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The Architect-Turned-Furniture-Maker Championing Local Craftsmanship

Studio Visit

You don’t hear that many stories of running away to Tassie (even now with migration having peaked). But that’s the turning point in Adam Markowitz’s tale.

After graduating from an architecture degree in Melbourne and cutting his teeth at a local firm, Adam hatched a plan to jump on the Spirit of Tasmania with a one-way ticket – ‘MONA had just opened and there was a real buzz!’ he tells.

From Hobart to Maine, Master’s studies to master craftsmanship courses, and back to Melbourne again, here Adam shares his amazing journey and equally awe-inspiring furniture designs.

9th October, 2018

Adam Markowitz of Markowitz Design. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Adam’s Flea Chairs in his North Melbourne workshop. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The workshop is located in North Melbourne’s Meat Market art complex. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Adam’s Flea Chair explores the idea of the ‘Human Modernism’. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

The furniture maker also does custom commissions., like this Pull Custom Credenza. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

Detail of Pull Custom Credenza. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

The Moshi Moshi Stool. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

Adam has his own architecture practice in addition to making fine furniture. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘When I became an architect, I became a little frustrated with the separation of the designing and the making, as well as a little impatient with the length of time to realise an architectural project – long hours behind a computer screen whilst the project is pulled this way and that by council, project managers, building surveyors…’ tells Adam. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Adam’s custom-built beds in the Cabbage Tree House by Peter Stutchbury Architecture. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

The Assegai Pendant light, Fred Table, and Flea Chair. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

The Mobius Chair prototype. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

‘As a craftsman, I enjoy a real sense of physicality in creation – the only thing between your idea and the finished object is your own two hands,’ he says. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Adam’s Fred Table won the 2014 Vivid Design Award. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

Adam’s custom design: The Hanging Studio Table for University of Melbourne’s School of Design. Photo – courtesy of Markowitz Design.

‘I really enjoy working between traditional handcraft and digital practice. Some of the old guard of fine craftspeople are very wary of the advent of CNC, but I think it has a lot to offer a traditional craft,’ he says.’ At the same time, working with a hand tool brings you into instant and immediate proximity to the wood. It keeps you on your toes as a woodworker and creates a reverence for the material as a living, dynamic medium – It can break your heart sometimes!’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Next Adam is working on a collaboration involving ceramics. ‘Ceramics like woodworking is a craft that takes a lifetime to master,’ he explains. ‘There’s a beauty in the skill required to make each, and I think the blending of the two which expresses the work of each craft is interesting.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Elle Murrell
Tuesday 9th October 2018

‘When you own an object that has been locally made, when you can shake the hand of the guy who made it… it adds a value to that object far beyond the price tag.’ – Adam Markowitz.

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 & CoMcFarlane 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 Awards2018 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!’

Adam Markowitz has a collaboration with Cone11 Ceramics/Porcelume in the works – follow its innovation on Instagram, and his evolving full range at Markowitzdesign.com.

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.

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The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

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