Current Issue #488

Australian Design Stories

Australian Design Stories

In celebration of contemporary Australian design we take a closer look at the work of Kate Stokes, Susanna Bilardo and Ross Didier.

In celebration of contemporary Australian design we take a closer look at the work of Kate Stokes, Susanna Bilardo and Ross Didier. Many contemporary Australian designers are becoming recognised at an international level with an increasingly strong presence at both the Milan Furniture Fair and London Design Festival. It’s cause to celebrate and time to appreciate what this country’s thriving design industry has to offer. Local entrepreneurship and innovation is nothing new, but with the international spotlight shining brightly on Australia any developments are highlighted. Not only are new products attracting attention but kudos is being given to the inventive approach taken by Australian designers to manufacturing, production and marketing. We are quite possibly as close as we’ve ever been to articulating an ‘authentic’ Australian design identity; thanks in no small part to the designers whose contribution is essential in the establishment of a distinct character. In the meantime their personal stories and successes are well worth celebrating. As champions of Australian design, Aptos Cruz Galleries co-directors Steve and Pat Ronayne realise the importance of supporting our home-grown talent. Their Stirling showroom not only features the best international design brands, such as Magis and Fritz Hansen, it also showcases work by some of Australia’s finest contemporary designers. Kate Stokes, Susanna Bilardo and Ross Didier are just some of the names synonymous with inspired Australian design.

Ross Didier

Elenberg Fraser’s Vue De Monde fit out was one of the most widely awarded new hospitality interiors of 2012. It is an exceptional project, but what makes it extraordinary is the restaurant’s bespoke VDM chairs. Designed by Ross Didier they are ‘head-turners’ that always get people talking. The well-respected Melbourne-based designer used kangaroo leather and pelts that would otherwise have been wasted to upholster the bucket-shaped dining chairs. Unsurprisingly they have become iconic in expressing a specific Australian design identity; not that Didier deliberately set about doing so. “I just try to par back the design as best as possible while retaining a unique character; that’s what I enjoy doing and it’s what I ultimately aim for,” he says. Didier is currently reconfiguring his Felix chair for the Royal Adelaide Hospital development. Adapting an existing design to suit the very specific functions needed for a hospital environment will involve reimagining a range of comprehensively different seating for patients and visitors. It’s a challenge, but one Didier enthusiastically welcomes. Having recently returned from London where he was an exhibitor in 100% Design the fine art-trained Didier is still marvelling at Australia’s presence at the event. “It gave me a real sense of pride,” he says. “To think that the epicentre of the world has moved from Europe to south east Asia; I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting time within Australia in the next ten years.” Didier’s elegantly sculptural designs will undoubtedly continue to play a role in this country’s burgeoning design industry.

Susanna Bilardo

As the co-director of Enoki design studio Susanna Bilardo is responsible for some of Adelaide’s most stunning residential interiors. Her relaxed, contemporary aesthetic lends itself to the home environment and is what makes her a popular choice amongst clients. It’s also what makes her furniture designs so instantly appealing. “I like to design fun, unpredictable pieces that don’t take themselves too seriously, but are still very functional,” says Bilardo. Her recent Bean stool is based on the concept of origami and features a single sheet of metal folded and then powder-coated in a choice of bright colours. The ‘folding’ process itself is simple and involves no fixings or welds resulting in a durable product that is clean and compact. Bean stool is the perfect accompaniment to Bilardo’s Ben + Flo table, which also utilises an origami-inspired form. The same colour palette is used to great effect in the graphic designs of her Broth cushions, and the designer often incorporates these furniture pieces and soft furnishings into her interiors. Unley-based Bilardo is proud that all her work is designed and manufactured in South Australia. “I try to work with manufacturers that are based as close to Unley as possible so that we reduce the carbon footprint,” she says. “Most of our products are flat packed as well, which is a lot more cost effective and environmentally friendly.” No doubt Bilardo’s fresh design approach and commitment to sustainability will see her client base continue to expand.

Kate Stokes

When Kate Stokes’ Coco pendant was released in 2010 it caused quite the frenzy; it also signalled the arrival of an exceptional new talent. The light pendant characterises the Melbourne-based designer’s elegant, refined aesthetic and meticulously thoughtful design approach. Foregoing prodigious output works in her favour because each of the three products she has released since then are simply right in every way. Her recent Bucket coffee table possesses the same refined aesthetic as well as being an exceptional exploration of materiality. “I was really interested in exploring the contrast between brass and concrete and so this product is much more material driven,” says Stokes. The resulting form is an arresting design expression that references Australian Modernist architecture from the 1950s. Stokes released Puku ottoman at the same time as Bucket coffee table and the response to this incredibly appealing product has been just as favourable. Puku – Maori for ‘chubby belly’ – is her first foray into working with upholstery and its form is strongly influenced by the designer’s love of Japan. “It’s safe to say Puku came out of my travels through that country,” she says. “It’s a big thing in Japan to incorporate real personality into an object.” Stokes regularly draws inspiration from overseas travel and her recent trip to Iceland promises to give rise to a new body of work. “I’d love to do a range inspired by Iceland, although I’m not sure what form it will take yet,” she says. “The country is absolutely incredible and like nothing I’ve ever seen before; the colours and landscape are phenomenal.” It may take a while for these new products to come to fruition but rest assured they will be well worth the wait.

Australian Design History

Wednesday, November, 20, 6:30pm Aptos Cruz Galleries: 147 Mt Barker Road, Stirling Aptos Cruz Galleries and The Adelaide Review are pleased to present Australian Design Story. An intimate evening with Ross Didier, Kate Stokes and Susanna Bilardo who share with us their design journey in establishing successful design practices. Numbers are limited. Please RSVP to or 08 8370 9011 by Monday, November 18.


Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox