Friday, January 29, 2010

Interview - Lucas Allen

All photos by Lucas Allen. (HAVE you ever seen a better door colour than this in your whole entire life?!)

Beautiful still life - Lucas Allen

All photos by Lucas Allen

All photos by Lucas Allen

All photos by Lucas Allen

Photographer Lucas Allen emailed me out of the blue recently, with some welcome feedback and suggestions for the blog... and of course after hearing from this mysterious Melbourne creative who has carved out a name and an enviable life for himself in New York, I couldn't help but go and do some snooping on his website...

OH my gosh. Such amazingness. I just truly fell in love with his work from the moment I set eyes on it. (Although, admittedly, much of my initial enthusiasm was focussed on that incredible fluoro-yellow painted door!- brillant!). I feel very lucky that Lucas did email me out of the blue, because as usual I was instantly inspired, and the opportunist in me quickly took over and signed him up for an interview! And now I can share him with you! And, what's more, he is a boy! Bring on the gender-balance :) Brilliant.

Hope you enjoy hearing Lucas' inspiring story and seeing his beautiful work! Thanks so much for your time and all the beautiful images Lucas!

Lucas Allen. Looking very distingished, probably in Central Park or something :)

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I was interested in photography all through school and studied one year of a degree at RMIT. I then assisted Greg Delves and some other Melbourne photographers for 2 years, then went out on my own. I was only 21 and, in retrospect, I should have assisted for longer, but the best way to learn is on the job I guess!

Was it a long hard slog or one of those fairytale stories where you landed your dream job the day you arrived?

It amazed us, but it was actually pretty smooth sailing for the first couple of years. It would be a different matter in the present economy, but my agent offered to sponsor me for a visa at our first meeting. I suppose I arrived at the right time, when Australian interiors photographers were still in vogue.

I was then lucky enough to get to meet people at some big magazines who liked my work and also picked up a big furniture catalog client in Chicago, which was great bread and butter. Things have gotten quieter lately, but they're still steady.

All photos by Lucas Allen

Where might we have seen your work? What have been some favourite shoots / clients?

I shoot for magazines like House & Garden UK, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, Country Living, Condé Nast Traveller, Vogue Entertaining & Travel and Inside Out.

One of my favourite shoots recently was shooting the Mayan Riviera in Mexico for Condé Nast Traveller. A while ago I also shot a series of Australian stamps with portraits of fashion designers, which I enjoyed a lot. My favourite shoots are often more about the people I meet and work with than the final product.

All photos by Lucas Allen

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

If I’m not shooting, sadly I’ll usually be sitting in front of the computer all day! However, if I am shooting that day, I'll walk down to my local café and get my coffee before 8.

My assistant will arrive at our apartment in Brooklyn at about 8.15, we pack the equipment, then we order a car service because you can't book cabs in New York.

We arrive at the studio, usually somewhere in Manhattan at about 9 and unpack. The rest of my equipment will either be there already, or arrive by messenger.

There will often be breakfast supplied for the crew, or we'll order it in. Then the Art Director and I discuss what needs to be done and I'll suggest things. We start shooting by 9.30.

Lunch for 1/2 hour, then we continue shooting until it's finished, which could be between 5 or 9pm, depending on how much there was or how complex it is.

My work day will often continue into the evening once I return home, where I still have to back up everything to my archive and process out the shots from the shoot. I do most of my post-production myself, as I feel that’s like the modern equivalent of a darkroom - and because I’m a control freak!

All photos by Lucas Allen

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international design trends, magazines, books or the web etc?

I definitely get inspiration mainly from looking - whether that be looking at spaces, exhibitions, magazines, websites, restaurants or books, it is always about keeping your eyes open and asking questions, being curious.

All photos by Lucas Allen

Which other photographers, artists or creative people do you admire?

I often feel like I can’t reel off a lot of names of people I admire, but there are some definite stand-outs in my mind. Photographically, I love the work of William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Walker Evans, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Richard Avedon, Martyn Thompson, Bill Henson, Camilla Akrans and Tim Walker.

I’m also very inspired by artists like Caravaggio, Edouard Vuillard, Jeffrey Smart, Lucien Freud and filmmakers like Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze, Scorcese and Almodovar.

There are always going to be people I’ve forgotten to include here, but I am terrible at remembering what moved me recently. It must be more a subconscious influence.

What would be your dream creative project?

I would love to be told, “we want you to fly around the world finding the most interesting aspects of each city you visit and we’ll publish a magazine of the best images, to be designed by Fabien Baron”. Not too much to ask, surely?

All photos by Lucas Allen

I am looking forward to becoming a dad one day, and am also looking forward to getting married to my fiancé, Ali, hopefully later this year. I’m also really excited about going snowboarding in Colorado in a month, followed by a shoot in Lake Tahoe and possibly a trip to Oaxaca in Mexico to get some warmth in my bones. It’s been a cold winter.

NYC Questions –

Where do you live in New York and what do you love about your local neighbourhood?

We live in Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It is thought of as being hipsterville and it’s true that there are a lot of painfully cool people around here, but it truly is a great part of New York. There is so much to do here and a lot of creative people around, so we find ourselves not needing to leave our little area very much. We also just moved to our dream apartment, which has a good amount of space and has beautiful views over the East River towards downtown Manhattan. We wake up with the city.

The view from Lucas' Brooklyn apartment... swoon! - photo by Lucas Allen

Top 3 things/places you would recommend to anyone visiting the Big Apple?

We always take visitors to the Top of the Rockefeller Center, which is the best view of the city, because it includes The Empire State Building and Central Park. Take a walk on the Highline, the city’s newest outdoor space, starting near the Chelsea galleries and ending up in the Meatpacking district. Also, you have to do the Brooklyn Bridge on a bike and end up in Dumbo.

Incredible view from the Rockefeller Center in manhattan - photo by Lucas Allen

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

In bed. Sleeping-in is my weakness. Then I love to walk to Oslo or Marlow & Sons for a coffee. We also love having brunch at Five Leaves in Greenpoint, or Diner.

New York’s best kept secret?

Doughnut Plant on Grand Street. Think Valrhona chocolate glazed, or the peanut butter and jelly filled with organic strawberry jam. Amazing.

All photos by Lucas Allen

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wolf & Willow

Super-cute handmade kid's clothes by Melbourne-based Wolf & Willow (aka Nancy Alice Wood)

Wolf & Willow
is an obscenely cute hand-made children's wear label, based right here in Melbourne! Local designer, seamstress and illustrator Nancy Alice Wood is the clever crafter behind these super-sweet clothes, toys, quilts and pillows for children. I love her fabric choices and vintage-inspired designs...! Cuteness.

When she's not crafting, Nancy seems to spend many hours blogging - Wolf & Willow has truly excellent (and super girly) blog - instant bookmark material!

Oooh this week is getting very girly isn't it? - sorry boys! What can I do? There is only 9% of you! NO seriously. I will balance things out tomorrow. We have an excellent interview with a photographer who is a boy. Promise. :)

'Petunia Pony' is just crying out for a good home isn't she!? Lavender / tangerine. Brilliant 50's colour combo!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Melbourne Home - Lyn Gardener's Fitzroy Home

Lyn Gardener's beautiful Fitzroy Home!

After seeing her stunning Daylesford guesthouse this morning... I couldn't help but show you these lovely shots of Lyn's own home in Fitzroy!

So light and bright and unapologetically girly! LOVE it! :) Imagine waking up here everyday! I also love that every element in the home is recycled - from tapware to furniture and accessories... just goes to show how easy it is to create a unique and beautiful space without consuming a whole lot of brand new manufactured materials and fittings!

For more info on Lyn, her beautiful shop Empire Vintage, or her Daylesford guesthouse, please visit her website here!

Thanks so much to Lyn for sharing her beautiful homes with us!

Here is the lovely lady herself - Lyn Gardener, pretty as a picture!

Melbourne Home - Lyn Gardener's Daylesford House

Lyn Gardener's beautiful White House in Daylesford - all photos by Tim James

photos by Tim James

photos by Tim James

photos by Tim James

I'm sure most Melbourne readers would know Melbourne's vintage queen Lyn Gardener! Lyn's wonderful shop Empire Vintage in Albert Park has long been a local favourite for everything rare, pretty and vintage - and she also has three AMAZING homes which you might have seen before in print or online (including a feature on Design*Sponge last year!). They're truly incredible spaces, decorated to perfection by Lyn herself, and often used as locations by photographers, film makers and events companies. Each home has a very different personality from the next - There are 2 industrial-style spaces in Fitzroy... and her more recent project - The White House in Daylesford. How beauuuutiful!?? Lyn truly has the magic vintage/industrial touch!

The White House is not actually Lyn's own home - but the good news is, it's a guesthouse you can go and stay at! For more details please check out The White House website!

And stay tuned for shots of Lyn's own super-girly-gorgeous home in Fitzroy this afternoon!

photos by Tim James

photos by Tim James

photos by Tim James

photos by Tim James

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paper-cut maps by Studio K

Melbourne map paper cut by Karen O'Leary (Studio K)

US-based artist Karen O'Leary (aka Etsy seller Studio K) makes these incredible paper cut maps. They've been doing the blog rounds in the last few months... but still I had to share because they are so lovely - and because in amongst her painstakingly intricate London, Paris and NYC maps is one of little old Melbourne!

Karen's first hand-cut New York map is pictured below - AMAZING or what?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where They Create - 3 Deep Design

The workspace of Melbourne graphic designers 3 Deep Design, photographed by Paul Barbera

3 Deep Design, photographed by Paul Barbera

3 Deep Design, photographed by Paul Barbera

3 Deep Design, photographed by Paul Barbera

You might remember last year I blogged Australian photographer Paul Barbera's brilliant Where They Create project, in which he documents creative people's workspaces from all over the world.

Paul has recently been back in Melbourne, and has added some stunning local photos to the site. I love his photos of the industrial workspace of 3 Deep Design in Footscray... truly beautiful, dark and moody shots - and how BRILLIANT is that custom mural on the ceiling in their entryway!? (top image)

Paul's been pretty busy in Melbourne - he's also recently visited TDF favourite Nicholas Jones, and Melbourne's favourite indie design duo Tin & Ed... ooooh so much fabulous workspace snooping to be done... pop on over and see for yourself!!

3 Deep Design building exterior (a re-furbished Cotton Mill in Footscray), photos by Paul Barbera

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interview - Terri Winter

Terri Winter of Top 3 By Design, and her husband, Bernd Winter

All photos from Top 3 by Design's new Crows Nest store in Sydney

Shelves and shelves of stunning functional designer homewares - especially love the Aalto Vases.

Missoni soft furnishings - another favourite. Also loving this sleek stainless outdoor grill by Eva Solo.

Just over 8 years ago, Sydneysider Terri Winter struck gold with a unique retail concept. Top3 by Design is based on a simple, brilliant premise - to source and sell the best designed products and homewares from across the globe - but to offer only the top 3 in each category. What is genius about this philosophy, is that it means every single item instore is, well, excellent. All killer, no filler, as they say :) For Top 3 customers, there's no wading through endless 'samey' options - all you are offered is the best of the best.

Top3 has gone from strength to strength since Terri opened her first store in Bondi in 2001. The business has won numerous accolades both here and overseas - most recently being awarded the 2009 Global Innovator Award In Chicago last year - an incredible feat for a small Australian-based business! Melbournians might not have visited a Top3 by Design store just yet, as they have yet to open up down here (soon soon!) - however, Sydneysiders would most certainly know their 2 popular Sydney stores, and most discerning Australian shoppers would be well aware of Top3's excellent online store.

This is such a great and inspiring interview for anyone running their own design-focussed business. Terri has been so generous with her responses - I feel I've learnt a lot about daily efficiency and work/life balance just from reading about her 'typical day'! But I think what I love most about this interview, is that Terri offers proof that inspiration really is everywhere! Who would have thought that a chance encounter with a trapeze artist and a woman with a walrus (!!) in Germany could have spurred one of Australia's most successful design-based businesses? Just goes to show - no matter where you go, you should always carry a notepad!

A huge thanks to Terri for her time with this interview! x

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to found Top3 by Design?

When my husband and I met we both worked in the advertising and design industry. I was running a boutique design agency (graphic) and he had (and still has) an advertising agency (DDI Adworks Filmworks)

We discussed our common interest in design and the lack of opportunity to purchase many of the amazing products we saw throughout Europe in Australia.

We were in Germany when we saw a cabaret show that was booked months in advance, you did not know anything about the show, or who would perform, other than that there were a variety of "acts" who were the best in their field.
We saw the show. There was a trapeze artist, dancers, a shadow puppet guy from India and a woman with a walrus! We were so impressed with this incredible concept. It blew us away. We got to thinking…. the idea was to only have the best of the best - the editing or research was done and the customer simply could enjoy the results of the research, knowing they would see something wonderful.

It got us to thinking about editing products to a selection of the best. As consumers ourselves we are constantly frustrated by the ridiculous amount of "choice"…. from butter, to wine, to stereos and pepper grinders. We simply wanted to know what was good. We discovered that many of our friends found the amount of choice did not give them a feeling of comfort, but was a source of frustration. Especially with the accompanying lack of information offered alongside the multitude of product.

The discussions became more constant and finally we really wanted this to be a reality.

So along came the idea of a store that would offer an edited selection of quality design. top3 by design became the name that we felt best described the concept and would ultimately be the brand. With the following mantra we got started: top3 by design carries up to 3 products per category, deemed the best in the world by merit of design"

We opened the first store in November 2001.

What were your initial goals when setting up Top 3 back in 2001, and how has your vision for the business evolved in the last few years?

As I mentioned it was about editing options, not limiting choice, but reducing excess that falls outside the set parameters of quality, innovation and style.

When we originally set up we wanted to offer design to people who didn’t go looking for it – customers who appreciated quality products – and ones which worked, but did not frequent “design” areas or perhaps were put off by the often gallery style snotty-ness that some of those stores could have. It was important to us that staff did not snicker to customers who could not pronounce a brand name for instance – we wanted to assist people to understand what design could offer them in day-to-day products, design is not just about big “investment” pieces.

I think mostly that is the same, however, the ability to grow that audience through the internet has given us a stronger platform to provide this to customers who cannot walk in the door. Faster internet connections and more access to the internet for more people have helped to evolve the way we can offer this information to our customers. On the other hand, it also offers them further opportunity to look around, and it makes me happy that they come back to us regularly because they understand we look after them – from product range, to price and most importantly – customer service.

I think customer service as a term is over used these days – overall I still find the LACK of customer service prevalent, so perhaps many businesses simply have a low expectation of their staff or their own customers for that matter! Top3 has a culture made up around the integrity of products and the customer relationships. The entire ethos is about quality not quantity.

Unlike many other Australian design-focussed retailers, you have an incredible web presence – How has this web-focussed approach helped carve out your unique position in the market?

Our web presence has always been an important component of top3. We started the first online store just 6 months after we opened and there were really not many online stores in Australia then, certainly not in design or homewares. The website has grown as technology and internet speeds have increased and is an ongoing project. In fact, today I sat with my web technician going over the details of our new website (going live some time in the coming months!). The great opportunity we have been afforded starting early online is learning the customers expectations and growing with them as their expectations increased.

It would be difficult for a business to “get started” online now as expectations are now very high and there is very little room for learning on the job. If you did not know how to handle the logistics, you would simply lose customers when you could not satisfy them.
Getting the website up is only the tiny tip of the iceberg, following through on that, keeping it up to date, maintaining inventory, keeping it fresh – that is the real challenge.

We are very proud of our online business, but are still working daily on improving it. The internet is an ever-changing environment and you need to change constantly – it is not like a bricks and mortor store you can build and then it is done. The online store is a never ending story.

I am very excited about our next chapter, and the new site offers of heaps of new benefits and opportunities for our customers to shop easily and safely online.

It must be really tricky choosing just 3 key products within each category! How do you choose what to buy for the store? Is it an intuitive process, or very deliberately researched? Are you constantly on the lookout for new design, or do you find yourself inundated with requests from designers and manufacturers these days?

All of the above!! It is often very difficult to select the top3 designs – and I have heaps and heaps of products that are great – but miss that little extra wow factor - or the idea is great, and the follow through may have let it down with a poor quality product in manufacturing. That is always my biggest disappointment, a great idea that falls down in execution, so sad! :(

There are also many products that I Iove personally that do not meet all the criterion for inclusion.

Some product selections are intuitive to start, but then we need to follow up to make sure it is backed by the right stuff. I am ALWAYS looking for new designs, it is my favourite part of the job, and hard to call “work” really. I research design awards (and have been involved in a few judging panels like Bombay Sapphire Design Discover Award last year) which is a great way to keep an eye out for new design, and very rewarding.

I do receive hundreds of emails every month with products for inclusion. Some clearly send out a standard letter or email to everyone that might fall under “gifts” or “homewares” in the phone book and have never been to a top3 store... Then there are some amazing products that come through too, so a large proportion of my time is spent syphoning through what is appropriate and what is not, getting initial email information, then perhaps samples or a meeting to go through a range. It all depends. For International products, we arrange samples to come over first, then go from there.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

The great thing about my job is that each day tends not to be “typical”. The exception is Christmas time – December is early starts, late finishes just keeping up with ordering and customers!

I like to start my day with an hour or so of exercise. Okay this is where I admit that I am Wii-Fit freak! I love it, and am totally addicted. For my birthday my husband got me more Wii-Fit training games and we had to get another console because the kids kept pinching MY Wii remotes… :) On nice days I alternate and do the Wii routine on my deck outside instead of actually at the Wii console in my ‘home gym’.

Then it is into it.

Several days a week I work from home as in the office it is difficult to actually get to the structural parts of the business as day-to-day calls and store goings-on take over my time. I have an amazing team now running the day to day so am planning to spend more time away from the office focusing on the business, buying and online store in the quiet of my home :)

Either at home or in the office, the morning coffee is always first.

I check through emails. I get hundreds per day.

I do try and block my time. Sort emails, return phone calls, sort through new products, send out media requests of images or arrange instore product loans… I have meetings all on one or 2 days of the week etc.
I dedicate at least one day a week entirely to the online store and updating on the products available online.

I have a daily chat with each store manager in the evenings.

So generally each day is dedicated to a particular type of task, interviews, new product research, online updates etc. alongside the regular response to emails each day.

Evenings are most often spent browsing the internet for research or completing emails. I don’t watch TV so looking through design online is like downtime for me.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international design trends and events, magazines or the web etc?

Creative inspiration is everywhere, magazines help affirm what is happening in the media, and although often that is interesting, by the time they are published it is more affirmation of what is going on, as we aim to be ahead!

Searching blog sites globally is a constant past time and the immediacy of information and the personalisation of it is awesome, however, primarily I think travel is the most important one for me.

Searching online gives a great overview of what is happening globally, however travel is the only way to see the tiny small variations in daily routines that offer amazing insights and ideas. The simple way a grocery store in Beijing can vary from one in Chicago or Berlin is the most inspirational. After all, life is in the details. It is often these small differences in signage, wording or product display that sparks ideas for me.

Innermost Pendant Light by Tina Leung ...and I love these cashmere travel pillow/eyemask sets by Banjo & Matilda

Which designers / creative people do you admire?

Zaha Hadid is one of the most inspirational and forward thinking designers of this Century. My husband and I stayed on the Zaha Hadid floor of the Peurta America Hotel in Madrid (given I got food poisoning I got to see a lot of her gorgeously designed suite….!)

I was blessed to meet the late Vivianna Torun who designed some of my favourite Georg Jensen pieces and is truly an iconic designer.

Henrik Holbaek and Claus Jensen (Eva Solo, Denmark.)

Top 3's store manager Juniper model's Zaha Hadid's Melissa shoes at the Crows Nest store. So weird and so wonderful!

What would be your dream creative project?

I would love to establish a design gallery. A time capsule of design through the decades. Not just the big glossy media driven impressive design, but also the smaller daily essential design pieces that change your day.

The paperclip, the post-it note…. right through to more recent clever products like the Royal VKB garlic crusher or apron with the built-in hand mits, lifefactory glass baby bottles with silicone coating, the Echelon wine rack, non drip dressing shakers from Eva Solo alongside reknowned design classics such as the The Australian Fink Jugs, the Bauhaus Chess Set by Josef Hartwig, the Stelton classic Cylinda Line series and the Aalto Vase.

Australian and International design side by side.

Ongoing I want to be more involved in more design judging panels as that is so exciting and invigorating, and a wonderful experience to chat with designers and see their work and what is coming. It inspires me.

OMG do you not just love these new red Dorothy-esque bejewelled Melissa shoes?

What are you looking forward to?

2010! It feels like a great year to me. (it even graphically writes so nicely!) Since winning the Global Innovator Award in Chicago last year, top3 has really been growing, the International exposure was fantastic and the “respect” at home is enormous. I am very proud that we have a concept in Australia that is unique in the world.

We often get asked if we are a franchise, or on idea we bought overseas – No!!! We have worked very hard to make it ours and the recognition was invigorating after so many years of just keeping at it....

So I am excited by 2010 and what the next chapter for top3 will be. My whole team is excited as we have many little “pet projects” we want to get off the ground this year as part of the overall top3 concept.

The new website is by far the biggest project that I am looking forward to seeing live, it has taken a lot longer than I anticipated, but will be worth the wait!

I am also looking forward to contributing this year… I am looking at several projects to help to better contribute to our society (other than handing over money to sponsor kids which I already do, but active contribution!)

I want to fine tune things this year, get things humming, but then am super super keen to get a Melbourne store going, so probably 2011.

I am also excited about getting a dog, playing with my gorgeous buys (Jay 9, Zac, 6) tending my vegetable garden and maybe getting some chickens this year :)

Sydney Questions -

Where is your favourite shopping/strolling neighbourhood in Sydney?

I love the relaxed atmosphere of Avalon on the Northern Beaches.

Where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?


Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

If not December (then I would be in one of the stores!) then in my garden with the kids, my gorgeous husband reading the paper and drinking coffee. (soon to be taking my new dog for a walk…) Sydney’s best kept secret?

Delicado tapas bar in McMahons Point.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Amy Borrell

All Illustrations by Amy Borrell

A rhyming poster! (trapeze, cheese, peas, trees.... bees? brilliant!)

Amy Borrell is a fab Melbourne illustrator and designer... she makes very gorgeous illustrations which you can see on her folio here, and she also sells sweet handmade treats online here.

And if you're thinking...'hmmm, this looks familiar..?' that's because Amy is one half of the brilliant little 'We Make Words' project which I have blogged here before. (The other half of We Make Words is the equally fab Luci Everett!)

OH Melbourne. So much talent. It's exhausting. ;)

handmade cuties by Amy Borrell

Poster for RMIT open day