Melbourne designer Tamara Watts has been a regular fixture of Melbourne's much loved design and craft market scene over the past 3+ years, but somewhat neglectfully, it's taken us until now to feature her! OUTRAGEOUS.
Though she first launched her business, Retro Print Revival, in 2009, this year has marked a significant turning point for Tamara, as she's finally moved her little operation out of the house and into a beautiful light-filled workspace at Little Gold Studios in Brunswick. I'm convinced these are the little leaps of faith which really propel any small creative business forward into a new phase of growth... so I guess it's a fitting time to finally introduce you to Tamara's colourful world!
Under the name Retro Print Revival, Tamara creates one of a kind lamps and lampshades using both vintage and new lamp bases, and an incredible library of retro-inpired fabrics. With a background in visual merchandising and interior decoration, Tamara draws inspiration from mid century design to create her lamps, considering the design elements of both the fabric and lamp bases before expertly pairing the boldest of prints with each carefully selected base. Each lamp is handmade by Tamara from locally sourced materials.
Though many of her lamp bases are vintage pieces, Tamara also works with local makers to create new timber lamp bases - her rocket lamps are a perennial crowd pleaser! As outlined below, she's also very excited this year to have teamed up with a local ceramicist to design and produce a range of her own lamp bases, which will be available mid next year.
We asked Tamara a few questions about herself and her growing business -
I grew up in country Victoria in The Goulburn Valley. It sounds like its really green with rolling hills doesn’t it? It’s actually the opposite, it’s incredibly flat and dry. It’s mostly farmland and orchards, which was a nice backdrop to frolic in as a kid.
Moving to the city to study Visual Merchandising at RMIT kickstarted my path to becoming a multi-skilled creative. I did work experience, first doing the Myer Christmas windows (dream come true!), then at Country Road, who then offered me a job on their visual merchandising team the summer after I graduated. Over the next five years, I worked in every avenue in the visual merchandising field within Country Road, wanting to learn all I could. I was a stylist, clothing merchandiser, window dresser and in-store visual merchandising manager. We worked hard, but the work was immensely enjoyable and rewarding. We had a close tight knit team that would travel to a different store every day, completely blitzing the entire look of the displays and merchandising!
The skills and knowledge I gained from my time at Country Road were invaluable, and I still use so much of it in my day-to-day business happenings today.
Up until recently I worked in a studio from home, but I was lucky enough to be asked to be a part of Little Gold Studios in Brunswick earlier this year. I will never look back! Moving into a beautiful light filled studio with eight other lovely creatives and a dog called Diesel is the best step I’ve taken for the business (and for my sanity). Now work is work, and home is home… most of the time!
The idea behind Retro Print Revival originally came about after I began collecting vintage fabrics from flea markets, and wanted to put them to good use. I came up with the idea of making wall hangings - stretched canvases using vintage fabrics. Trawling through flea markets (my absolute must-do weekend pleasure, even if that means getting up before sunrise on a Sunday), I found a beautiful 1970’s crackled glazed white lamp base. At the time I was selling my wall hangings in a North Fitzroy café, and decided to make a matching lamp. I got such a great response from the lamp that Retro Print Revival was born!
After making the first lamp, I realised there was a gap in the market for unique lighting. The style of lamps available commercially all seemed to have a continuing theme - white, beige, chrome, black. I couldn’t find a lamp that combined individuality, colour, boldness and sustainability. So I created RPR with the idea of salvaging old and forgotten retro lamp bases and vintage fabrics, and making a product that would express personality and bold taste in décor.
From early 2009, Retro Print Revival was a part-time venture whilst I was still a visual merchandiser. With the spare time I had, I was building up RPR by making and selling lamps on the weekends at design markets around Melbourne. Later that year, I quit my job and travelled through the European summer for a few months. Upon my return, a job fell through, which pushed me to go out on my own and give Retro Print Revival everything I had. In 2010 I studied a short course in Small Business Management, and that’s when RPR started full-time.
I’ve always had a love for bygone eras. It started out with music and my favourite childhood band, The Beatles. Growing up in a small country town, to express ones individuality wasn’t exactly encouraged, so it wasn’t until I moved to Melbourne that I really started to explore the retro era. My love for fashion, décor, music and style of this time grew, and so did my wardrobe. It became a sea of clashing colours and patterns: maxi dresses, glitter tops and minis!
Finding a retro lamp base that is recognisable as a particular maker always makes my heart skip a beat; whether it is a Bitossi, Rathjen, a West German or just the glaze work, I really admire the extent of the work that has gone into making such stunning lamp bases. Over the last year or so my design tastes have been more focused on mid-century form.
I make all the lampshades myself in the studio. I have a Melbourne-based lampshade manufacturer that makes the frames for me, and then I do the rest. The bases are either vintage or new, including my own designs. Depending on whether I have a design market coming up, I’m making for a stockist, or I have a custom order job, the process is different every time.
My most enjoyable lamps to make are the one off vintage lamps. Firstly, I will select the lamp base, and then I will try the standard sized lampshades on it to see which is most suited. I then run the lamp base across the huge wall of vintage fabrics to see which fabric is going to best compliment the base.
In 2012, I designed and made a range of lamps which includes our signature Rocket Lamps. Designed to reflect the mid-century era, these lamps are meticulously hand-crafted in blackwood by a local furniture maker, and then I complete a 4-step process in oiling and waxing them. I make the tall cylindrical lampshades and nail the legs to the shade!
There's always a new idea brewing! In the near future Retro Print Revival will be casting its very own lamp bases. I’m teaming up with a local ceramicist and am so excited to be designing and producing my own lamp bases, which will be available mid next year.
• Markit, Federation Square - November 24th 2013.
• The Big Design Market, Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne - December 6th, 7th & 8th 2013.
• The Rose Street Artists Market - every other Saturday and Sunday (when Tamara is not at the above markets!).