These Are the Next Big Designer Names in Australian Furniture

Australian furniture design

At $20,000, the Australian Furniture Design Award has one of the highest cash prizes among competitions like it in Australia. So, you can expect its entrants to be some of the top talent in the country. And this year’s did not disappoint.

The 2024 finalists include a designer who creates art forms that resonate with his emotions, another who allows metals and their properties to direct the form of their work and a pair of long-time collaborators who create furniture that reveals the complexities of First Nations and Settler Colonial relationships.

Run by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and Stylecraft, the competition seeks to recognise outstanding new design ideas, critical and creative thinking, sustainability, material development and research that explores innovative production processes.

“The Award celebrates the incredible creativity and innovation empowering this design discipline, as well as its contribution to design discourse and Australian culture,” says Tony Ellwood Am, Director of NGV.

Ahead is an overview of the shortlisted designers. These are the next big Australian furniture designers to have on your radar.

Bala Ga’ Lili

This isn’t a solo designer – it’s the name of the creative practice of artists Bonhula Yunupingu and Damien Wright. The pair are long-time collaborators. Damien is a balanda (white man), a settler. Bonhula is Yolnju, from the Gumatj clan of Northeast Arnhem Land.

Bala Ga’ Lili creates limited-edition furniture pieces that examine and reveal the complexities of First Nations and Settler Colonial relationships. Their work has been collected by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and was awarded Winner of the Victorian Craft Award 2022.

Marta Figueiredo

Born in Portugal but currently based in Naarm/Melbourne, Marta Figueiredo is an architect and multidisciplinary designer. Her practice combines traditional processes with innovative technology to produce immersive, playful, and sensory-rich projects.

Figueiredo’s work extends beyond aesthetics, challenging preconceptions about design, standardisation, and sustainability. She emphasises emotional connections through narrative and sensory interactions, often incorporating elements like sound and scent to redefine design expression.

In 2021, she secured funding to participate in the City of Melbourne’s Test Sites program for public art, and most recently, she unveiled a captivating public art installation, “The Diva Garden”, in Melbourne’s CBD.

Nae Tanakorn

Nae Tanakorn is a designer who creates art forms that resonate with his emotions. He harnesses his feelings into his creativity and craft, allowing him to feel a deep connection to his pieces. When his creations are conceptualised, there is no defined pattern or certain measurement, only a feeling.

He creates harmonious connections within his works that evoke a sense of wonder and are also environmentally considered, with a focus on ergonomics and sustainability.

Michael Gittings

Michael Gittings was born and raised in Albury, Victoria, and established his design studio in Fawkner, in Melbourne’s north, in 2016. His practice is intuitive, allowing metals and their properties to direct the form of the work. He’s interested in the myriad of treatments and technologies employed throughout history to form and finish metal products.

Gittings allows these techniques to hold influence over the final form of the work. While some involve meticulous planning and construction, others require no previous plans or sketches, and the metal can be worked by hand, like clay at a potter’s wheel. Gittings’ work is a continually evolving dialogue between artist and material.

supermanoeuvre + Tomkins Design 

This is an interdisciplinary collaboration by two internationally recognised and multi-award-winning design and innovation studios: super manoeuvre (architecture and technology) and Tomkins Design (industrial design). 

Sam Tomkins is an industrial designer and educator. His practice centres on the possibilities of technology as tools to address the contemporary challenges of waste and over-consumption while exploring new object typologies.

Iain Maxwell is co-director of the international award-winning architecture studio supermanoeuvre and an Associate Professor at the University of Canberra. He is a registered architect, design researcher and educator. His practice operates at the creative overlap of digital design culture, material practice and fabrication innovation.

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