Today I feel so lucky to be able to share with you an interview with Phillip Graham, co-owner of Melbourne’s wonderful Tarlo and Graham in Chapel st Windsor.
I would venture to say that there is no other store quite like Tarlo and Graham. Whilst vintage and industrial furniture is becoming more and more popular and collectable – no one quite does it like Phillip Graham and his business partner William Tarlo! A visit to T&G always uncovers something unexpected. Don’t be surprised to find yourself coveting a tangled collection of traffic lights or a pair of antique skis after a visit to their store! Phillip and William have an incredible knack for buying and styling their store in a way that makes you see the most unusul of objects in an entirely new light. Truly! There’s no one else who brings together such an eclectic and varied collection in the most spectacularly beautiful way.
Below Phillip shares some of his styling secrets (volume and repetition – simple, genius!)… AND we get a little peek into his own home, which showcases his passion for Australian contemporary art.
Ooh la la. It’s all a bit much. Too beautiful…. Agghh!
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
Tarlo & Graham opened 5 years ago, and for 8 years prior to that I ran The White Elephant in St Kilda. Previous to this I worked mainly in retail, originally at Country Road in the late 80’s and Giorgio Armani in London in the early 90’s. As well as sales I was involved with visual merchandising for both companies, which helped me develop my own skills in the importance of store presentation and understanding the power of placement.
I have always been interested in design, interiors, collecting, brands, trends etc. I am most interested in searching out ‘the different’. I appreciate it when people make an effort to present their stores in a way not seen before. There is too much bland out there and not enough newness. I like it when people push their imagination to create truly unique stores, interiors etc.
There are more and more shops selling vintage and industrial furniture these days…. but Tarlo & Graham truly stands out from the crowd. What do you think sets you apart from other stores with similar stock?
Come on Lucy, that’s an easy one, that’s the whole point of the interview isn’t it?! That’s what I want to come out most strongly from this whole thing. We are determined to be different, we work hard to present our business in such a way that the market can come in and really embrace and enjoy.
It’s all about -
1. product selection
4. point of difference
And of course our windows. That is an area of self-expression which we push sometimes as far as we can depending on what we are interested in at the time.
For me, with interiors retailing for a business such as ours, the main area of focus is in the grouping of objects. It’s almost like picking a group of five completely different things (trying to select items that have no clear relationship with each other) and then throwing them up in the air and seeing how they land. Well, not exactly, but if you imagine the concept you will know what I mean. The message is putting items together that will really contrast with the next. If the piece in question is beautiful enough, or has some intrinsic quality or rarity, it should always stand up and easily find its place. Then there’s our obsession with volume and repetition. What I mean by that is the impact created by multiples is much stronger than a single item. Take for example a bag of marbles, compared with a table full of 2000 marbles. Or a collection of 50 matchboxes compared with 10 large glass vessels containing 1000 matchboxes – which looks better?
There is no typical day. We generally buy furniture and objects everyday, if we don’t we will definitely look at something. This could come from appointments we have organised with people, or working with other dealers and collectors to obtain stock. Going to auctions, markets, shops, homes – anywhere we can come across the next big thing.
Then there is time spent in the store. William (Tarlo, my business partner) and I divide the week and work 4 days each. We may also spend time preparing stock for sale, dealing with restorers, framers, upholsterers etc.
How are the tasks at the shop divided between you and William? Do you share the fun stuff (ie window display etc) with the boring stuff equally? How are your different strengths balanced within the business?
William and I share the job of styling/presenting the shop and creating windows. This is important for us both to be involved in, as this is what we both enjoy, are good at, and it is our form of self-expression. We share the boring stuff too.
How would you describe your own style of interior decorating at home – as compared to the eclecticism of your shop?
My interior has a strong focus on Australian art. I have been collecting contemporary art for over 10 years now and spend a lot of my spare time researching, going to exhibitions and acquiring some truly beautiful paintings, works on paper and sculpture. Subsequently my apartment walls are filled ‘salon style’ head to toe with as many as I can fit in. There is barely a square centimetre left now. My collection gives me immense pleasure and in a way gives me a break from what we concentrate on at Tarlo & Graham.
In saying that there is still a strong connection with what you would see in our store. There are a lot of objects, ideas at home that are represented in the shop. I sometimes need to live with something before I let it go.
Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?
I could probably write a book on the answer to this question. Where do you start? Is it artists, designers, architects, musicians, actors….I could probably write a page on each, but as I have to summarise and give a definitive answer, the top of my list would be David Bromley. I started selling furniture to David some 10 years ago whilst he was still living in Adelaide. He, like William and I, is an obsessive collector with a wonderful eye. These days we just swap things, we always have something the other covets. My apartment is full of objects, furniture and art from David, and vice versa. David’s workload, drive and output are immense; he is a true artist whose mantra is ‘there is much to be done’. I have had the pleasure of sitting through the night watching David paint. These are truly memorable experiences – to see a canvas come to life is a real joy. He once said to me he has about 20 years of sleep to catch up on! And he has taught me ‘anything is possible’. There is virtually nothing in the creative field he will not explore. Aside from paintings, sculpture and ceramics, David has and continues to create furniture, films, lighting, music videos, interior projects, wallpaper, fabrics – the long list goes on. He is currently working on a luggage and accessories range all covered in his typical painted style, as well as a series of childrens books. It is this list, and the person, that I find truly inspiring.
Where else do you find inspiration – ie books, fine art, your environment, travel, your family and friends?
Inspiration is everywhere, isn’t it?
What’s the best thing about your job?
Having a job that allows me to constantly create interesting installations, and seeing literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different things each week and being able to buy a select few. It’s like constantly shopping!
There’s not much about my job I don’t enjoy.
What are you looking forward to?
What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Dinner at the Windsor Castle.
Best shops in Melbourne for furniture and interiors pieces (except your own shop!)?
Incredible clothing: Eastern Market.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I always work Saturdays.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret!
The beautiful taxidermy giraffe at the Carlton Hotel in the city.