Studio Visit

Christopher Boots

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
9th of November 2012
'Phasmida' light by Christopher Boots, hanging in Christopher's Fitzroy studio.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
'Simple X' light by Christopher Boots, hanging in Christopher's Fitzroy studio.  Photo - John Tsiavis
Christopher Boots in his Fitzroy studio. Christopher's 'Orp' lights hang on the right.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Christopher Boots has been flying stealthly (?) under my radar for about a year now... I had heard whispers of this fella with the striking lights and memorable name (for the record, it's actually 'Boutsinis' - 'Boots' is his stage name..!) but didn't have a proper opportunity to see Christopher's stunning work up close until last month.  When I FINALLY made a time to visit his studio, it was a total 'HOW has it taken me this long to find you!?' moment!  This guy is pure TDF material - a super talented, and seriously lovely guy who is already making big waves in the local design scene, despite having launched his own lighting design studio only one year ago. I guess once you hear the backstory, the success of Christopher's studio after just a year in operation isn't exactly what you'd call a fluke.  After completing his degree in Industrial Design, Christopher trained under the legendary Geoffrey Mance in Melbourne, and took on Mance Design studio after Geoffrey passed away in 2007.  He's since been involved in various lighting projects and partnerships, but it wasn't until late last year he decided it was time to create a studio of his own.  'Christopher Boots' was launched on November 11th, 2011 - and business has growing exponentially since then! Christopher's stunning range of lights is entirely handcrafted by himself and his small team in their Fitzroy studio space.  Due to this bespoke approach, each Christopher Boots light can be customised for specific spaces or architectural projects.  His most recognisable design is his striking 'Orp' light (Oblique Rhombic Prism) - a mesmerising, glowing, 'cube' which references ancient geometry.  It's an incredible, arresting form - something like a 3D optical illusion. Christopher was recently invited as one of 24 Australian Designers to participate in the Lexus Design Initiative which launched in Melbourne just last week!  Two of his stunning lights were featured in the Lexus Design Pavilion at Melbourne's Spring Racing Carnival, where they caught the eye of many high profile design peeps - including Hugo McDonald, Design Editor of the UK's Monocle Magazine!   Watch this space, guys... this lad is seriously going places.
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study, and what previous professional and social experiences led you to launching your own studio in 2011?
I ditched an arts degree half way through.  I was studying cinema, linguistics, and media at La Trobe after realising I needed to challenge myself.  I then found my niche in industrial design at Swinburne, where I graduated specialising in product design engineering. I worked with Geoffrey Mance for two years, and bought his business after he passed away, and continued to work hard for the next four years. But I felt that there was a better way to express myself (insert Madonna quote here). After five or so years I knew I had given it my best, and I felt like it was the perfect timing personally, professionally and emotionally to launch my own studio, and that is what you see today.
Just months after completing your degree in 2005 you gained employment working in the studio of famed lighting designer Geoffrey Mance. Not bad for a fresh graduate! How did this opportunity come about and what did you learn during your time at his studio that has continued to influence your work today?
I met Geoffrey during a university excursion, and fell in love with his design process. A few months later I went to visit him in his studio along with my friend Volker Haug, and we pretty much worked from the first day we walked in! Working there for two years was awesome fun. He was always exploring new ideas and materials, which I still do as often as possible. Taking a fresh eye and ensuring that there is always a new approach with materials and exploration is imperative in the design process.
Top - the 'Prometheus' light by Christopher Boots, photo - Photo - John Tsiavis.  Bottom - studio details including quartz crystals used in the Prometheus lights.  Photos - Sean Fennessy.
Leaving the nest to start your own studio is a common evolution among many creatives, but how does one work up the gusto to make this happen?  How was the transition of working for somebody to else to working for yourself?
Mostly by gut instinct, with a bit of brain telling me that the time had come. I was bored of doing the same range that someone else had designed, it wasn’t really my expression. It was a great learning experience that I’m very grateful I went through, as challenging as it was. It took about a year to plan the exit from my previous studio, so a lot of communication and clarity is always necessary. Then again it was still a messy divorce at the end! But I am humbled for the unique experience that has been my past, and don’t regret a moment. I worked for myself in the last studio as well, but I had a business partner. It was a massive change starting my own studio, having to rely on just myself to do everything, but I was already versed in doing everything. I can say it’s much easier the second time around. Having to rebuild a new team is still a process, managing relationships as best as possible is still the primary task at hand no matter who pays your bills.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Refined, raw, chunky, elegant, primal, complex, simple...
What general process is involved in the creation and construction of your designs? Do you work alone, collaborate or outsource any significant tasks?
We all work together to find answers to questions that come up during the process of making or amending a design to suit a client’s requirements. I guess we are bespoke makers, and specialist makers, for example our glassblowers have amazing technical understanding of their crafts, so they have a massive input into the parameters of a project. A collaborative effort ensures that each person’s best knowledge is included in a project, which really creates the perfect end result. We talk, imagine, and sketch up ideas, explore possible variants, and move directly into full size prototyping. It’s an expensive but thorough way to construct a dream.
Christopher's team in their Fitzroy studio. Photo - Sean Fennessy.
What does a typical day at work involve for you? Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Christopher Boots inc? What are you working on at the moment?
A typical day starts at 9am with a meeting to discuss the day’s work and any new jobs at hand. We plan the day and get into it. I’m very grateful for my studio manager, Dunnielle Mina, who keeps the studio humming along. I spend most of my time on the phone and laptop. I’ve moved to Apple and am in love with it (can’t believe it took this long) working on new concepts, talking to clients to discuss details on upcoming projects, talking to suppliers and the minutiae that is running a design studio. We leave work by about 6pm and are very lucky to be a few hundred metres away from Fitzroy pool and about 5 yoga schools, often we go to work later or earlier to incorporate these work-life balancing acts. Current projects include the heritage listed mechanics institute in Ballarat, a range of commissions for private homes, a potential casino project, and six new products ready to be launched in early 2013.
Congratulations are in order – you were one of 24 Australian designers invited to participate in the Lexus Design Initiative that launched last week! Can you tell us a little about this project and how you became involved?
Lexus is moving towards emotionalising their brand, through design led initiatives such as sponsoring a new design award and supporting Australian designers to take their work overseas. Robert Buckingham and Simone Le Amon had known of my work and they thought it was a good fit with the Lexus brand, so they used two lights - Orp and Phasmida in their Lexus Design Pavilion at the birdcage for the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. Lexus will be award one Australian designer a scholarship to attend Tokyo Design Week in 2013 so there are great opportunities for Australian designers to get involved.  Check the Google! *note from Lucy - Lexus Australia has collaborated with Australian design champion Kjell Grant and The Melbourne Movement organisation to oversee a scholarship which will send one lucky Australian designer to Tokyo Design Week each year for the next three years, and assist with production and protoype costs. See all relevant dates and application details for the Lexus Design Scholarship here!
What have been one or two favourite design projects for you in recent years?
My favourite project has been the Orp: oblique rhombic prism – it was a great challenge to resolve.
'Orp' light by Christopher Boots.  Photo - John Tsiavis
Which Australian designers, artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?
Matthew Squadrito and his twin brother Terry from Squad Ink Design Studio, Glen Rollason who is an amazing pattern maker that works for many of Australia’s top fashion houses, and Volker Haug who is another lighting designer and great friend. I'm also currently inspired by Genty Marshall, a trends forecaster who often travels to Europe and is ahead of the curve, and Kate Hannaford from Moth Design Studio who has amazing resolve and work ethic – I’m constantly amazed by her talents.
Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to regularly for a bolt of creative inspiration?!
Music – Beats in Space, a radio station from new york; The Sweats; Stereogamous; Online – The Design Files for reals – so consistent with high quality output! Magazines – The World of Interiors; Monocle; Mark; Butt. Artists – loving always Olafur Eliasson, Louise Bourgeois and James Turrell. Book – New York Times' bestseller Sex At Dawn, a book that proposes that monogamy is a relatively recent social construct.
What would be your dream creative project?
I’d like to make a chandelier for Mona – a giant enormous crazy porcelain chandelier – I love that space and I’d just love to do something there. David Walsh, are you reading this?
What are you looking forward to?
Getting on a plane in a few hours to go see the full solar eclipse in Cairns next week!
Christopher Boots studio. 'Bucky' lights hanging in.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Fitzroy – it’s one of the oldest suburbs in Melbourne, so the layout is compact and cute with laneways and a mixed demographic. I have been loving watching it change and evolve over the years, I first moved there when I was 18.
Your favourite fossicking spots in Melbourne for the tools or materials of your trade?
A lot of my materials come from metal merchants tucked in Williamstown and Dandenong. We also just found a great fabricator in Collingwood recently. We used to love the old Leffler’s in South Melbourne, who are now in a large clean and laid out warehouse in Kensington.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?
Hell of the North, the old lambs go bar in Fitzroy. Very good. I can’t recall what I ate but I remember it was good and I’d recommend it highly even if it is a bit fancy.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
In the garden, keeping it healthy, at the gym, or at the studio if we’re under the pump!
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
If I told you it couldn't be a secret no more now would it? I’d say that there are so many good things, from pop up food trucks selling tacos to little design markets, I can’t say there’s really one thing!
Christopher's team in their Fitzroy studio. Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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