I can count on one hand (ok, maybe two) the local people and businesses who really have been there from the very start of TDF, and who have supported this site when I really had no idea where it was headed...! One of those people is Mandy Munro, and by association, her husband Mike and super creative kids, who I'm very glad to introduce today via our popular 'Family Portrait' series!
I first met Mandy at a trade fair in Melbourne, in 2008, probably 6 months after starting The Design Files. I nervously asked if I could photograph her stand, and of course she was very sweet and encouraging. She often mentions this initial meeting, which we both vividly remember, and reminds me, jokingly, 'I knew you before you were famous!' Ha ha! I'm not too sure about the famous part, but I can say with all honesty that it was early relationships like this one which really helped propel TDF in the early days, by sharing their leads and contacts with me, keeping me in the loop about new products and designers I should know about, letting me photograph their houses (before we had professional photographers!) and the list goes on...
The Munros have been a big part of Melbourne's creative and retail community for a long time. Between them, they run one wholesale / import business, two retail businesses, and a brilliant mish mash of other creative practices and projects. Please bear with me whilst I try to summarise these varied endeavours as coherently as possible!
Mandy and Mike's core business is Tractor Home, a wholesale company which imports handmade homewares from South Africa, and stocks a huge variety of Australian retailers. In additional to championing traditional African craftmanship, over the last 10 years Mandy has also uncovered a talented network of emerging African designers, creating stunning contemporary pieces often with very limited resources. Many of these designers have been significantly supported by the market Mandy had created for their work in Australia.
Mandy's husband Mike is her constant companion in both life and work. Wherever you find Mandy, Mike is never far away! A passionate collector and tinkerer, Mike sources and restores vintage and industrial furniture in a workshop adjoining Tractor Home HQ.
Together, Mandy and her daughter Phoebe (28) run Pan After, a beautiful retail store which occupies the loft-like second floor space above Tractor Home, not far from the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne's CBD. Though the store started life as a retail extension for Tractor Home, there's a lot more on offer here than the African wares Mandy specialises in. Mandy and Phoebe stock an distinctly international array of products, including linen from Japan, homewares from the USA, candles from France, textiles from India, jewellery from Africa, as well as industrial and vintage furniture and ephemera sourced and restored by Mike.
In addition to co-managing Pan After with her Mum, Phoebe also runs After, her own retail store around the corner on Therry Street, Melbourne, which she first opened in 2007 (at the tender age of just 21!). Here Phoebe brings together her own unique edit of homewares and gifts sourced from across the globe, as well as the work of many local designers. With a keen eye for discovering new and eclectic finds, Phoebe has attracted a loyal clientele since her early days in business, who continue to support her colourful little retail store seven years on.
Mandy and Mike's sons Fergus (30) and Hamish (25) both studied sculpture. Fergus initially went on to work as a sculpter in the film industry, making sets and building props for big budget movies including 'Where the Wild Things Are' and 'Narnia' when they filmed in Melbourne. A few years ago, though, Fergus made a tree-change and moved to Sale in rural Victoria, where he is now a proud Dad, and works for a civil engineering company! (Sorry, for this reason Fergus wasn't available for our shoot!).
The Munros' youngest son Hamish is perhaps the most mad-cap creative of all. In person, Hamish appears wide-eyed and almost a little naive, but his intuitive creative confidence is his secret weapon! Hamish recently won Melbourne Central's inaugural Kisho Prize with an inspired, if somewhat ambitous (!) proposal for a huge suspended inflatable sculpture, which expands and contracts in response to the number of people in the centre at any given time. Despite being the youngest entrant, and never having created a sculptural work on this scale before, Hamish pulled it off (of course!). The resulting piece was recently unveiled, and can be seen on the top level at Melbourne Central!
In addition to his sculpture practice, since his very early twenties Hamish has been making incredible jewellery from unexpected materials including plastic tube, colourful wire and fishing lures. In typical form, Hamish's jewellery practice gained momentum almost overnight - he began stocking Fat, Alphaville and many other respected local fashion boutiques in his early twenties, and these days his unique wearable pieces can also be found at Pieces of Eight, Pet Shop Girls and Dagmar Rousset.
SO THAT, my friends, is the full, if not slightly longwinded Munro family history! Keep an eye out for these guys and their various creative endeavours all over Melbourne. They are hard to keep up with...!
Tractor Home / Pan After customers may also like to know that this Friday 23rd and Sat 24th May is the annual Tractor Home warehouse sale! Always a treasure trove of bold colour, pattern and amazing African handcrafted pieces, it's well worth a look - details below.
Tractor Home Warehouse Sale
Rear 126 Franklin St
Open This Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th May, 9.00 to 5.00pm.
They were sometimes challenging, as they were all full of energy and were all very opinionated, but they were always lots of FUN! It was a busy house with lots happening, and always lots of people and friends around, we made sure that every day with them was a memorable one. They were very happy kids!
They grew up in one of the few and last reminding dirt roads in Melbourne, so they were always playing outside in the street or backyard – building things, making things, bringing home all kinds of animals that would become our loved pets. There were lots of dress ups resulting in performances that Mike and I had to sit through. They were always drawing and spent hours making things. Fergus did win a few colouring competitions, Phoebe was the games host and quiz master - she was always the 'organiser', and Hamish was the collector, his pockets were bulging every night with treasures that he had collected along his way.
All our kids were creative from a very early age, and this was certainly encouraged and supported.
I think all parents are proud of their kids in everything they do. We are! Aside from the creative talents, they also achieved a lot with their snowboarding, where they represented Australia (yes they are all awesome snowboarders by the way)!
Mostly we are really proud that they are all very passionate about what they like and what they do. It's nice that they all get along so well, and we're proud that they have all grown into lovely, caring adults.
Phoebe is a bit bossy, usually just with me (Mandy) and her brothers. I guess she had to stand up to them!
Anyone who knows Hamish would know that he always keeps you waiting when leaving the house! He always has to run back to get one last thing. He is also pretty persuasive when it comes to driving him or picking him up, and wanting you to drop everything you're doing at that moment for him... we still love him though!
Growing up in the Munro house was definitely memorable, lots of fun, never boring, and some might say a little mad. We take 'mad' as a good thing! It certainly wasn't conservative, and we certainly weren't sheltered. We spent our childhood outdoors building cubbies, lighting camp fires in the backyard, building BMX courses – it was all adventures, fun and games.
For years we spent weekend after weekend in the winter going to Mt. Hotham so we could all snowboard. The three of us loved it so much and no matter how busy life was or how much was going on in Melbourne we would always make the mission. Snowboarding has allowed all of us to travel lots and has been a great part of our lives, we can't thank Mum and Dad enough for that one!
Mum and dad always encouraged us to stick to the things we were passionate about. We were always happy to be around our parents, of course we all fought and disagreed (everyone being quite outspoken!), but we also listened and respected them. They were never too strict, we always had lots of fun and for that reason we would say they have always been pretty cool!
Phoebe - Growing up many of our weekends involved driving around looking at 1950's houses, going to Plasma (Dean Angelucci's previous mid century furniture store, before he had Angelucci Twentieth Century) and other stores where Dad would buy 1950's / '60s furniture and ceramic vases to add to his collection. We would drive around checking out gardens, book stores, restaurants and even bars. Dad would often would stop and point out the car window and say 'Look at that house kids, isn't it amazing?'. At the time we had little appreciation of what he was pointing at, but we can definitely say now that it had an influence on us!
On our family holidays we would go to Sydney, and never sit on the beach, but instead visit the Rose Seidler house and go to art galleries. Dad was constantly saying 'look at this this, look at that'! I think unintentionally all of this helped create a visual awareness from a young age.
Mum and Dad have always been creative and led a creative life, all of the stuff that we were exposed to growing up has inspired us to be creative and confident in what we do now.
Phoebe - I think all children tend to get intolerant and irritated by their parents, so I would have to say there are plenty of irritating moments rather than particular habits. I've found the older we get the more intolerant we have become towards our parents – I think it's their lack of technological skills or maybe it's just them getting older and us becoming a little wiser!