Interview with Furniture Designer Ross Didier

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    Discover the story behind leading Australian furniture design studio Didier in our interview with the ever-creative founder, Ross Didier.

    It’s not hard to discern Australian furniture designer Ross Didier’s zest for creativity. It’s been flowing through his veins since childhood, growing up in what he describes as the ‘golden era’ in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, with a family immersed in making things. His fascination with the intersection between art and design drove him to pursue industrial design and, eventually, start a workshop from his garage.

    Ross’ first big project was for Nintendo Australia and led him to establish furniture characterised by their individuality – for both commercial and residential settings. Didier is now a prominent independent player in Australia’s furniture design scene with a global presence, selling worldwide. 

    What’s particularly striking about Ross Didier’s collections are where he derives inspiration – from folk tales to the protective clothing of Everest’s early explorers. In celebration of Didier’s 20th anniversary, we sat down with Ross to learn more about what’s been most influential on his career, his core design philosophies and why he strives to design quality furniture that ‘makes people feel good’; a firm backing to their creative success and constant evolution. 

    Produced in partnership with Didier

    When did you first develop an interest in design and craftsmanship and how did this lead to a passion for furniture design?

    Ross Didier: Growing up in outer Melbourne during the ’70s was like a golden era of creativity. We made everything we wanted as kids; from lavish tree houses with sci-fi interiors, aqua equipment for deep pool diving, experimental cutlery to a decorative sedan chair with the fanciful dream that I could coax my older sisters to carry me to school. 

    Both pairs of my grandparents were heavily involved in manufacturing and crafts, so my family has a long linage of making things. My mum was also an art teacher, and my dad ran a successful factory in Clifton Hill, so our home was always full of imaginative conversation and interesting objects.

    We lived near Heide Art Gallery, and I wanted to be a sculptor from the age of five. My first introduction to professional design was through one of the older guys in our street studying product design. As a young teenager, I was utterly seduced by all the hand sketches on his bedroom wall.

    I studied both industrial design and then fine art sculpture at RMIT University and was continually fascinated by blending the concepts of art with design functions. It established my firm belief that furniture is the closest expression of functional sculpture, and I love creating pieces so related to the human form.

    “We aim to celebrate individuality and offer beautiful and poetic design through engineered art. It is often challenging to justify new product for the market, so I rigorously make sure the Didier furniture designs remain authentic to our brand story and created with responsible, high-quality manufacture.”

     

     

    – Ross Didier

    How did the Didier story begin? 

    Ross Didier: During the mid to late 90’s I lived in London and worked backstage theatre-making all sorts of exciting objects for film, plays, television and operas. I built things like luggage props, royal thrones, huge chandeliers, horse-drawn carriages and stage sets with a strong narrative theme. It was a tough but beautiful arena to work, filled with artists and tradespeople who were all making objects as part of the grand idea. I felt connected within this creative process, but the one thing I battled with was the focus on just the look of these objects as it was usually just the front face of these pieces that was important for the stage – often, the backs were only hollow. It started to play against my desire to make quality, finished pieces and it was during this time I wanted to design quality furniture. 

    I had travelled to Europe because it seemed the centre of the universe at the time. Coming to the end of the 20th century, I read about interesting things developing in Southeast Asia and closer to Australia, so I decided to head back with my wife Libby to start something in Melbourne.

    Could you please discuss opening your own Melbourne studio and workshop and how it has evolved?

    Ross Didier: I started a basic workshop in a home garage to simply make things by order and worked in hospitality and odd jobs to support an income. I was designing and constructing objects like garden sculptures, footrests for desks, custom letterboxes and a selection of built-in items for interiors. 

    The first serious project I received was a job with Nintendo Australia, where I designed chairs and tables for the company in the theme of the brand’s computer games. It became an enlightened realisation that I could build a business producing original designs. 

    I then showcased several new furniture designs through exhibitions which created a lot of interest to represent my designs with architect and interior firms. We have continually expanded these operations and continue building the Didier brand around creative furniture collections, with an ever-increasing awareness of our unique customers.

    Who or what has been most influential in your career as a designer?

    Ross Didier: So much! Keeping an open mind, experimenting, travelling, and learning about production techniques have hugely influenced my career. 

    Travel deeply enriches the soul to experience how other cultures live and enables you to learn a wide range of manufacturing processes to discover new design solutions.

    Commercial product predominantly influenced the artwork I relate to; minimalists like Donald Judd, pop artists like Richard Hamilton, and as I’ve gotten older, DADA artists and the Neo-Geo movement like Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach. 

    From the design world: Carlo Molino, Gaetano Pesce and the Campana brothers for their exploratory nature. Japanese design for its ability to empower the subtle. Paul Smith for his clarity of character and Zaha Hadid because I admire her engineering style. I love fashion designers such as Iris van Herpen, Takada Kenzo and Jean Paul Gaultier for challenging conservative rules through meticulous creations.

    What are your signature design values/ philosophies?

    Ross Didier: We aim to celebrate individuality and offer beautiful and poetic design through engineered art. It is often challenging to justify new product for the market, so I rigorously make sure the Didier furniture designs remain authentic to our brand story and created with responsible, high-quality manufacture.

    Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs – could you please talk about the inspiration behind some of your collections?

    Ross Didier: It seems an eclectic and evolving answer because I thrive being star-struck with new ideas. I can find inspiration through anything that interests me. Like recently reading about wool, the smallest abstract trigger can create a whirl-wind process of thoughts. Random triggers that are sometimes just instincts can build into ideas that need exploring. It doesn’t matter if they result in commercial success or not, so long as it stimulates excitement to explore further. 

    I love the concept we are more motivated by emotions than logic, so my design process needs to create quality furniture that makes people feel good. The Fable collection originated because I was inspired by folk tales and the archetypal way we see furniture in western culture. 

    When developing furniture for Vue de Monde restaurant, I referenced Melbourne’s pre-European history, landscape, and fauna, using indigenous materials for manufacture.

    The Rise-and-Fall of Empires with extravagant French desserts inspired the First Bite collection. The early explorers of Everest and the clothing they developed to wear in the extreme cold inspired my latest lounge range called Puffalo.

    Could you please talk about how you define art and, on the flip side, design?

    Ross Didier: Art and design are very different, and I’m especially aware of sliding the bar between them. Design is Shaolin Kung Fu, where Art is bare-knuckle fist fighting. Artists can do whatever they want for their art, and this liberation is the point of what they do. On the other hand, design has disciplines with givens, and to ignore these misses the point of designing. Good art communicates ideas – good design serves a function, and I find the narrative this creates inspiring.

     Congratulations on celebrating Didier’s 20th anniversary this year. What achievement are you most proud of to date? 

    Ross Didier: Thank you, and it’s a fascinating adventure, but the future starts every day, so I don’t reminisce too much. What’s most important is today.

    I’m proud the Didier brand has become a small but mighty player in Australian furniture design, and our pieces have sold around the world. We are independent and creatively direct our own path, so as we become more confident, it means pushing our ideas further. It can take a long time to design with a genuine voice, so I’m proud that we’ve been patient and smart.

    In light of this milestone, what do you see for the future of Didier?

    Ross Didier: It’s great to be on this sensational journey, and I want to experience, share, and live in the present, so I don’t plan too far in the future. Each day I wake after dreaming of wonderful new ideas and feel inspired to create beautiful furniture designs. The business keeps growing organically.

    “I love the concept we are more motivated by emotions than logic so it is hugely important for my design process to create quality furniture that makes people feel good.”

     

     

    – Ross Didier

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    Ross Didier

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