The making of a designer: Peter Moritz retrospective

The ingenious and alluring designs of Peter Moritz showcase the innate value of home-grown designers and locally-made products.

Too few people have Australian-designed and -made furniture in their houses. It is not because we don’t have great designers and makers. South Australia has been home to some of the best in the nation, people like Peter Moritz who has spent nearly 40 years designing and making beautiful pieces that last a lifetime.

Childhood experiences profoundly shape your life. Moritz learnt about the beauty and durability of timber early. His stepfather ran a boat building business, an age old trade that demands design, engineering and fabrication skills. It also requires you to have a deep understanding of the sea and all the joy and horror that the elements can visit upon captains and their crew. It is hard not to be captivated by the best wooden boats. And so it was for Peter Moritz who remains fascinated by boats to this day, making his own ingenious craft to row and explore local waters in. His latest creation sits proudly on the River Murray, a sturdy, joyful little houseboat.

With the wonder of boat building firing his imagination, Moritz’s furniture making future was not yet certain. He went on to study and practice civil engineering but remained fascinated by timber and its endless possible applications, drawn to making various pieces from time to time. Inevitably it became his career, a career that drew on all his experience and his growing fascination with contemporary furniture design.

Peter Moritz, Able Table (detail.)

Peter Moritz’s work is both beautiful and functional. Hilariously, he has occasionally engineered it to be transported in the back of his Peugeot and Renault wagons. Moritz is a master of problem solving, responding creatively to the ever present constraints that small manufacturing businesses face. Much of our furniture is mass produced these days, either in Australia or off-shore using standard designs. It is now possible to mass customize furniture in digital fabrication factories, producing potentially limitless diversity of product for a similar price. Great pieces of furniture can be manufactured in this way so long as there is attention to excellence across the value chain — design integrity, choice of materials and quality of production. All of this is on display in the works of Peter Moritz.

Peter Moritz, Mitchell dining chair

His latest exhibition is a retrospective, a selection of works over the course of his career. Moritz has exhibited his work in Copenhagen, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. One of his chairs, the Marlene, designed in the early 1990s was shortlisted for the annual chair design award in Denmark. It is one of his most alluring chairs, curvaceous and wonderfully comfortable — a fire side chair that deserves to be in thousands of homes.

While Scandinavian minimalism, use of blond timbers and comfort are a source of inspiration for some of Peter Moritz’s work, he is no slavish adherent. His chairs can have a romantic quality about them, indulging the sitter while feeding the imagination of the viewer. He could have been a bridge builder but instead he designed free standing shelving that demands the knowledge of a civil engineer and the skills of a boat builder. Two kinds of shelving are on show at the exhibition, great for books and display. These are sturdy and stable and look great with colour shelving and natural timber uprights.

Peter Moritz, Monica shelves

Great artistry can be seen in the skeletons of boats and buildings, a quality that is on display in much of Moritz’s work. Perhaps the most outstanding example of this is his Catalina bed, a celebration of boat and aircraft building, a bed that might float or fly. Sadly, this is not on display but the Delta coffee table inspired by that great work is.

One of Moritz’s most popular pieces is the Moritz stool, a design that has evolved since the 1970s to be among one of the most comfortable and interesting of its kind. His Pax stool is also on display, a multi-function piece that you can use as a side-table, footstool or stool. It is covered in fabric that you can easily replace to suit different environments.

We are fortunate to have great furniture designers and makers in Adelaide. I wish there were more of them and the local appetite to buy their work was much greater than it is. There is a saying that is becoming more prominent in debates about the future of manufacturing globally. It goes along these lines — “what you know is what you make”. All the advanced industrialised economies recognize how important making things are to our future prosperity. At the heart of this is world class design. We should all thank Peter Moritz and his contemporaries for the contribution they have made to keeping this alive in Australia. To help keep it alive, buy some, commission some.

Peter Moritz
West Gallery Thebarton
32 West Thebarton Road
Until Sunday, May 20
westgallerythebarton.com.au

Header image: Peter Moritz, Marlene easychairs

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