There hasn’t been a more exciting and positive time in the Australian design industry than right now according to Aptos Cruz owner Steve Ronayne.
Ronayne, who has run Aptos Cruz Galleries in Stirling for more than 30 years, believes that many local designers are gaining recognition overseas, which in turn is sparking an interest in their work locally.
“When we first started out it was just a handful of architects and a discerning public who had an appreciation of design but in the last five years there has been a greater awareness,” Ronayne says. “People know manufacturers, designers and they know product and, for the first time in South Australia, there is a preparedness to pay for it.”
Interior of Aptos Cruz Galleries showroom
Ronayne and his wife Pat established Aptos Cruz Galleries with the idea of bringing something to Adelaide that wasn’t here. At the time, especially in the Adelaide Hills, other venues were focusing on local talent and Ronayne wanted to extend the discussion and bring in an international element. So he launched the showroom at Druid Avenue in Stirling before moving to their current location on the main drag, Mt Barker Road.
Set in a stunning 1860s sandstone church with an architectural award-winning contemporary extension, Aptos Cruz represents more than 30 brands of European manufacturers, some of them major manufacturers, and contemporary designers in the world today. They also host a number of Australian designers and have been supporters of the Australian design industry from the early days showing the likes of Paul Morris from Join and Caroline Casey.
Aptos Cruz Galleries in Stirling
While the international element is important to Ronayne, so is supporting Australian designers. Now more than ever Aptos Cruz is showing Australian talent, not because they are Australian but because the work is on par with Scandinavian and Italian designers.
“Design is the backbone of everything that we do,” he says. “Whether it’s a carved wooden spoon from Africa, oriental antiques, tribal arts, contemporary furniture, lighting or homewares, we enjoy the mixing of these cultures and the common thread that runs through the pieces. It’s the contrast as well as the complementary elements that make it interesting and the juxtaposition of those elements engage people in a way that they haven’t been engaged before.”
Throughout his long career, Ronayne has seen the design industry in Australia evolve and he puts it down to the emergence of the workshop. In the late 1980s and early 1990s art and design schools were progressively incorporated into the university sector but there wasn’t a clear path for graduates.
“Australians don’t invest in the research and the development of design and as a result there is very little original design done in manufacturing. So the workshop studio evolved and designers started going out on their own. Over the years this has become stronger and Australian designers are making a name for themselves internationally.”
Take Adam Goodrum for example, the Sydney-based designer is an immediate success story, designing products for Veuve Cliquot, Capallini and Normann Copenhagen. He won the $30,000 Rigg Design Prize at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2015 and has just shown his new Bilgola collection at the Milan Design Week and the ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) in New York.
Adam Goodrum’s Bower lounge chair, meeting lounge and nest table
“I think he’s the new Marc Newsom. He is internationally recognised and while it’s still early days there has been a very positive response to his work,” says Ronayne.
Another designer making their mark is Kate Stokes who runs Melbourne-based furniture and lighting design studio Coco Flip with Haslett Grounds. They work with local craftspeople and manufacturers to create beautifully detailed products sold throughout Australia.
Another Melbourne-based designer of note is Ross Didier, a second-generation furniture designer and manufacturer who is well known for producing original Australian design at a good price point. He has been successful in completing many commercial fit-outs.
Sydney-based designer Liam Mugavin, formerly at the JamFactory, is also carving out a successful career for himself, creating work that reflects a Japanese aesthetic. In 2015 he was awarded the Clarence Prize for Excellence in Furniture Design, which is a significant achievement for a young designer. Another Sydney-based designer to look out for is, Frag Woodall. His Studio Mr Frag focuses on Interior product (furniture, lighting and homewares) using beautiful materials and a very high level of craftsmanship.
Part of the reason for the evolution in the Australian design industry comes down to Australian’s being such avid travellers, as well as the ease of information that can be accessed. “There is a definite swing in the understanding of design,” Ronayne says. “More people are appreciating the fact that good design makes our life easier, it gives us joy and a sense of well being.”
Ross Didier’s Brydie leather sofa
With more Australian designers finding success overseas and, in Australia, the future of the industry is looking more positive than ever. “There is a growing awareness of international design and at the same time our local industry is evolving and getting better. If you have an industry that’s improving and growing and a populace that is learning and appreciating then those should begin to complement one another quite successfully.”
Ronayne believes that design is just as important as your air conditioning or your carpet and it’s essential for living today. “Everything is important, everything should be considered, from the artwork on your wall to the lighting to the toilet brush. The aesthetic and the function should be considered, otherwise it’s just clutter.”
Aptos Cruz Galleries
147 Mt Barker Road, Stirling
Header image: Ross Didier’s Tiller lounge