Penny Craswell talks to AFDA 2015 winner Seaton Mckeon
IN 2015 JAMFACTORY AND STYLECRAFT LAUNCHED THE BIENNIAL AUSTRALIAN FURNITURE DESIGN AWARD – THE AFDA. THE WINNER OF THE INAUGURAL AWARD WAS SYDNEY BASED DESIGNER SEATON MCKEON.
Mckeon is interested in the human dimension of design. “For me, design is pretty broad”, he explains. “It’s not just about sculpture or about objects, it’s about trying to bring what’s human to the problem or experience. I’m interested in what civilisation imposes on the human condition, whether using a shopping trolley or a pushbike, or doing your banking.” Mckeon was first inspired to investigate design as a career option after travelling the world and learning about the Bauhaus. While his upbringing had been full of DIY projects, one particular door handle designed by Walter Gropius opened his eyes to the possibility of design at a small scale: “I really appreciated the level of detail – plus it had a presence and identity that made an impression on me”.
Now, Mckeon works across a range of design disciplines – his job at Blue Sky Design Group has him currently working on a transport way finding kit of parts for Sydney Trains – but it is his standing lamp, The Sun, the Moon and Me, 2015 that has gained him the most recognition. The light won him the inaugural Australian Furniture Design Award (AFDA), the richest and most prestigious award for designers in Australia right now and presented by JamFactory and leading commercial furniture supplier Stylecraft. Mckeon was selected from a shortlist of six and received $20,000 in cash and the opportunity to develop work for commercial production and distribution.
The winning design is inspired by the sky at night. A large transparent perspex disc represents the night sky with stars etched onto its surface with a laser. At its centre, the aluminium housing and switch behind presents a dark circle to the front of the light, which Mckeon sees as the black hole at the centre of the universe. Attached to the perspex disc at the front and to the side is another disc – a metal clamping plate that represents the moon. With a mirrored metallic finish, this disc does not emit light, but only reflects it, just as the moon does. The whole is attached to a steel pole with a marble base to give it stability.
The Sun, the Moon and Me is considered, detailed and beautiful in its materiality and its concept. “I was interested in the idea of creating a discussion through an object”, explains Mckeon. “I used stars to communicate a sense of scale, to allow people to sit and take the time to reflect on the scale of the universe. The design became minimal so as not to deflect from that idea.”
Winning the award has been a surreal experience for Mckeon. “It was a lot of work to make it and each step of the process I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants”, he explains. But the best thing to come out of the process has been developing the design – firstly into an object that could tour all the Stylecraft showrooms to be exhibited, and then into a working production edition that is now for sale. “I felt like every other month I was finding weaknesses in the product, but now, after a process of total redesign from the original prototype, I have a bulletproof design that has a really enduring quality to it.”
Designer Jon Goulder, Creative Director of JamFactory’s Furniture Studio, initially conceived of the idea for the award with Anthony Collins from Stylecraft three years ago. When Goulder took up his role at the JamFactory, he began discussing the idea with CEO Brian Parkes, who could see the benfit in the award and was excited to team up with Stylecraft to deliver the outcome. Goulder explains: “We wanted to design an award that put its money where its mouth is – no small print, just real outcomes”. He is also delighted with the winning design: “Seaton is a true professional, his light is truly original and that is what we were looking for”.
Mckeon is currently working with Stylecraft and JamFactory on a new range of furniture, which is scheduled for release in 2017. This aspect of the award was the most significant for Stylecraft, who will produce and distribute the collection. “The idea behind AFDA, and its point of difference from other design awards, is that the winner will collaborate with us and JamFactory to design a furniture range”, says Stylecraft Brand Director Tony Russell. “This provides the winner with real insight into what is involved in developing a range and then bringing it to market. The award also allows us to form relationships with emerging and established design talent.”
While Stylecraft doesn’t want to give away too many specifics about the range (it will be launched in early 2017), they say the collection will encompass a chair, lounge and bar stools and will be suitable for hospitality, corporate and residential applications. “The range will draw upon JamFactory’s and Stylecraft’s expertise in guiding design development and the resources of leading Australian manufacturers”, says Russell.
For Mckeon, working with JamFactory, visiting their metal and timber workshops in Adelaide and collaborating with designers, manufacturers and fabricators there has been a really valuable experience: “It’s heaven down there for a designer to be walking around with every tool at your disposal and everyone has been really friendly. It’s been awesome to be working on that collection and have that support.”
Words by Penny Craswell
Penny is a Sydney-based editor, writer and communications specialist on design and architecture
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