By Belinda Willis
Despite still being on the road travelling home from three long days at The Big Design Market in Melbourne, furniture maker Robyn Wood is keen to talk about her passion for the South Australian industry.
The talented designer runs her own studio from The Mill creative studios in Adelaide and is firmly behind the state’s craft and making industry growing its presence on the national stage.
“We have such an amazing culture for the arts, the next step is getting people to embrace the designers and makers, the artisans along with that, to somehow connect the dots,” says Robyn, Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador.
“I’m really keen to see the craft and making industry becoming like the food side of things, the wine, food and cheese in SA that is so well known.”
It’s been four years since the aptly named Robyn Wood – she married into the name, “how is that for serendipity?” – set up her own design studio at The Mill in Adelaide’s CBD.
After working as an interior architect for 20 years, her interest in furniture making was particularly stirred during a seven-year stint with joinery firm IJF.
Robyn remembers a moment working with IJF after the Adelaide company won a three-year contract to fit out Federal Government embassies around the world.
“It was in Paris, 1995, 15th arrondissement. I was overseeing moving furniture out of an Embassy apartment complex as part of an interior fit out,” she says. “But this wasn’t just any furniture – it was mid-20th century. Timeless, elegant, iconic, built to last. It was beautiful.”
The experience stirred a growing appreciation for beautiful furniture, and in 2014, Robyn opened her own studio.
She now makes furniture and bespoke objects for architects, galleries and “lovers of good design” throughout Australia, selling at galleries, online, at two markets – The Big Design Market and Bowerbird – and on commission.
Her very first piece made for small production is a favourite, a hand turned timber base Bud Lamp. It drew committed fans among the 70,000 people streaming through The Big Design Market held in the Carlton Royal Exhibition Building last weekend.
“Some of those people at the market saw me there four years ago and they bought my lamp and they came in just to say hello and thanks for the lamp,” Robyn says. “I can still remember their faces from when it was sold, I have some bizarre connection with it.”
There’s also a Reflect desk, vases, candle holders, along with a glass topped coffee table she’s recently finished. Most are made from wood and Robyn has a particular soft spot for sycamore maple and “walnut is lovely to work with too”.
There are other pieces made with glass and steel, with Robyn committed to ensuring each is made from sustainable, renewable materials.
“My design philosophy can be summed up in three words: warmth, simplicity and connection,” she says.
Her plan is to scale back selling smaller pieces with the focus turning to one-off larger designs “to show what I can do” through exhibitions, high-end galleries and stores.
It’s a carefully considered decision in a local industry where artists and designers are working to raise their profile and build stronger business models.
Robyn is a member of craft and design industry group Guildhouse and features on the organisation’s Well Made website, also regularly attending its professional development programs to hone her skills.
She believes there are enormous opportunities to develop a more vibrant local industry.
“I think there’s growing confidence coming through from artist and designers,” Robyn says.
Her career has been marked by the local scene’s strength in collaboration. Robyn regularly works with other makers like Tony Neighbour from Neighbour’s Workshop in Kensington.
“Adelaide is still small scale, its designers and makers are a tight community and I have access to all of that, there’s a lot of old school skills that are still around and I’ve a lot of people mentoring me,” she says.
“The collaboration and skill sets in SA are wonderful, we have so many great makers here.
“Guys like Tony, they don’t get the press and they don’t look for it, but he would be one of the preeminent production makers in SA – if you speak to (acclaimed furniture designer) Khai Liew and others in the know, Tony would be a guy they would all work with.”
Industry in focus: Craft industries
Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.
South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.
Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.