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'Featherston' · A New Monograph on the Legacy of the Australian Design Icons

In Print

Design enthusiast Geoff Isaac has crowd-funded an invaluable book on one of Australia’s most pre-eminent design duos, Grant and Mary Featherston.

We caught up with the author to chat about his first monograph, and his own unique connection to the Featherstons’ iconic furniture.

2nd September, 2017

The ‘Featherston’ monograph by Geoff Isaac. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Grant Featherston, pictured in the book’s opening pages. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Inside the monograph. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

The book contains over 250 photographs. Photo – Adam Obradovic.

The monograph is almost 300 pages. Photo – Adam Obradovic.

A spread from the book. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Chapter two covers the iconic Contour Range. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Photo – Adam Obradovic.

‘Featherston’ also includes the story of Aristoc, the Melbourne-based manufacturer that made Featherston designs. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘‘Featherston’ will appeal to anyone interested in mid-century design or Australian design,’ tells Geoff. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘As my collection grew, I became increasingly frustrated by the lack of information available on the designer,’ tells Geoff, of his motivations to write the volume. Photo – Adam Obradovic.

At the Melbourne launch of ‘Featherston‘. Photo – Robert Wellington.

Elle Murrell
Saturday 2nd September 2017

‘It is no exaggeration to claim that nearly every Australian has sat on a Featherston chair.’

Though he doesn’t consider himself a design professional or academic, but merely an enthusiast, Geoff Isaac managed to convince more than 390 backers to pledge $47,360 to help bring his ‘Featherston book to life.

‘I came to write this book as no one else had!’ says the UK-born business graduate, who migrated to Australia in the late 1980s. Following a relationship separation in the early 1990s, Geoff found himself with a house but absolutely no furniture. ‘Being short of funds, I bought some second-hand furniture including  four dining chairs. Several years later, my financial situation having improved, I moved to a bigger home and sought some decent furniture. After several months of looking, I realised that I liked my tired, old, pre-loved dining chairs more than anything else I could find,’ tells Geoff, who later discovered them to be Scape Dining Chairs, designed by Grant Featherston for Aristoc in 1960.

After spending a fortune on renovating the chairs, Geoff became hooked and began collecting examples of Featherston’s best known designs, as well pieces from later in his career. Over the past seven years, Geoff’s passion developed into dedicated archival research and interviews, culminating in the pitch and publication of ‘Featherston’.

What made you decide to work towards publishing a book on Featherston furniture?

As my collection grew, I became increasingly frustrated by the lack of information available on the designer. Apart from a small catalogue, published to coincide with a 1988 retrospective held at the NGV, there are no publications available dedicated to the work of the Featherstons. I started collecting information, which all slowly started to evolve towards a book.

Who else has been involved in this epic undertaking?

I had just completed what I thought was the last interview for the book when Neil Clerehan suggested that I make contact with Ian Howard. Ian was the Managing Director at Aristoc, the Melbourne-based manufacturer that made Featherston designs for 13 years (from 1957), as well as a personal friend of Grant. To my delight I found Ian, at over 90 years of age, to be a fantastic source – with an extensive archive of company records and previously unpublished pictures to illustrate his vivid memories. Unfortunately, this discovery meant it took another couple of years to complete the project, but the end result is so much better for it. The Aristoc story is an important part of the success of the Featherstons’ career in chair design and has been included in full in the book.

What can readers expect from this monograph, with more than 250 photographs across almost 300 pages?

‘Featherston’ will appeal to anyone interested in mid-century design or Australian design. The book is also an interesting social history of the post-war years and will be of interest to many people living in Melbourne and beyond. I think people will be surprised by the vast number of chair designs produced by the Featherstons and the volume of production manufactured by Melbourne-based Aristoc.

What have been some of the highs and lows you’ve experienced in pursuing this passion project?

The most exciting thing was seeing the finished product – a few copies arrived in time for the launch at the end of July and I literally got to see the book about 10 minutes before people started arriving!

On the other hand, the most challenging part of the project was finding a publisher. After a year I gave up and decided to do it myself! Luckily, following the success of the crowdfunding campaign, Thames & Hudson came on board to take over the project.

What do you think are some of the factors that have led to your crowdfunding success?

Kickstarter is a great platform for raising funding, however it is important to remember it’s only a tool to collect and track the money. To run a successful campaign you need to have a promotion strategy, using press and online channels to gain exposure for your project.

I was lucky enough to get support from some influential bloggers and mid-century Facebook groups, which really helped publicise the book. Leonard Joel was also a big supporter and promoted the project to their data base of mid-century design enthusiasts, which was a great help toward reaching the fund-raising goal.

What’s next for Geoff Isaac, and can we hope for any more publications?

After the launches, I will be working hard to promote this book. I am starting to think about another book, but don’t hold your breath… this one took nearly seven years!

You can get your hands on a copy of ‘Featherston’ by ordering online, here, as well as at selected local bookstores across Australia.

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