascination with things that are made by hand, things that are repurposed and how Tasmania has influenced our work.

 Dean and I run a small architecture and interior design studio in Hobart. Our work is quite varied, encompassing both commercial and residential projects, and more often than not, budget ‘challenged’. I can see all the architects shrugging their shoulders and wondering what else is new, but a Tasmanian budget is a completely different kettle of fish. One of the devices we employ to stretch our budgets a tiny bit further has been material reuse, not news I know, but of growing interest to our practice.
We recently pulled together a bar using scraps and leftover bits of pieces from other building works within the same building. Luckily, the building had great bones to strip back and reveal. We spent more time on site than at the computer for this project, working closely with the client and the builder, to reuse as much of the building fabric as possible.

At the same time, we were involved in a residential ‘alts and adds’ project in a suburb just outside of Hobart. Again, we salvaged materials from the house and reused them in a different context. The search for a timber door pull began in this project. We couldn’t find anything and the client had resorted to diy masking tape pulls. In desperation we ended up settling on metal pulls. This project sparked the ‘light bulb moment’ in our studio and we decided to try and produce our very own range of timber hardware using off cut timber from the Tasmanian furniture and construction industry.  We had recently learned that huge quantities of this beautiful resource are burnt each year, as it simply has no use.

This project, which has now gone on to become a rather healthy arm of our studio, has most importantly afforded us the time to tinker with the tiny details of an object made by hand. We see this as a luxury, one that cannot be afforded by our architectural and design projects.

I think Dean and I both bemoan building in a world where cheap and fast win the race, so having the opportunity to explore the beauty of form and material, without the pressure of a deadline, and the ever-present budget reality has been our saviour as the financial crisis bites down hard on the apple isle.
Our Big O range of architectural door hardware is turned by Brad Latham. Brad is a sculptor and furniture designer, and luckily for us he brings a designers eye to the pieces he fabricates for us. He is, in my opinion, an absolute treasure and we thank our lucky stars that another fine furniture designer, Nick Randall, introduced us.

I don’t think I have ever truly appreciated the mark of the maker, until now. Brad’s craftsmanship is exquisite, crisp and precise. He lets the material speak, each small piece of salvaged timber is turned into a precious jewel, each with its own character ensuring that our hardware retains its beautiful handmade quality. That hand is distinctly Brad’s.

We have started to work on some more pieces with Brad, and besides enjoying the trip to his workshop immensely, it is also a joy to learn about the qualities of timber. We have learnt how we can manipulate it and how we can create a product that is affordable whilst still made by hand.  Meanwhile, Dean and I still collect our timber bits from bins across Hobart and very soon we will need our own shed to house our priceless finds. Some forage for food, we forage for wood.

I feel very lucky that we can weave this project through our days and I realise that it has been made possible largely due to our island home and the unique opportunities she offers. I must confess that I am an import, from even further afield than ‘the Mainland’. Tasmania is the first place I have chosen to make my home, up until now homes have just happened through the choice of others. I would find it very difficult to leave this beautiful place. I am fascinated by how this place makes its mark on us and how it can form us. In our case, I know that we would never have embarked on this design journey if we had lived anywhere else.

I love how, in Tasmania, you can try your hand at anything. We are remote and isolated (although the internet has changed this for us quite a bit over the last decade or so) and sometimes we just have to work with what we have. It is a pioneering attitude that fits well with an island of friendly and creative, people. If you don’t have it, just make it. Everyone has a mate who can help you out, who can get you this and organise that. Ideas and connections are everywhere.

I have never lived in a place filled with so many familiar faces. You cannot go to the local Growers Market on Sundays without spending at least an hour saying hello to people you know, or are acquainted with. This amazing sense of community has certainly had an affect on me as a designer, not only by creating connections and facilitating collaborations (like our collaboration with Brad or with Jonathan), but also by giving me a deeper, personal (and often daily) connection with the people who occupy the spaces we design. I must say, I have a very different understanding of my role and responsibilities as a designer.

Time is another quality that our island offers its inhabitants. The pace of life affords us the time to think and create. Tasmania is certainly slower, and the pace is not to everyone’s liking. It suits us well.  We find that we are able to give our time, and likewise, others give of theirs, and projects such as these guest posts find a space in our lives.

This post is a collaboration between Architect Dean Baird, Interior Designer Karryn Dargie and Photographer Jonathan Wherrett. 


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