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The latest lighting looks

Coco pendants by Kate Stokes.

Coco pendants by Kate Stokes.

Ross Hines, co-owner of design store Tongue and Groove, was once simply an enthusiastic furniture collector with a fondness for mid-century modernism. His stockpile of Tulip chairs and Eames lounges grew and grew until one day his home could take no more. After a stint selling the vintage stuff off he realised it made more economic sense to stock new things, which could be reordered and sold again. So, for the past 12 years Hines, 47, has been selling the best of furniture and lighting designed and made by Australians and New Zealanders.

Koura by New Zealand designer David Trubridge.

Koura by New Zealand designer David Trubridge.

Why buy designer lighting instead of something mass produced? I believe in surrounding yourself (with) things that will bring joy to your existence. Every time you pick up something that fits your hand well, is balanced perfectly, is beautiful and functional – there’s a real joy and delight in that. It’s the difference between buying something for a price and buying something that is designed for a purpose and a form, as well as a price that is acceptable.

A good piece of design should also last a lifetime.

What’s happening at the moment in the Australian and New Zealand designer lighting scene?
We are definitely seeing an increase in interest in crafted product. I believe it’s generated by, in one sense, a greater awareness of what good design is – there’s a lot of design publications online and in print over the last, say 15 and 20 years … There’s also an increasing interest in the backstory behind each piece. If I’ve got a beautiful pendant hanging over my dining table and I’m entertaining that evening people are likely to ask, oh, where did this pendant come from and if I can relate to them the person, the story of the design and the manufacture, you gain a sense of ownership of that process just by having the light above your dining table.

Who are some of the leading lights (sorry) in that scene at the moment?
Kate Stokes runs a business called Coco Flip, she’s a local success story. We sell and have worked with a New Zealand designer called David Trubridge for the past 10 years and David has achieved a remarkable reputation from a very small town in New Zealand. He now exports and travels lecturing on design all over the world. There’s people like Adam Cruickshank from Western Australia, who is just launched the most incredible fluid light – it’s LED-driven, it looks like a stealth fighter and we’ve just sold a couple to an owner of a 50-foot houseboat, who’s going to use that as lighting over his bar and dining table. There’s people like Greg Bonasera, who is a slip-cast ceramic specialist, in Collingwood, about a kilometre away. He uses contemporary ceramic techniques to come up with forms that are unique in the marketplace.

Fluid by Adam Cruikshank.

Fluid by Adam Cruikshank.

Has technology changed anything?
Absolutely. Technology has allowed the use of all sorts of materials. And it makes the manufacturing of quite amazing shapes and surfaces affordable. There are programs like Rhino that allow you to do 3D imaging of things. One of the big things is the advent of 3D printers, too. All of a sudden you can build your own prototype within your studio, very cost-effectively.

So, stay tuned for ‘crazy shapes’ in lighting?
Crazy shapes and lots of angles are incredibly difficult to sell. As a cold-hearted retailer if someone came to me with lots of crazy angles I’d say, ‘That’s fantastic (but) we’re never going to make a living selling these.’ There is a place for radical design, there’s no doubt about it but the market to actually buy that is incredibly small in Australia. The challenge is to walk a line between a design that will stand up and be noticed and a design that people will also want to take home and live with.

Infinity by Gregory Bonasera.

Infinity by Gregory Bonasera.

Finally, what should you look out for when you’re buying a designer light?
Definitely take a critical eye. I’d be pretty much just looking for that spark. When I’m looking for a product to stock in the shop it’s got to perform, it’s got to be beautiful, it’s got to be value but it also needs that x-factor, which is – not sounding like a bad talent show – but it needs to have that factor that jumps out and grabs you by the throat. You think, ‘Oh my god. That’s simple and it’s intuitive and functional and different.’ It needs to tick all those boxes. But if it’s got that last one it’s got a fair chance of success.

Tongue and Groove sells crafted Australian and New Zealand furniture and pendant lighting, 241 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, phone (03) 9416 0349.  

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