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Interview: Gary Pennington of Tane Design

Gary Pennington of Tane Design

Gary Pennington proving the strength of his Groove cardboard design range!

It gives me such a buzz to encounter people who are so fervently enthusiastic about and dedicated to what they do.  To go out on your own in an often competitive, tough design world you need those qualities in bucket loads, as well as, of course, a decent dose of talent. Gary Pennington of Tane Design is one of those designers. He went out on his own only a year ago and has managed to genuinely merge his strong personal ethos of caring for the environment with his various furniture designs and the way he runs his business.

Just read his engaging, heart-breaking and entertaining account of his Milan Furniture Fair experience on his blog to see what I mean about dedication! What’s more, he’s come up with a definite who’d-have-thought design concept that involves just cardboard and bamboo. Go on, make yourself a cuppa and read on …

Tell me about yourself – your background, what you’ve studied and how you’ve ended up where you are today? Born in the UK, I studied Industrial Design at Sheffield Hallam University in Yorkshire. I graduated in 1999 as a wide-eyed industrial designer. I have worked in many varied roles, soaking up experience from each, including in-house furniture design developer, industrial designer at the Adelaide Zoo, several design agencies, lecturer of design at universities and Tafe institutions, web designer and exhibition designer… the list goes on! Tane Design officially started in June 2012, when I quit a full-time ‘glamorous’ industrial design job at a ‘hip and trendy’ studio in Melbourne city to follow my dream of starting my own workshop/studio.

I like the story on your website about how the name Tane spoke to you during a trip to NZ. It must have made a strong impression for you to register a domain name for something that didn’t yet exist! Tell me more. On a trip around New Zealand in 2003, I came across Tane Mahuta (God of the Forest) a giant kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest of Northland Region and was instantly struck by the size and significance of the tree within the forest. Personally it was a great experience being so close to this ancient giant. It was very humbling and made me realize how insignificant and relatively short our time as human beings is on this earth. The name ‘Tane’ just felt a good fit for a business with strong ethical values. We are not claiming to be ‘Gods of the forest’ but are trying to do our bit!

The Charlie Chair from the Re-Loved Designs of Tane Design

Gary also restores mid-century furniture in his Re-Loved range using Ink & Spindle fabric. This is the Charlie Chair

You have various arms to your business – tell me about them and tell me about the ‘Groove’ range. Where did the idea come from to create it and how did you go about making it happen? The ‘Groove’ range of seating and lighting is produced from cardboard sections and bamboo frames. The products are inspired by exploring the alternative use of everyday materials. The nesting design ensures there is minimal material waste in the production process. The cardboard sections can be easily removed, recycled and replaced. The idea came when working at the Adelaide zoo. I designed a range of stools from cardboard for an exhibition showcasing sustainability. This idea fermented in my head for a number of years and when the time was right ‘popped’ out as a chair with a small hole in the centre (in order to reduce the weight). Through working with cardboard my understanding and confidence in the material grew, as did the hole in the chair, eventually allowing me to create another product from the waste material. The project was chosen as part of a collection I designed to take to the Milan Furniture Fair in April 2012, it embodies the qualities that I want my business to be associated with. Also being a self-funded project, I could get this product from design through development and to market within a very tight budget as most of the development work I could do with a knife!

Do you plan to expand on this range? I’m currently in the early stages of developing a table to compliment the kids stool and once this has been realised I will move onto the adult versions. You will have to watch this space later in the year.

Re-Loved Chairs: Mel, Bernie, Fitz and Roy by Tane Design

Re-Loved Chairs: Mel, Bernie, Fitz and Roy

Explain the importance of sustainability in your work and practice and how this influences what you do. Everything we do within the company and indeed our personal lives needs be questioned. Is this item necessary? What impact will it have when I come to dispose of it? How can I make it better, with more responsibly selected materials that have less impact on our natural resources? These sorts of questions are not immediately easy to answer when you think of them on a global scale, but when you start to break them down and think about “what can I do?”, they become more manageable. This is where the furniture design studio fits into the market. We are a small company with the ambition to make a big change. This change starts with the smallest things, which might seem insignificant but as we all know ‘God is in the detail’.

The Groove Lamp by Tane Design

The Groove Lamp

The account on your blog of your Milan Furniture Fair experience sounds incredible and what a challenge! What other challenges, if any, have you faced along the way and in setting up your own business (or was this the biggest!)? Initially working in isolation was my main challenge, after 14 (working) years of being around people on a daily basis it came as quite a change to be working alone in the back room of a small apartment. I am hoping this will change very soon as I have just moved into commercial premises in the ‘Young husbands’ wool shed building in Kensington, Victoria. The 1870’s building is full of other creative businesses including my friends Ink & Spindle who produce the most amazing hand-printed designs on sustainable fabrics. I was lucky enough to receive a grant from the city of Melbourne to develop my business which included funds to go towards fitting out a space. I plan to open the doors to the studio/workshop and showroom in September and will be looking for potential like-minded designers to sub-lease space.

What inspires you? I love reading biographies and auto-biographies, getting a glimpse into people lives, their thoughts and what makes them tick. I’m inspired by people who take a stand, in any walk of life. Especially people who have no need to make the choices they do, they don’t need to take the harder road but they do. People who have complete focus and determination to their purpose in life.

Gary Pennington on the Groove Chair by Tane Design

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment? I’ve probably had many but not had enough caffeine for my brain to kick into gear yet! My most recent ‘who’d have thought’ moment would involve the ‘Groove’ cardboard chair, as at the start of the project I would never have thought I could remove so much material from the chair and still have a structurally sound product. As you can see from my testing of the product it stands up pretty well – who’d have thought?!

Wow, what an inspiration ! Thanks so much , Gary, for your time and we look forward to watching your designs grow and evolve in the future. 

1 Comment

  1. I too am extremely inspired! I’ve been looking into interior design despite my major in business- and have been trying to incorporate my minor in sustainability… this guy just puts it all together! Thank you for the wonderful interview.

    I’ve read quite a bit on cardboard furniture and have been making a lot of props out of cardboard… it’s such a versatile medium, I’m so glad to see it reused!

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