Sydney design Trent Jansen shares his ideas on the ‘icon’ and what it means in the design sense. The story behind a design is important to Trent Jansen. The Sydney-based designer’s need for a good story was integral to his training at the College of Fine Arts (COFA). “There was always a message with each piece. Concepts informed the materials used,” explains Jansen.

Jansen graduated from COFA’s multi-disciplinary design program in 2004, and in the same year was fortunate to receive an internship with Dutch-based designer Marcel Wanders. “I sent him my portfolio and there must have been something there,” he says.

One of his first designs (a limited production run of 50) was Sign Stool. Made from old road signs, the stools were some of his first examples of addressing sustainability. “Things shouldn’t have a limited life. The idea of longevity is important in design, whether an object, a piece of furniture or a house,” says Jansen.

One of his more recent stories is conveyed in Pregnant Chair, designed for Moooi and soon to be available through Space Furniture. Jansen’s two-in-one Beech chair illustrates the close relationship between parent and child. The smaller of the two chairs is ‘released’ from the ‘mother chair’s’ belly. “It wasn’t just creating a design with meaning, it was also producing a design with longevity - something that would remain part of the family’s furniture,” says Jansen, who sees design in terms of sustainability as much as function and aesthetics.

Another story is told by Jansen in Topple lamp, designed for ISM Objects. Featuring a ceramic base and fabric shade, Topple has the sense of a past life. “Topple looks as though it has come from a deceased estate, where it was once treasured, but has found its way to a charity shop, been bought and treated in keeping with the price paid,” he says, explaining the lamp’s knockabout quality.

The pride in ‘the worn’ can be seen in Marcel Wanders Knotted chair, designed in 1996. Based on the traditional craft of macramé, a rope with a carbon-fibre core creates an iconic seat rather than a string bag. “It’s one of the first pieces of furniture that brought craft back to design,” says Jansen. As significant for Jansen is Maarten Baas’ Smoke chair, designed for Moooi in 2002 (pictured). The parlor-style chair, covered in leather, features a cracked and burnt timber frame. Rather than ‘repair’ the timber, Baas has coated it with resin, celebrating the imperfections. “Its burnt frame creates its uniqueness. It has that human touch that is so important in design,” says Jansen.

For Jansen, the word ‘icon’ is subjective. “It’s a personal thing. Whether a chair or lamp, it makes you see things in a completely different way, and it makes you think that this piece is really an entirely new concept,” he says. While an iconic design is often physically beautiful, for Jansen it’s the story behind a design that is long-lived.