Nick’s introduction to the international design world was propelled initially through his association with The Melbourne Movement – a group of young designers working under the tutorage of Kjell Grant, head of furniture design at RMIT. It was his association with The Melbourne Movement that made it possible for Nick to show his work in Milan in 2000 and 2001. In 2002 Nick set up his own design firm – Happy Finish Design, and exhibited solo for the first time.
He’s still based in Melbourne, and despite his overwhelming achievements, he’s consistently described as an unaffected, down-to-earth, laid back guy. Despite being in the throes of preparing for the Milan Furniture Fair in April, Nick was really receptive to my request for this interview and I appreciate it! Here Nick shares his creative inspirations, and gives a fantastic insight into the challenges Australian designers face on the international stage. Thanks Nick!
Tell me a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I studied Industrial Design at RMIT, but realised early on that product and car design weren’t really my strong points, and that furniture and lighting was what I was meant to do.
One of your most documented achievements has been your success in creating relationships with international companies from very early on in your career. How were you able to exhibit at Milan in your graduating year? How would you say this singular event has propelled your business?
Under the guidance of Kjell Grant (head of furniture design at RMIT) I travelled to Milan in 2000 and again in 2001 for group showings, firstly with an RMIT exhibit and in 2001 with the Melbourne movement - a group showing of young designers curated by Kjell Grant. These experiences led me to see that for what I do this was the place to be and gain the best exposure I had to continue down this path. In 2002 I showed internationally for the first time as Happy Finish design.
Have you ever felt disadvantaged in the global market because you’re based in Australia? How do you overcome this distance?
Without question… The distance and timezones are a huge disadvantage, but you have to look past that and see the up side. Australian design is now starting to gather an international reputation for being fresh in their approach to design. When I first went to Europe the only designer they knew was Marc Newson, now there is a core group of designers pushing the boundaries of Australian design and the attitude is slowly changing.
From the outset, you chose to start your own business rather than work for someone else. What informed this decision, and has it worked well for you? Would you recommend this approach to emerging designers?
I wouldn’t say this is the best method, purely for financial reasons, but it’s a great way to learn your strength and weaknesses. For me I think it is beginning to work out well. You have to be incredibly motivated and not knowing when the next pay cheque will arrive is a real strain. Its not like you get up, go to work, come home and switch off. If something needs to be done, there’s no one else to do it. After saying that though, its great because all your ideas are yours and don’t belong to someone else.
Are there any particular designers, artists or creative people you look up to or are inspired by?
Locally I am inspired by fellow designers travelling the path I am on. In particular Helen Kontouris and Simone LeAmon. Other local creatives include director Michael Gracey, writer Nick Lord, both of whom have been integral in allowing me to follow my dreams.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Anything from five to twenty hours of work seven days a week.
What are you most proud of professionally?
The fact that I have been able to stick with it. At times its not much fun, but then you realise why your doing it and it gets you through. Its taken 8 years of hard work, making a loss or just breaking even, but now its looking promising. But after saying that the real work is only just beginning.
Where do you find inspiration?
Through watching people interact. I like to try and infuse emotion into my designs. Jumping in puddles as a child, or kicking mushrooms over. These types of experiences.
What’s the best thing about your job?
You live your dream every day.
And the worst?
Where do I start! Not having a regular income would be the main one I guess.
What would be your dream project?
Something where you get paid up front and not wait three months for when and if the royalties to kick in.
Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years time?
Hopefully still doing what I love. Spending time both here and overseas.
What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?
The launch of one of my designs in Milan this year.
Melbourne Questions –
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
You can never go past a late night souvlaki at ‘lambs’ on Malvern road Prahran
Your favourite furniture/homewares retailer in Melbourne?
For supporting the local scene it has to be ‘Tongue and Groove interiors’ at 85 Smith st Collingwood
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Sound asleep in bed until around lunchtime
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Greg and Steve from ‘Rhythm and Soul’ records on Greville st Prahran