Studio Visit

Gordon Tait of Tait

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
24th of August 2012
Brand new Volley outdoor chairs designed by Adam Goodrum for Tait.
Jil tables designed by Justin Hutchinson for Tait.
Skilled welder Diego manufactures a Jil table at the Tait factory in Thornbury.  Photo - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files
If there's one thing that excites me even more than AUSTRALIAN DESIGN and LOCAL MANUFACTURE, it has got to be a factory visit! Ha ha. What can I say... I love a bustling hive of industry! I had the great opportunity this week of learning a little more about Melbourne-based design house Tait.  I've long been a fan of Tait's fabulous locally made furniture and outdoor accessories, and with the launch of their brand new range just last week, it seemed opportune timing to pay Gordon and Suzie Tait a proper visit!  It was truly inspiring to check out their busy 2000 square metre factory in Thornbury, where a staff of skilled metalworkers, welders, carpenters and factory managers produce Tait's furniture ranges and various custom work for architectural projects.  Both Gordon and Suzie are passionate about manufacturing locally - this enables a hands on, flexible approach to their work, and close relationships with clients and customers. As you may have gathered, Tait is a family business, run by husband and wife team Gordon and Suzie Tait.  With a background in sheetmetal fabrication, Gordon takes care of product and sales, while Suzie heads up the creative and marketing.  This industrious pair also have two daughters - Lily (16) and Coco (12) who have grown up alongside their parents' business, almost as if it were their third sibling! 'When I first joined Tait, I dragged Lily around to meetings and she literally slept in a porta-cot next to us in our office, as we lived above our little factory in Fitzroy' recalls Suzie, who joined the company in 1997. 'They both know Tait inside out and sometimes get sick to death of us talking work, as it is impossible not to.  When Coco was about 4, she used to ask 'did you sell a table today?' and if we said yes, she would be very pleased and say 'does that mean I can get a bike for my birthday?', so they understand we might be a bit too busy, but that's how we put food on the table. Despite all the eye rolling I think they are secretly proud!' Tait turned 20 this year! (AMAZING).  But there is certainly no sign of slowing down with age!  In recent years, Tait have opened a Sydney showroom, supporting their fabulous retail space in Melbourne, they've moved their workshop from Fitzroy to the enormous space in Thornbury you see pictured here, and have grown to a team of 10 factory workers and 6 retail staff.   Although they're still a relatively small business, Tait are incredibly prolific, they've completed a number of high profile design projects in recent years - such as outdoor furniture and custom design solutions for the Australian Catholic University, Royal Childrens Hospital, University of Woollongong, Gusman & Gomez food chain, and Westfield shopping centres. Just this week Tait have launched an extensive new furniture range, new branding by super talented local design studio Round, AND a brand new extremely swish website!  (Do support their immense efforts with a little friendly click!).  And if you're in the market for outdoor furniture as the warmer months draw near, I highly recommend paying Tait a little visit in either Melbourne or Sydney.  SO much local design goodness under one roof! TAIT Melbourne 176 Johnston Street Fitzroy VIC 3065 (03) 9419 7484 TAIT Sydney 611 Elizabeth Street Redfern NSW 2016 (02) 9310 1333
Gordon and Suzie Tait in their Thornbury factory, with Tiller the dog! Photo - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files
Tell us a little about your career background – what led you to furniture design originally, and to launching Tait in 1992?
I left school when I was 16 and went straight into the sheetmetal trade. I had always made  things, and looking back, thank God I learnt a trade - I was good at it, and have been doing it for 32 years. Initially I worked for a bespoke printing machinery manufacturer, and after hours I'd dabble in furniture making. I'd get the odd commission and a few wholesale orders, which eventually paid the way to bigger things. My bosses, Bill and David, were very supportive and always encouraged me to work on my own stuff.  In turn, these days I encourage my staff too. I'm very grateful to my old bosses, as in the early 90’s they had to let me go.  It was 'the recession we had to have' and no orders were coming in.  Bill and David gave me a client list and some small machinery and sent me on my way. Suzie and I then rented a factory in Fitzroy. We were away... Suzie joined Tait in 1997, after having our first daughter Lily, when we lived in the flat above our factory. Suzie has a BA in textile design and ended up with a high profile job working as Red Earth's Creative Director, where she created the brand imagery for the retail stores, marketing campaigns and packaging.  So we now have a creative eye on the products as well as a manufacturers perspective.
Good One stools designed by Alastair Keating for Tait
How has Tait changed since the early days?
We are way more process oriented these days, it's the only way for a product to succeed. In the early days we were very focused on one-off products, and I loved that, along with the challenge of creating something new, and the  look on the client's face when we would deliver the final piece. It's different now since the company has grown and expanded.  I'm mainly office bound, where I oversee two showrooms and a 2000 square meter factory. It can be quite taxing! When I'm not at the desk, I'm usually running from one meeting to another with Suzie.
Tait specialises in designing functional, contemporary pieces for outdoor environments, and is committed to manufacturing in Australia. Why is local manufacture such an integral part of your business, and what challenges do you face in maintaining this commitment?
Local manufacturing is important to us – I come from a sheetmetal trade background and seeing the trade slowly disappear saddens me. My trade teacher taught me how to hand-beat metals into bowls and other forms, the process involved annealing the material, so it wouldn't harden and crack. Everything is so high tech these days, but I still love this hands on approach to manufacturing. Also making locally gives us the opportunity to employ people to make the products; from welders through to industrial designers. I guess with me coming from a trade background, and Suzie from a textile/craft background, we hate to see skills dying out. We both enjoy making with our hands, working out solutions through creative thinking and encouraging others to do so. With so many manufacturers going off shore, there is no where for skilled trades people to go. We really enjoy the whole process of coming up with concepts and seeing them through from design to prototype. It's so exciting to see a scribble become a piece of furniture – all under the one roof!
Diego making Jil tables at the Tait factory in Thornbury.  Photo - Lucy Feagins
Templates for Jil tables in various sizes. Photo - Lucy Feagins
Just last week you launched your brand new furniture range at Saturday in Design – we LOVE the new pieces! Can you give us a little info about the new range? How long have the Volley, Breeze and Softline planters been in development?
The Volley has been in development for about eight months. We knew that we wanted to create a volume product with Adam Goodrum and after a few meetings in Sydney discussing what we should collaborate on, he turned up with these amazing renders of what is now the Volley. We thought we HAVE to make that. So we did!
Derrin creates Tait's new Volley chairs for their very first order!  Photo - Lucy Feagins
Tait's new Volley chairs in production.  Photo - Lucy Feagins
Breeze and Softline were designed in-house over a few months. We love the simplicity and softness of the Softline planters and the concealed wheels makes them easy to move them around. The Breeze outdoor sofa is our take on a Balinese day bed – generous and airy. We felt we needed a lounge in the collection, and are now planning to roll out a modular system for this product.
Tait's new Breeze outdoor sofa
New Breeze outdoor sofa in the Tait Fitzroy showroom
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Tait - how is your studio and factory structured, how many people do you employ and in what roles? AND what secrets do you have for working successfully as a husband and wife team!?
We have a great team at the moment of ten people in the factory, and six across our two retail stores.  All of our employees have specific roles – production manager, factory manager, sheetmetal workers, welder etc. We employ mainly trade qualified staff at the factory and when things get busy we add factory assistants and casual staff to fill the gaps. We are very quality and 'on time' focussed, after all happy customers are the best customers. We have spent a lot of time over the years improving our procedures and this equates to better efficiency (which we also track). As a husband and wife team we think it's important to have your own specific roles. I take care of the product and sales side of Tait, while Suzie heads up the creative and marketing departments. Suzie is also very organised and a prolific note taker so you can’t get away with anything, ha! Out of the 20 years we have been in business, Suzie has been with Tait for 15. It works for us, we don't argue as much in meetings these days, we are good mates!
Tait's Slot table
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?
Adam Goodrum, who we collaborated with on the new Volley collection for Tait. Justin Hutchinson has some great ideas, he also designed the Jak+Jil collection we released in 2008. Inari Kiuru does some amazing sculptural jewellery and photography. I love her work. We are collaborating on a sculpture together soon, it's very exciting.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media (i.e. specific websites, magazines, blogs, books, TV or other media) you tune in to regularly?
We regularly peruse The Design Files, Yellow Trace, Habitus, The Cool Hunter and Facebook.
Factory details - a tool for everything!  Photo - Lucy Feagins / The Design Files
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Usually getting pulled in a million directions. There are production meetings, quality meetings, sales, liaising with the showrooms, checking prototyping is on track, but most importantly taking my dog Tiller for a walk along the Merri Creek.
What would be your dream creative project?
To receive a large commission for my sculptural work – a freeway installation will do!
What are you looking forward to?
Adventures. I've been on three this year (luxurious I know), but hey, someone has to do it!  It's important to me that I get away and clear the head every now and then, in my experience that's when the best ideas surface.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
It has to be anywhere in-between Fitzroy and Northcote. We love the north side, we don't need to travel far for anything, and we love buying local, there's just so much choice for eating, drinking, music etc.
Which suppliers do you frequent in Melbourne for the tools or materials of your trade?
We use large national suppliers for raw materials, love Angelton's on Smith Street for stationery and office supplies, and recently worked with Studio Round to rebrand the Tait logo and creative identity. For the showrooms we like to support local companies including Basil Bangs, Bonnie and Neil, M2Matiz, Peter Mclisky and Smalltown.
Tait's Fitzroy showroom - Volley range in the foreground, and in the front, Tait's recent InDesign award for best new product launch!
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Umberto in Thornbury - amazing home style Italian fare.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
At Tasos cafe in Thornbury. My dad goes there to meet with the locals and their dogs, otherwise I may be in Blackwood at our cabin in the bush.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
Juddy Roller!
Tait's Softline and Gardenwall planters.

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