Stepping off the boat in Hobart, Adam Markowitz took up postgraduate furniture design studies at the School of Creative Arts, located in the old IXL factory on the City’s very docks! Here, the focus was on traditional skills and Adam learned from some incredible artisans. Before long, he was off again, with a scholarship catapulting him to Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts to complete that degree.
Returning to Melbourne upon graduating, Adam revisited architecture, yet furniture making was never far from his mind, literally. ‘Conveniently, the office was located above a cabinet maker’s workshop, so I sublet some space there and switched over to part-time,’ he recalls. It was here that Adam built the prototype of his Fred Table, which ended up winning the ‘Vivid Design Award’ that same year (2014).
‘At that point, I still felt that my hands were limiting what I could achieve, so after gaining my architecture registration, I had saved up enough to head to The Center for Furniture Crafstmanship in Maine. That school teaches traditional woodworking at a master craftsman level – hand-cut dovetails, piston-fit hand-planed draws, advanced bending techniques…’ he gushes. ‘After attending an intensive course there (during a winter with two metres of snow), I returned and set up my current studio in Melbourne, where I offer production pieces, custom commissions as well as run my architectural practice.’
Markowitz Design isn’t housed in any old studio, but a shared workshop operated by the Victorian Woodworker’s Association in North Melbourne’s Meat Market arts complex. Public woodworking classes run in the evenings, while makers including Adam, Tomoya & Co, McFarlane Furniture and Dan Love have free rein of this collaborative hive during the day.
When we visited, Adam was at work on his Flea Chair, which explores ‘Human Modernism’ – an idea championed by famed Finnish designer Alvar Aalto in which design aims to be, first and foremost, ‘in harmony with the human being’. In the case of Adam’s chair, the concept was to delete everything that wasn’t in contact with the back, leaving an extremely minimal, but still a very comfortable design. ‘The side frame of the chair has to be hand carved to pick up the sweep of the backrest; it’s a subtle detail but it makes all the difference,’ explains the maker, who also loves to take on commissions – his custom-built beds and handrail can be seen in the Cabbage Tree House by Peter Stutchbury Architecture, which took out the Houses Awards ‘2018 Australian House of the Year‘.
Adam has also recently made his first foray into lighting, with the Assegai Pendant. ‘I’ve found it an enjoyable challenge as you’re essentially creating a sculptural piece that needs to work from all angles – there’s nowhere to hide,’ he tells of the design which was shortlisted for the ‘2017 Australian Furniture Design Award’. ‘I think that people are rediscovering the value and authenticity of fine craft, and I think just as people will invest in a beautiful handcrafted vase or handmade ceramics, pendant lighting is a great opportunity to let the fine craft elements of the piece shine.’
After soaking up influences and skills from all over, Adam’s pretty settled in Melbourne these days. ‘There’s a great community and a lot of talent, which I think encourages everyone to work that little bit harder and push what’s possible,’ he tells, even in the face of stiff competition from high-street retailers. ‘It is important to communicate the idea: “Buy Once Buy Well”, but also that when you own an object that has been locally made, when you can shake the hand of the guy who made it or designed it (and is usually showing up in the van to drop it off too!), it adds a value to that object far beyond the price tag of something off-the-shelf!’
Also a teacher at Melbourne University (focusing on experimental materials and processes in furniture design), Adam’s students will be featured in a not-to-be-missed group exhibition at the Meat Market on October 19th.