The Whyte family of Aero Designs at their Melbourne showroom. From left – Robert Whyte, Lucy Whyte, Carolyn Whyte, Penne Whyte (holding her son Finn). Photo – Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Aero Designs Hawthorn showroom and HQ, showcasing their range of locally designed furniture alongside a range of lighting and accessories sourced from international brands. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Aero Designs Hawthorn showroom and HQ, showcasing their range of locally designed furniture. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Lucy Whyte flicks through some of Aero Designs‘ impressive press clippings archive. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Rob Whyte of Aero Designs at his Hawthorn, Melbourne showroom. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Forty years is an impressively long time to be committed to one business, and an even more impressive length of time to be married to one person (!!), so today’s we’re tipping our hat firmly to Melbourne’s Whyte family, of Aero Designs! The company was originally founded by Jill McDonald and Ross Madden in 1973, but soon after its launch young furniture designer Robert Whyte joined the team, working out of their original Richmond showroom as a designer for Aero’s in-house brand. Rob has been working pretty much non-stop ever since, and is now at the helm of the business, as owner and head furniture designer. With a staff of around 40 people across showrooms in Melbourne and Sydney, Rob is supported by his wife Carolyn, who manages accounts and much of the buying for Aero Plus (the accessories branch of the business), and two of their daughters, Penne and Lucy, who act as managers, buyers, and handle the day-to-day business side of Aero Designs. When not designing, working on production, testing prototypes and generally calling the shots, Rob still lends a hand on the shop floor, and even personally delivers furniture!
Aero have always been known for their core range of contemporary, minimalist furniture, and especially for their simple, stylish office furniture range. Since the very early days, Aero has always sold their own range of Australian designed furniture exclusively through their own stores, including sofas, home office furniture, dining furniture, storage, outdoor furniture and beds. Much of the range is manufactured locally in Melbourne, though in recent years the company have diversified to offer a range of items sourced internationally, too. ‘We have a range of local suppliers that we have been using, some for over 20 years’ says Rob. Complementary items such as lighting and some office/dining chairs have been sourced from international suppliers, such as Case Furniture - a respected furniture brand from the UK which Aero have introduced this year.
Aero has always had the philosophy of ‘form is in the function’. ‘We like to produce products that are classic, rather than fashionable, which combine purpose with a beautiful design’ says Rob. According to the Whyte family, a good couch should last you 20 years, and accordingly, Aero’s product range reflects this idea, with a core range of versatile, streamlined pieces that can be dressed up to suit different spaces and different stages in life. ‘We basically design products that we would like to have in our own home or office, and this is how our products evolve’ Rob says.
Robert and Carolyn Whyte on their kids
We have three daughters, Natalie, Penne and Lucy. They all showed creative flair from very early on. They all made great groups of friends that we spent summers with, and more importantly, they were always great friends themselves, and still are the closest of friends.
Our eldest, Natalie, lives with family in Auckland and is not involved in the business, but paved the way for Penne and Lucy. We are most proud of the women that they have now become. Natalie has three kids, Penne has two, and Lucy is about to have her first. Seeing them as mums and wives has made us most proud.
We actually never expected Penne and Lucy to join the business! Family business can be extremely rewarding, but also extremely hard. We are delighted that they are involved and want to keep the business going when we one day retire! Penne joined the business straight after university, whilst Lucy went and worked as a visual merchandiser for a few other companies first, and then joined us.
We spend a lot of time together as a family, working together five days a week and then lots of family dinners – luckily for us we all still get along!
Penne and Lucy Whyte on their Parents
As a small business owner, Dad has always worked really hard, and we think that work ethic is inspiring. He has helped us all with house renovations over the years and his clever use of space and fresh ideas are always inspiring, which can be seen in his furniture design.
Dad still works five to seven days a week and never really switches off. If he is at home he will often be doing drawings, thinking of ways to improve a product or come up with a new product/design. This can be the hard side of a family business, you never get to switch off!
As kids we remember visiting the Richmond store a lot. There was a little kids’ table just as you walked in with toys and crayons. We spent a fair bit of time here while Dad worked in the shop on the weekends!
Mum and Dad have never pushed us to join the family business, we came to that decision in our own time, and are so happy we did!
The Whyte family in discussion at Aero Designs Hawthorn showroom and HQ. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.
Aero Designs outdoor furniture at their Hawthorn showroom and HQ. Photo - Eve Wilson for The Design Files.