Tom Fereday didn’t always plan to be an industrial designer. Born in Sydney, the 33-year-old rising design star grew up in England and was once enrolled at the Wimbledon School of Art in London, studying sculpture and fine art. Lack of clear direction drove him to exchange the moody English weather and rasp for some Australian sunshine and an honors in Industrial Design from the University of Technology Sydney. “I tried my hand at design and it just felt challenging and exciting to try and solve real-world problems,” he says.
Since then, Fereday has gone on to set up a successful studio and atelier in Sydney designing clever furniture and lighting pieces—even microphones, watches and speakers—celebrating the raw beauty of natural materials and old-school manufacturing techniques. Some of his breakthrough designs include the Hull Lounge chair inspired by traditional ship-building techniques and constructed from a single sheet of eco-plywood, and the Mito lighting series that includes both a modular wall and floor light, hand-finished in natural timber and stones.
Fereday has collaborated with several brands, notably Louis Vuitton for its Sydney Bondi Junction store, and showcased his work at prestigious design fairs across Europe and America. Most recently, Fereday landed another top award, Lane Crawford’s 2018 Creative Callout. Here, Fereday shares his thoughts on his big year ahead, design influences, and pet peeves.
Interior Design: What’s your first memory of design?
Tom Fereday: I grew up surrounded by some really nice objects. Both my grandparents were artists, my father is an antiques dealer specializing in rugs and textiles and my mum is a ceramicist. To be surrounded by antique furniture while growing up gave me a strong understanding of good design. I used to also do ceramics and the basic understanding of processes and materials came to me at an early age.
ID: What inspired your furniture collaboration with Louis Vuitton for its Sydney Bondi Junction store?
TF: The collection commissioned by Louis Vuitton includes tables, chairs, side tables, an armchair, and a daybed. It was developed with longevity in mind, and while the pieces were designed to be elegant, they are also meant to last a lifetime. Each piece is made from either solid ash, walnut or Australian blackwood, and adopts a minimal aesthetic through the use of sculpted timber forms.
ID: What’s currently keeping you excited?
TF: The award from Lane Crawford has resulted in a very exciting 18-month collaboration and represents one of the first major collections I have done outside of Australia. I am currently working on a full collection exclusively for their furniture stores, which will then be launched internationally through Stellar Works, a furniture brand based in Shanghai. This will all be officially launching at Milan Furniture Fair in April. I have used sustainable timber, specifically walnut and ash, to design a predominantly 10-piece timber-based collection covering everything from sofas to dining tables to dining chairs. I am also currently working on two new collections for Milan Design Week including an outdoor collection and a one-off collaboration with object designer-maker, Studiokyss. I am spending the year really just trying to make pieces I am proud of and can celebrate.
ID: What are your favorite materials and colors to work with?
TF: Natural materials such as solid timber and stone have so much beauty and character in them. That means they also require very little to be done to make an elegant object. I tend to prefer natural colors or quietly subtle, elegant colors that you feel comfortable to look at for a long time. Mainly, colors that are not driven by seasonal taste or trends.
ID: Do materials dictate the design process, or do you have a vision of what you want to create and choose materials accordingly?
TF: The materials are the product and so should be celebrated not hidden. Nice materials are selected not only for a feeling of elegance and wellness within the home but also longevity in design. It’s a simple choice for me. We develop products based on the principle of honest design, conveying a design process which celebrates the materials and manufacturing processes behind furniture and products, to design from the inside out.
ID: How do you translate your design objectives to more product-focused pieces, such as your work for Rode Microphone and Mister Wolf Watch?
TF: For me, the process is the same. If there is a problem or a project, it must be solved in the most elegant way possible that results in a product that is both desirable and positive.
ID: Does social media play an important role in sharing your brand’s story?
TF: Australia is the size of a continent and we are also quite isolated from other design hubs like Europe and even Asia to some extent. Social media, especially Instagram for me, is a way to communicate and bridge that gap. It allows me to connect with clients overseas and share our processes with people who might want to purchase from us. I strive to add content that explains the work I do and detail the development and result of each piece I work on and hopefully tell a story about my process and approach without the use of words.
ID: What is your biggest design pet peeve?
TF: Contemporary replica furniture is a big problem in Australia. The laws are very lax with regards to replicating furniture and companies are not accountable by law when they rip off designs and create cheaper versions. It’s a problem that impacts young emerging designers in Australia. I have spotted my work in markets everywhere from Colombia to China. Products can sometimes take up to three years to develop and when you can’t cover the return on investments because someone has ripped off your design and is selling a cheaper version. It’s a real shame.
ID: What is the one object in your own life that you can't live without?
TF: My bicycle. It’s still the most efficient form of transport in the world.
ID: What is the most recent thing you experienced that has deeply inspired you?
TF: I work very closely with manufacturers and visiting factories is always a big source of inspiration to me. For instance, I have been working with this particular upholsterer for over 12 years now and their work has driven me to make better products. It’s a constant collaboration and I get inspiration learning from people who have devoted a whole lifetime in becoming a master of one process, whether it is upholstery or woodwork. These people are critical to making beautiful products and that collaboration is important and inspiring.