A look at New Zealand furniture design

A distinctive New Zealand furniture design style is evolving – it has a natural rawness, influenced by our country and lifestyle, is uncomplicated yet at the same time stylish. We look at some of the current chair designs and the basic elements of chair construction.

Waiheke Sofa
ARTICLE Stephanie Matheson PHOTOGRAPHY Bryce Carleton ART DIRECTION Barry Bloomfield and Gareth Poley

A distinctive New Zealand furniture design style is evolving – it has a natural rawness, influenced by our country and lifestyle, is uncomplicated yet at the same time stylish. We look at some of the current chair designs and the basic elements of chair construction.
From simple and practical designs through to extravagant statement pieces – over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of sophisticated local furniture design blended with exceptional craftsmanship.  “I think our style in New Zealand is natural and organic,”  says New Zealand furniture designer and advocate Rod Hanna.  “It has a certain rawness about it, and our furniture design reflects that. It’s about what suits our Kiwi lifestyle.”
The skills of our local designers are excellent, and recently we have seen a lot of new talent emerge, says Rod. Noho Design, for example, created the fabulous Waiheke chair and sofa, conveying a nostalgic 1960s, mid-century feel. Tim Webber uses raw materials and pop colours for his trendy Y Stools and Wrap Stools. At Essenze of Parnell, you can admire Duncan Rooney’s comfort-inspiring Thoracic Chair and David Haig’s futuristic Signature Rocking Chair. And of course, there are the established designers such as David Trubridge with his modern wooden Ruth Rocker, and the classic contemporary design from David Shaw Limited with the high backed and delicately curved Picasso chair.
Something they’ve all had to come to terms with is the fact that the New Zealand furniture industry is limited by the size of the market. Our designers have to be more inventive and more flexible to survive. As a result, they’ve developed a culture of quality – their products are made to last. Not only that, but everything can be custom-made for you. Amanda Neill from interior design consultancy Designworx says:  “New Zealand furniture is well made and I think as a nation we’re coming back to wanting quality and longevity from our furniture.”
So when selecting pieces for your home, what should you look out for? Rod’s advice is to start by thinking about how you live and what role the chair or sofa will play in your home:  “Think about who is going to use the furniture and how they like to sit. People often come in with a one-dimensional view. They have a certain look in mind. But once you start talking about the actual role the chair has to fulfil, the requirements change quite a lot.
“Two chairs may look similar but can feel completely different due to factors such as the seat and back cushion fills, the seat height and depth and angle. The intended usage – if it’s for everyday living, TV viewing or entertaining – will affect the sort of furniture that will be right for you.”
In terms of the construction and the quality of a chair, there are three basic components to consider: the frame, the fill and the fabric.
Evan John Philp (EJP) is a New Zealand owned company that has been supplying quality furniture for over 30 years, specialising in retail, commercial and designer products. Using solid pine enables them to offer a 15-year warranty on their frames. They build customised furniture on request.
David Shaw chairs and sofas are made from beech.  “It is a hard and solid wood; it doesn’t move or twist,”  says Kim Lempriere, co-owner of David Shaw Furniture.  “We have a very high standard of craftsmanship, which is apparent in all aspects of our manufacturing from the wood we use to the high standard of foam, feather, wool or memory foam seating.”
The fill of the seat and back cushions is another important aspect of a chair. Kim explains:  “We wrap all of our pieces with foam to make our fabrics last longer.”  David Shaw and Rod Hanna often mix feather and acrylic fibre to create a soft feel but ensure that the cushion will hold its structure for years to come.
Generally speaking, designer chairs use higher grades of foam and better quality materials than commercial retail pieces. You will find thick layers of quality memory foam, feather fills or feather wrapping. Amanda points out that it’s important to get the correct fill for the particular feel you want to create for your home. She says:  “Memory foam does just what it promises, it remembers the original cushion shape and will bounce back to a straight, clean look when you get up. Feather filled cushions provide a completely different look and feel, they will stay crumpled and baggy – it’s a softer and cosier experience.”
After you’ve decided what shape and fill you want to go with, it’s time to think about colour and texture. There are untold fabrics to choose from, an their structure also has an impact on the firmness or softness of a chair. Designer pieces will typically be made from higher quality, longer lasting materials. That’s especially true for leather. There are different grades of leather and along with them come very different price tags, depending on how the leather has been processed. The high end leathers require a lot of  ‘drumming’  to make them soft and thin – that’s time and labour intensive. Cheaper, so-called  ‘corrected’  leathers are created by splitting the hides and printing a uniform pattern on it.
Occasional chairs are often tied in with other pieces of furniture by using different but connecting fabrics and colours. Combine opposites, mix and match different styles of furniture, contrast old with new – it all adds interest to your home.

You might be interested in reading: The importance of interior design.

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This article by Stephanie Matheson featured featured in the Winter 2012 of Renovate Magazine. Renovate Magazine is an easy to use resource providing fresh inspiration and motivation at every turn of the page.

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