New Zealand born and London-based, Tim Rundle has designed the latest collection for Australian brand SP01 inspired by design history, an Australian colour palette and bringing together a diverse mix of materials and details that evoke Italian moderne. more space caught up with Tim to chat about the ideas and influences behind the new range.
MS: How did you meet the SP01 team and what drew you to the brand?
TR: They found me. I was introduced to Matt Lorrain, head of design and product development at SP01, in 2016 and we arranged to meet for a coffee at the Spadari Hotel in Milan. I had recently formed my studio after leaving Conran and Partners and I showed Matt some things I’d been working on. Following our catchup he emailed me straight away with a brief. There was a real synergy in the work I was doing and the vision Matt had for the brand and it all went from there.
Working with a young design brand was appealing. It is always good to work with someone from the start who you know is going to be successful. I could see they really knew what they were doing and their first collection with Metrica created such a high standard from the start. I worked directly with Matt and the factories. I think my most successful projects are always those where I am involved in formulating the brief and working collaboratively to develop the products. In Australia and New Zealand we work a lot with industry on very technical products so you naturally become much more interested in the production and engineering, so you approach a project with that knowledge in mind.
What was your design brief?
It started off with a few conversations about design eras and different styles that we felt were right. SP01 had the outdoor collection coming and had already developed a solid base with the pieces Metrica had designed. For this new collection, they wanted pieces that were a little bit bolder and would develop the language and the identity of the brand.
My work is always grounded in a strong knowledge of design and history and a respect for what has been done before. It is not about repeating, but connecting in a new way. We were thinking about elements of mid-century Italian design, a Milanese palazzo and pieces that would comfortably sit in spaces all over the world.
As a New Zealander working in London for an Australian brand that’s made in Italy, I am free from the burden of a long design history that many European designers would be working under the shadow of. Instead, we can frame our work with a very international perspective. In a similar way to antipodean cuisine that borrows the best from around the world and develops its own unique take on it, the collection references Scandinavia and northern Europe as much as it does Italy.
All of the pieces were driven by imagining a space and understanding how people would use each piece. Before I found industrial design, I planned to be an architect so composition is important. The frame was the catalyst for the collection and I guess it is another recurring theme in my work. All of the pieces have a visual lightness. With the upholstered pieces, the outside layer is harder and the inside softer. We tried to really accentuate that by pushing the softness of the inner surfaces with looser upholstery against the crisper outside shell. It’s especially apparent in Shu-Ying where the upholstery appears as cushions squeezed inside a graphic steel frame.
The Mohana table collection started with ideas about material and transparency, it was almost designed in plan view as a way to compose and offset simple shapes in complementary finishes. The layering of transparent materials is something I do a lot of to get to a visual lightness and my studio is full of perforated sheet metal and textured glass. The way the surfaces of the tables overlap allows the owner to finish the design by adding their own objects to the composition. With everything I design I like to leave it a little bit open for the new owner to add their ideas.
How did the collaboration with SP01 take shape?
I initially sent through a very simple hand drawn sketch and Matt would scribble notes and send back imagery. It wasn’t a series of very defined presentation milestones, the collection developed through sketch conversations. I then met Matt in Padova, Italy, to show the manufacturer the concepts and to start to shape them in a way that suited their capabilities.
Every manufacturing culture has its own way of working and the Italian one is very open. There are a couple of details that turned out because of the way we were working with the manufacturers who were very willing to push their techniques to achieve the vision. I often find myself drawn to pragmatic industrial design objects that are tweaked, just enough, to create a new detail. The bracket that holds the seat on the Caristo (below) is informed by an industrial technique of crushing tube to create a flat fixing point. On Caristo it looks pre-cast. It's a detail I wanted to replicate honestly and the manufacturers were able to do that. That approach is integral to the character of the collection.
When I look at the luscious colours, textures and detailing it reminds me of Gio Ponti’s Parco dei Principi Hotel in Sorrento, Italy. There is a kind of Italian moderne meets La Dolce Vita within the collection.
There is probably a little bit of Gio Ponti in the DNA, especially the colours that are very mid-century Italian. My part was more around defining the natural materials and the base materials and developing the textures – how and where we would expose timber and metal, what fabrics and how we would manipulate and accentuate the upholstery. The colours do make reference to mid-century Italian design and Art Deco and the slightly brighter palette makes it feel like an Australian brand. While the finishes are classic so the reference points come from that.
How would you describe the collection?
It is a very international collection designed to fit anywhere in the world but still very much an Australian brand, designed by a New Zealander in London. and manufactured in Italy. It has the sense of where it has come from but there are many places it would feel right in. It is a very antipodean collection in that way.
What did you learn from the experience working on the new SP01 collection?
It was the first time I had worked with manufacturers in Italy so learning from them was really exciting in terms of the history and the way they work. The factory made multiple variations to get the comfort just right, adjusting the prototypes on the spot. It was an incredible opportunity to work in a more hands on way. The looser upholstery we developed for the Caristo armchair was quite challenging and the upholsterers were very excited about that. They were happy to push it to get it exactly right, even though what we wanted is not the norm. Upholsterers are usually asked to make things perfectly tight with stitch lines in the right place. We wanted the opposite – looser but also very controlled.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Every time I went to Italy to see the progress my favourite changed – they are a family, they all live together.