Interview

Adam Goodrum

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 2nd September 2016

Adam Goodrum is a legendary local designer. Based in Sydney’s Waterloo, Adam’s impressive design credentials include various awards and accolades, such as the inaugural Rigg Design Award, which he won last year.

Adam’s design archive includes furniture ranges for two of our favourite local furniture companies, Cult and Tait, as well as products designed for various international design brands, including Cappellini, Alessi and Norman Copenhagen. His studio is primarily a one-man operation, but Adam sure knows how to get things done!

We recently caught up with Adam in his Waterloo studio, for a first hand insight into his prolific practice.

It’s a hard slog making a career as an industrial designer in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly no shortage of design talent in this country, but Australia is a pretty small market when it comes to original design, and it’s bloody difficult to turn a profit making small runs of furniture, manufactured locally. THAT’S WHY we love to champion anyone designing and making their stuff in Australia, and we’re always especially impressed by those few designers really kicking goals on a global scale.

ONE of Australia’s leading and most successful commercial industrial designers is Adam Goodrum.  We love Adam’s distinctive aesthetic, and his clever, considered furniture designs for local companies including Cult and Tait. We’re also seriously impressed with Adam’s international credentials – his designs have been produced by respected international design brands including Cappellini, Alessi and Norman Copenhagen to name a few. Adam’s immense talent has also been recognised with a number of awards and accolades over the past few years, these including the Bombay Sapphire Design Award, and more recently, the prestigious Rigg Design Award.

Working from a studio in Sydney’s Waterloo, Adam is prolific. His studio is generally a one-man operation, though he does have a number of casual staff he employs on a project by project basis. Like many creatives, Adam is often working on a number of different projects at any given time – in any given week he might be giving lectures in design at UTS, resolving a new furniture design, making plans for future ranges with one of his key retail stockists, or patiently fielding publicity requests after winning yet another design prize….!  We’re pretty chuffed to shine our little spotlight on this legendary local designer today.

Adam’s distinctive designs can be found nationally at Cult, Tait, Top 3 by Design and Dessein Furniture.  

Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?

I grew up in Perth in a beachside suburb. Perth of the 1980s had a strong backyard making culture, every one had sheds and tinkered or fixed things. My childhood was focused on meeting up with friends and making stuff. I was building dug out bases in the sand dunes, crafting surfboard racks to battle Fremantle winds, and fashioning myself leg-ropes out of Coke lids and pieces of Mum’s clothes line. I also had an early love of Lego, going in competitions as a kid. Those brightly coloured bricks and their never ending combinations fostered an early love of form and colour, but also of simple mechanics.

In high school I had a fantastic art teacher and a love of mathematics. At this point I was looking to a career in fine arts, inspired by the works of Australian icons such as Brett Whiteley and John Olsen. However, I soon found out about industrial design – then a little known discipline in Perth. This seemed to unite my love of art, maths and making, which had been individual pursuits until that time. I chose to study a Bachelor of Industrial Design at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and a career in product design followed.

How would you describe your work, and what influences your distinctive aesthetic?

I find it difficult to describe my own work, but with any project I endeavour to add a personality or an added function to any object I’m designing, a product has to justify its existence.

I’m fortunate to be working with companies like Cult and Tait who share a common philosophy and methodology. They execute at a high level, using good materials and considered craftsmanship to create products that will last a lifetime.

With some of my more artistic projects I love to include an element of surprise, and I’ve always had a fascination for bold colour.

Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your business and creative process? How do you manage the day-to-day side of the business, what particular jobs do you do in-house and which do you outsource?

In regards to my creative process, I’m always working on a number of different projects so I find myself thinking about them 24/7. I’m constantly looking for a little detail that could inspire an idea, or observing people and the way they interact with things, or trying to refine something already underway.

I don’t have any full-time staff but have a number of casuals who are fantastic and I employ when needed. Like many creative people I am more project focused and less focused on admin – that’s a work in progress!

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I start with an early coffee, then try and get some emailing out of the way. My typical studio day (I also work at UTS) is never really the same. I seem to run around like a chook in a thunderstorm. My most enjoyable day is when I get a chance to design, or make some models to explore an idea. I have a great network of makers who I work closely with, so I spend a lot of time visiting. Most days seem to get gobbled up alarmingly quickly.

What have been one or two favourite recent projects?

One would be my Molloy Chair for Cult. Molloy is a solid timber chair composed of 8 elements that jigsaw together. Each component is individually created on a 5axis CNC (computer numerically controlled) milling machine.

The design intention was to create a chair that would compliment the Molloy table, be comfortable and would stack, but not read as a stacking chair. It was important for me to create complex organic elements that would be challenging to make by hand but could exploit the technology of a 5axis CNC to make multiples.

The name Molloy is derived from Molloy Island in South Western Australia where two rivers run into one river then run in to two oceans, it is the only place in the world where this occurs. Molloy Island sits in the middle of these different directions of interconnected water. The Molloy chair components are accentuated by contrasting grain directions where they meet to become one. My father and I built a holiday house on Molloy Island so this chair is a confluence of nostalgia and concept.

Another recent project is a pair of nesting eggcups I have designed for Alessi. This was off the back of the Vogue Living design prize. I was luckily enough to visit the factory just outside of Milan earlier this year and spend a memorable and truly inspiring day with Alberto Alessi. I love the pedigree and passion of Italian design.

Molloy chairs by Adam Goodrum for CULT. Styling – Marsha Golemac, Photo – Brooke Holm.

How did the furniture pieces you have recently been making for CULT come about?

The brief for Bower came about through a conversation Richard Manao, the owner of Cult had with an architect. The architect was working on a large commercial project that required break out furniture for the office environment. He suggested he was finding it challenging to find a solution with an acoustic focus and an aesthetic language that was not rigid and commercial looking like so many products in the market.

The collection has been recently specified for the original project in both Melbourne and Sydney. We have also just received IP protection for America as we hope to take it to this market.

Last year you were the winning recipient of the prestigious Rigg Design Award, can you tell us a little bit about your entry and how this award has positively impacted your career?

My Rigg Design Award entry was an installation of three transparent folding houses called ‘Unfolding’. Each flat packed house was expandable and together they showed the stages of staggered growth and unfolding of a single house. The small one was displayed flat and upright, the medium one was unfolding and the large one was open. I chose to present my practice through this conceptual installation rather than through a body of work.

Born out of a previous project where I designed an emergency cardboard folding shelter, my installation became the representation of not only my current practice, but its progression over the past twenty years. When I was starting out, my kitchen table was my studio and there I would work with paper and cardboard, experimenting with folds and articulations. As my experience grew, my practice in turn evolved and took form, developing into a varied body of work whilst retaining these early fascinations. Despite these changes I believe my practice remains grounded in the possibility and passion of my beginnings, retaining the ability to refold back to its initial state. A house is also an overarching concept in a practical sense, much of what I design belongs in a house.

Needless to say, winning the award was a huge honour. I’ve seen my practice since lead towards more artistic projects and installations in public spaces, which I very much enjoy. It has also bolstered my profile, and so companies approach me more to design for them as I am more on their radar.

Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?

I’ve never fallen out of love with Brett Whitely, the incredible skill of his drawings and of course his use of colour remains a strong influence.

Clement Meadmore, for his skill to create wonderful furniture and bold sculpture.

Alexander Caulder, he’s not Australian but I have always been so inspired by his work and fanatical process.

Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?

Metal magazine for its heady mix of fashion, photography and art.

Marni, the brand is always super forward thinking, love their colour! I like the way they support for design community, in particular how they had the Ballhaus at Milan this year.

Japanese design, for now I’ll simply say Issey Miyake but it is equally Yohji Yamamoto for the incredible technical use of materials and creation of forms:

White Rabbit Gallery for its inspiring contemporary Chinese Art.

The Powerhouse archive is also incredibly strong in providing high-res images of furniture and objects from Australian history.

What has been your proudest career achievement to date? 

My Stitch chair becoming part of the Cappellini collection, it was the company I most wanted to work with. Also winning the NGV Rigg prize has been a huge honour.

SYDNEY QUESTIONS

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

I love living in gritty Waterloo, but if I had money in my pocket I’ve always fantasised about living in Lurline Bay. It’s a small suburb nestled between Coogee and Maroubra. It’s a beautiful bay with rock pools and uninhibited views. You can jump off the rocks for a swim, normally on your own – and it’s dog friendly.

What and where was the best meal you recently had in Sydney?

A delicious 5 course set meal from Automata in Chippendale. I am very pleased to have my Molloy Chairs in Ash used for the fit-out!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

If I’m lucky surfing at Maroubra, but more likely standing on the sideline of one of my boys’ soccer matches.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Ciccone & Sons artisan Gelato and sorbet a few minutes walk from my studio.

Industrial designer Adam Goodrum in his Waterloo studio. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.


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