Interview - Henry Wilson

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
22nd of June 2012
The A-joint Ash Bench and A-joint system by Henry Wilson
Vegetable-tan leather cover for a Tolix chair by Henry Wilson
Anglepoise Lamp - Henry re-worked this classic vintage lamp to accomodate an LED light source, then adding the stunning glass shade in response to the new multi-directional light source.
Anglepoise Lamp with LED lamp and glass shade by Henry Wilson

Henry Wilson is a thoughtful, earnest designer.  Based in Sydney, his practise is driven by the simple idea that 'design should be built for longevity and honestly resolved'.   This admirable philosophy is clearly evident in his stunning portfolio of work - each piece is so elegant, yet essentially utilitarian.

As one might expect, Henry's responses to this interview are measured and  kind of philosophical!  It's so refreshing really, to come across a young designer with a really considered, intellectual approach to his work.  Put simply, he thinks, before he makes.  I guess it isn't so surprising given Henry's impressive academic credentials - a graduate of the Australian National University in Canberra, he also holds a Masters in 'Man and Humanity' from the Design Academy Eindhoven in The Netherlands (SERIOUSLY cult status design school in Holland, as if you didn't know that).

One of the most engaging aspects of Henry's work is his interest in creating 'useful additions' to existing products.  Motivated by his time at the DAE, which involved incessant questioning about the moral necessity of designing and manufacturing new things all the time, Henry conceptualised this series.  Entitled 'Things Revisited', the collection was never supposed to be manufactured, but many of the pieces have since gone into production.  The leather Tolix chair cover is particularly special - there's something so engaging about adding a contemporary, functional 'hack' to a classic design piece.  It's like seeing an old friend in an inspired, new way.

Henry has received many awards, scholarships and grants for his work, and has exhibited in Australia, Europe, the UK and USA. He's currently working from a studio in Rozelle, getting ready for some upcoming exhibitions, and lecturing part time at COFA.  Lots going on - and he's only 28!  I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more from Mr Wilson!

Massive thanks to Henry for sharing his beautiful work with us today!  Do check out his website for more stunning shots of his work.

Henry Wilson.  Very spunky.
Tell us a little about your career background – what path led you to study design initially, and to launching your own design studio?

From a young age I was always interested in construction and (deconstruction), even though in retrospect it was probably the thought of the 'mad inventor/engineer' that appealed to me most. My mother is also an architect by trade so I was privy to the world of construction early on. During my HSC (VCE for you Melbournites!) I did the lowest gradable subjects at school (i.e. design tech, art, drama) and as a result and somewhat ironically ended up with a UAI score that restricted me entry into industrial design tertiary courses. It's actually interesting to think what Australia's industrial design landscape might look like if tertiary entry requirements were replaced with an interview and portfolio rather than a cut-off score.

So instead of pursuing industrial design formally I went off and studied at the ANU School of Art where I met Dr Rodney Hayward, who offered me a position in the wood workshop. This was a crucial time in my career development, as it was here, under the school's nurturing, studio-based system, that I learned how to think about a singular material in depth and how to use it advantageously. Wood is unforgiving so to understand it demands a sensitivity, and I have found that this approach has been a terrific grounding when working with other materials. There's an unexplained currency to this methodology, and even though I have been designing for a while now I still find myself applying it to my work today.

I have a long-held fascination with the Design Academy Eindhoven in Holland, and am a little starstruck to learn you studied there! What drew you to the Design Academy, and can you share a little with us about the experience of studying there?
After completing my Honours at the ANU I went on a self-initiated design pilgrimage where I travelled through Europe and Japan. I visited schools, museums and design fairs, and that finally culminated with the pinnacle of eye-opening experiences (well for me anyway) – the Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano aka The Milan Furniture Fair. This event is the largest furniture trade show of its kind in the world. Upon entering I was instantly overwhelmed by the incredible design and a little concerned (in a good way) that I might be destined to contribute to the meaningless tides of box fresh newness landing on the shelves every year at Salone from here on in. My experience here spurred me to take the necessary steps to forge a career in this industry and as a result I found the DAE. The DAE has a refreshing approach to design where it considers it as more of a social tool. It gave me hope that perhaps I could make stuff and do so with a clear conscience.

Study at the DAE is pretty terrifying. The mentors are practising designers at the top of their game and treat you like a peer. The school is a highly curated marketing machine and it is easy to feel like you might not make it out the other side. The Dutch will typically tell you if you are not so great at something and suggest an alternate career path. Thankfully I passed. However, it very nearly broke me!

A significant part of your practise is not just designing new things, but creating thoughtful and useful additions to existing objects. What's the mentality behind this?

The creation of additional elements for classic designs was in part due to the friction I was feeling from my mentors at the design academy. The constant questioning as to whether we needed another lamp or chair led me to pursue other directions. The additions were never supposed to be commercialised, however many of the pieces I designed for that collection have since gone on to production in various forms. They were initially designed with sustainability in mind, but it was interesting to note that when working to reduce environmental impact you are also appealing to a financial frugality.

Leather cover for a Tolix chair by Henry Wilson
What have been one or two favourite design projects for you in recent years?

The past years have seen my A-joint and A3-joint intuitive and utilitarian joinery systems grow from concept to ready-to-purchase products, which has been both fun and rewarding. I have also found myself consulting on bigger projects from restaurant fit-outs to commercial office spaces that have been very exciting.

The A-joint Table by Henry Wilson
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?

My two favourites at the moment would have to be sculptor China De La Vega and Benja Harney of Paperform.

Can you list for us some of your go-to resources across any media (ie specific websites, magazines, blogs or books) that you tune into regularly?
I listen to Monocle 24 and watch Qi.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I am lecturing at COFA a couple of days a week and getting ready for upcoming exhibitions. I have a studio in a shipping container and I am about to plonk on a second level. It's pretty exciting, I'm informally dubbing my studio the 'container skyscraper'!

Side table created with Henry Wilson's A3-joint - 'A3-joint unites simple function with limitless form. Use it to make anything you like'.
What would be your dream creative project?

Ideally I'd love to built a cabin or a house.

What are you looking forward to?
The London Design Festival where I will be exhibiting with the Supercyclersagain, and making new work for a pretty exciting new gallery opening in SOHO later in the year.

Sydney Questions

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Edgecliff or Rozzelle for sure. I just moved to Trumper Park in Edgecliff and love the isolation.

You favourite fossicking spots in Sydney for the tools or materials of your trade?

For fossicking I try to get out of Sydney, and as it turns out Canberra is the place for that!

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

The Apollo in Potts Point, it has an exceptional fit-out and even better the best taramasalata mullet roe dip.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Fratelli Paradiso.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Trumper Park.

The A-joint Ash Bench by Henry Wilson

Similar Stories

Recent Furniture