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The Melbourne Furniture Designer With A 'Softer' Approach

Studio Visit

In political terms, ‘soft power’ refers to the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than persuade by coercion. Perhaps that explains why we’re feeling strangely attracted to the delightful designs of Melbourne maker Dustin Fritsche, of Softer Studio!

Curiosity got the better of us, so we recently paid Dustin a visit to find out more about his unique approach to furniture design.

6th November, 2018

Inside the Alphington workshop of Softer Studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Softer Studio’s Thicker Chair, a new coffee/dining table in development and Shorter Stool. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Dustin Fritsche working on his Taller Stool. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Dustin founded his furniture label in late 2017. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The playful Thicker Chair was inspired by odd offcuts. Photo – Sam Wong. Styling – Nat Turnbull.

The Shorter Stool is a response and  alternative to a boom in replica furniture. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Bigger Coffee Table among other Softer Studio designs. Photo – Sam Wong. Styling – Nat Turnbull.

Preparing components to assemble Taller Stool. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Tables from Softer Studio. Photo – Sam Wong. Styling – Nat Turnbull.

The brand name was born from Dustin’s first prototype design: a small coffee table he had made for his own home. ‘People commented on and complimented it, encouraging me to do something with this piece, and my own designs,’ tells Dustin, who did just that! ‘ with it’s rounded edges, it felt softer than other pieces out there.’ Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Taller Stool details. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Lucy Feagins
Tuesday 6th November 2018

‘I’m just running my own race, trying to figure out what I like, what other people might like, and keeping to that.’ – Dustin Fritsche, Softer Studio.

Growing up on the NSW Central Coast, Dustin Fritsche’s flair for craftsmanship emerged as a teenager, as he fashioned surfboards with mates in a garage. ‘That made me realise that I really liked to be making things. I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to pursue after school, so I found an apprenticeship in Lennox Head,’ explains the cabinetmaker, who was fortunate to team up with a boss who passed on a wealth of expertise in timber work.

Driven to take his passion further after a few years on that job, Dustin enrolled in furniture design at Melbourne’s RMIT. In the 12 months since launching his own business, Softer Studio, he’s built a fledgling label with a few prototypes into a recognisable aesthetic, which we’ve seen pop up in some of Melbourne’s coolest homes.

That said, this is still very much a labour of love and one-man show. When we visited the furniture maker’s shared workshop in Alphington, the design that started it all was front and centre. Shorter Stool had been on Dustin’s mind since his third-year apprentice days. ‘It felt like there was a cafe boom at that time, and there were a lot of replica Tolix stools around. I though it would be great to have a locally made, stackable piece at an attractive price point to give people another option than those fakes,’ recalls Dustin. And so, Shorter (and its Taller sidekick) in low-waste CNC-cut birch ply came to the rescue.

Another thrifty seating option of note is Softer Studio’s Thicker Chair, in American Ash or customisable as desired. The original prototype was made from odd-shaped offcuts that were lying around. ‘I didn’t have a chair in my range when I was about to launch, so I tried to design one with what I had, but also consistent in theme – it’s fun and has a bit of personality!’ says Dustin.

Most of his best ideas come to him on the cusp of sleep, if they can be remembered in the morning! One unforgettable concept is the still-in-development coffee/dining table that made its debut at Fringe Furniture, attracting lots of attention. A versatile piece, it can be set at two different heights, and holds particular appeal for smaller apartment-dwellers who don’t have space for a separate dining room, just like Dustin, myself, perhaps you too?

‘I’m just running my own race, trying to figure out what I like, what other people might like, and keeping to that,’ tells Dustin. He does, however, hint at the release of new, more mature designs in early 2019, as well as his ambitions to make furniture pieces with global appeal. While Softer Studio may have emerged every-so gently, we’re confident, it’s on the cusp of making some serious waves!

See the full range at Softerstudio.com or snoop his custom orders and stay up-to-date with new releases by following @softer.

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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. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net