Sarah Gibson and Nicholas Karlovasitis of DesignByThem. What a lovely photo.

 

A few weeks ago, a colleague e-mailed me some images of DesignByThem products thinking I might like them. And I was like – Duh, I totally know about these guys since like FOREVER, I’ve even purchased some of their products ages ago, I mean, I also used their coat-stands in one of my projects for crying-out-loud… Seriously, stop bothering me with the stuff I already know, k? *eyeroll*Haha! Yes, I can be a real knob sometimes. Actually I was a tiny bit nicer than that. But what my colleague’s e-mail did gave me was an idea to showcase DesignByThem‘s work in a feature interview, and here we are. So thanks Felicity. Yeah, thanks for nothing!

DesignByThem is a young and vibrant design studio based in Sydney, formed by Nicholas Karlovasitis and Sarah Gibson, who are partners in business and in life. Nick and Sarah first met whilst studying industrial design at the University of Technology in Sydney. In 2006, they decided to follow their passion to create products of their own for both the Australian and international markets. Their recent projects are quite varied, including the designing of medical products, fashion hardware, furniture, lighting and commercial interiors. Driven by clean, well resolved and experimental design with a healthy dose of fun, the products also reflect their passion for environmentally sustainable design through a commitment towards recycled materials and local manufacturing. On a slightly less tangible note, I reckon that I’m getting pretty good at judging what people are like by the way they answer their interview questions – which makes me think that these two are really nice people. And we love clever, talented and ace people here on yellowtrace, the kind that don’t take themselves too seriously. Don’t we? Yes we do.

Please join me in thanking Sarah & Nick for being a part of yellowtrace, and for turning this interview around so quickly despite their very busy schedules. You can also follow DesignByThem on Twitter and on Facebook.

x dana

 


p.s. And since I mentioned that I’ve used one of DesignByThem products (Stem tree coat-stand to be exact) in one of my projects before, I’m actually going to show you a photo of the space in question – an ad-agency fitout in Sydney, which was completed in January 2010. An exclusive, never-been-seen-before photo! Yes, that’s how much I love you guys. Scroll all the way to the bottom to see it.

 

Inspired by the Australian suburban landscape, TomTom (2010) reflects the desire of homeowners to differentiate and customize their home on the streetscape. Made from powder-coated Zincalume, the TomTom is highly rust-resistant and uses Nylon pivots for smooth opening. Lids available in a range of different colours.

 

Posy Vase (2008) plays with the tradition of giving flowers. The vase replaces the flower wrapping allowing for the flowers to be displayed as presented. Available in silver and gold. And I like it a lot.

 

Hello Sarah & Nick, welcome to yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourselves and Design By Them?

We (Sarah and Nick) are the creative directors of DesignByThem, a Sydney based design company that represents the talent of Australian designers through a collection furniture, lighting and accessories. We began DesignByThem back in 2007 with the idea of creating a unified brand for Australian designers. We wanted to start a business that would foster Australian design and function as a collective rather than just being about ourselves.

For the most part of the last four years we have been busy creating products that reflect our design philosophy – commenting subtly on Australian culture and our strong beliefs in environmental sustainable design. We’ve also been busy setting up channels to sell our designs – making our products available is very important to us – design should be accessible.

We’ve more recently started collaborating and working with other Australian designers and are finally realising our initial goal of building an Australian brand. We’re super excited to have other designers on board – we released a product last year with Tommy Cehak and hope to release three new product by other Australian designers by the end of the year.

When did you first decide to start your practice? Do you remember your first project?

We both studied furniture as part of the industrial design course at UTS and that’s where our obsession with design began. We had some great lecturers at uni which encouraged our endless discussions around design. The idea to start our own business occurred in the final weeks of finishing our degree, after five sleepless nights completing our final project.

After toying with the idea for about half a year we finally registered the company in late 2007. We were of the mind set that there was nothing really to loose. As a graduate you a expected to put in the hard yards, only in our case we were doing the hard yards for ourselves. We both had worked in the industry as well so we weren’t going in completely inexperienced -  but inexperienced enough to make sure we went through with it.

We were lucky to have Oroton (the Australian hand bag manufacture) as our first client. We helped redesign their icon ‘O’  and a few other pieces (some yet to be released) featured on many of the metal components of their hand bag. We were fortunate enough to work with the original designer and son of the founder Robert Lane who designed the original glomesh bags back in the 40′s and 50′s. He was a lot of fun and had a great eye for timeless design.

Butter stool (2010) created from 100% post consumer recycled content, derived almost entirely from recycled milk containers. Made from a single piece of material which when folded together can be hand assembled. The stool is stackable, comes in a large variety of colours and is suitable for indoor and outdoor use. Also available as a bench seat (bottom left).

 

What you are seeking to portray in your work? Is there something which is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your process?

There are three beliefs that are fundamental to what we do and why we do it:

1. We believe that good design makes our lives more enjoyable and appreciative of our environment.

2. We believe that design should not be elitist and that good design is for everyone.

3. We believe in the importance of fostering good collaborations with like minded passionate people.

In terms of our products and process, we always strive to create products that are fun, functional, innovative (without having to shout it) and well made. Environmental considerations are embedded into the design process at all levels and we see this as a major factor in making a product innovative.

Can you describe your typical day of work?

We try and walk to work (we live 15 minutes from our studio in Chippendale). We often start the day at around 8/8.30 before the rush begins. We have a 30 minute meeting over coffee which often entails a quick design session (to put us in a good mood), and then we launch into operations for the rest of the morning before returning back to design development in the afternoon (if we’re lucky!). We have a great studio, with a long single desk that spans most of the warehouse. It has a great community feel, with loads of natural light and a succulent garden under a tall window.

Nick is the man to go to for great coffee, and everyone hangs out for the offer of another round of coffee in the afternoon. We like to think we get out of the office at around 6/6.30, but in reality it’s about 8:00 – that is unless Nick’s parents are expecting us for dinner – you can’t keep a good Greek waiting for a meal and the lure of a home cooked Greek meal is just too hard to resist.

LooseChange chair (2007) was inspired by the childhood memories of searching for change down the back of the couch. Constructed from a single piece of aluminum, with textured powder coat finish. Suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

 

What was one of your biggest lessons learned since starting your business? Do you have advice for others who wish to follow in your footsteps?

For the product designers out there – prototyping is the easy part – make sure you run a batch first before launching a product into the market – and the finish of a product is often the hardest part to perfect and the last step to take – so make sure you don’t overlook this before releasing a product.

What are some of your methods to staying motivated, focused, and expressive?

The morning meeting, with a little design thrown in for good measure, keeps us motivated throughout the day and prepares us for ongoing business operations. We are both naturally pretty obsessive about design – we’re not sure where this energy comes from. We are constantly coming up with new ideas, both at work and randomly – the hard part is deciding which ones are any good and realising when they are not!

We find it helps to have our ideas up on a board somewhere – clarity is key to prevent ideas from bouncing around and not moving forward. There’s a great book out at the moment called ‘Making Ideas Happen’ which talks about the hard part of design – rolling out your ideas and not just generating lots of new ones (which is normally the fun part that we all get stuck on).

We are also very critical with each other and open to criticism, this helps us stay focused and you have to be comfortable taking criticism. If you are not, you may not develop an idea on the off chance that people will reject it.

GeoLight (2008) is inspired by the geodesic dome and the work of Buckminster Fuller. The panels appear to be made of a rigid plastic and only on closer inspection do they reveal themselves as soft and flexible. Available as full or half sphere.

 

WebLight (2007) is the result of an exploration into the potential possibilities of reusing plastic bags. Made from 70% recycled content, it features an intricate pattern of texture and holes that are the direct result of its unique forming process. Super clever!

 

What are some of your main sources of inspiration? Are there any specific references you are drawing to regularly – books, websites/ blogs etc?

Just having an open eye to things around you. We are often surprised to discover the source of inspiration long after we have created an object. Sometimes you are not aware of what influences you so it’s important to absorb as much as possible. We won’t deny that we love devouring a good design magazine or blog, but to be honest it’s not something we normally have time for, so instead we absorb as much from our everyday environment as we can. There’s a great pod cast on Dezeen by Paul Smith who talks about the importance of absorbing things around you. We always look forward to the weekly newsletter from Dezeen with the funny comments people make on recent designs – it has a way of making fun of designers – which we think is healthy for designers.

Who or what are some of your influences? What other artists, peers and creatives in general do you admire?

Our inspiration has shifted from product designers likethe Bourellec brothers, George Nelson and a few others to people who are working in the broader design industry. We are inspired by people that are passionate about design and/or business – this includes people like Dion Lee (who works next door to us). He is amazingly talented and extremely professional. There’s also Terri Winter from Top3 who has built up an amazing business and is genuinely trying to support Australian design. We also admire the work of our peers who work in the graphic and animation world – namely Toben and Umeric who do amazing stuff. Also, some of our clients can just blow us away with their knowledge and modesty. They just go about their business in the background doing amazing things without much fanfare.

Corro Bowl (2010) made from corrugated steel. The bowl transforms this iconic material, synonymous with the rural Australian landscape and modern Australian architecture, accentuating its inherent strength and fluidity. Corro bowl can be used as either a fruit bowl or table centre piece. The corrugations form ideal troughs for nesting fruit.

 

What are you working on at the moment?

We’re delving into the world of ceramics – we just can’t help exploring a new material. These are multifunctional modules for the kitchen, living rooms and dresser table. On a larger scale we’re developing a new modular table leg system, high stool, flexible screen and a new dome light which is set to be released in a couple of months.

What’s next – can you share with us your vision and some of your goals?

As mentioned above we are super excited about the new collaborations with other Australian designers that are happening over the next year. We have written a number of briefs and are looking at approaching a few more people very soon.  We’ve also been busy expanding our retail base in Australia with some great interstate and rural design stores now stocking our products.

We are also constantly running out of space so we are looking for a larger warehouse to relocate to and maybe bring some of parts of our manufacturing in-house.

Thereafter we are working towards eventually exporting the collection, making it available for the rest of the world to enjoy. We hope to use the products as a means for promoting Australian design overseas.

Dorothy (2007) was created to challenge the often dull and basic world of lighting. Available in two sizes.

 

Let’s Get Personal.

What are the qualities you most like about yourself?

We both have good and bad qualities which work well together:

Sarah is impatient and Nick is obsessively thorough – meaning we get things done fast and thoroughly.

Sarah is critical and Nick is optimistic – meaning we have lots of ideas but only the good ones get through.

Hmm, Sarah has seemly only bad qualities! Haha!

In general though we are both pretty down to earth, and this has helped us relate to multiple people, particularly manufacturers who we depend upon to make our ideas happen.

Treeling (2008) is an earring tree inspired by the Japanese bonsai. It accommodates both pendant and stud style earrings, allowing the user to display their jewellery beautifully and easily. (I’ve got a black one, but I find that it’s too pretty to put jewellery on, so I display it on a shelf in my living room.)

 

Apart from your work, what other interests or hobbies do you have?

Good food and cooking (a constant obsession of Sarah’s and Nick’s family makes amazing Greek food).

Languages (Nick speaks Greek and Sarah speaks German). We also love travelling to these respective countries, but we also love Paris and New York, and lest we forget the great Australian south coast. We also can’t wait to go to Japan, China and South Korea.

Sarah also likes rock climbing (a bit daggy we know) and Nick reads the news compulsively.

What is your most treasured belonging?

Our green Volvo station wagon, couldn’t live without it, it’s a trouper and fits just about anything in it. It’s a bit like Mary Poppin’s bag. If only they still made Volvos that square!

Stem tree (2008) coat stand is made from rock maple coated in a hard wearing clear satin polyurethane finish. Love, love, love. Check it in yellowtrace interior below.

 

What’s one thing other people may not know about you?

Sarah’s from Canberra and likes to go to bed early, Nick is obsessed with reading the news and likes to go to bed really late.

It’s not very cool, but I really like…

Sarah – fake parmesan cheese – of the loose variety that you buy in a cardboard tube and that never seems to go off.

Nick – the antique roads show and anything to do with gadgets.

In ten years I’d like to be…

On a little Greek island with all of our good friends.

The Furnace (ad-agency) interior in North Sydney by yellowtrace (yes, that would be me), featuring Stem tree coat stand in rock maple finish. Photography by Nick Hughes. © yellowtrace.

 


[All images courtesy of DesignByThem, except the bottom image which is taken by Nick Hughes for yellowtrace.]

About The Author

Dana Tomić Hughes
Editor In Chief
Google+

Dana is an award-winning interior designer living in Sydney, Australia. With an unhealthy passion for design, Dana commits to an abnormal amount of daily design research. Regular travel and attendance at premier design events, enables Dana to stay at the forefront of the design world globally. While she is super serious about design, Dana never takes herself - nor design - too seriously. Together with her life and business partner, Nick Hughes, Dana is Boss Lady at Studio Yellowtrace, specialising in Interior Design, Creative Direction and Special Projects. The studio takes a highly conceptual and holistic approach to translating brands & ideas into places.

3 Responses

  1. Linda from OEKE

    Yipeee. I love your interviews. These 2 are fabulous.
    Oh, and the sneak peak – cool – the stencilled floor rug is a winner (and, of course, the coat stand (-:

    Reply

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