On meeting design duo Susan and Gordon Tait, the husband and wife team behind the eponymous furniture brand, it seems fitting to share a cuppa with while perched on their acclaimed Jak chair and accompanying Jil table in their backyard on a stunning ANZAC day.
Despite the calm surroundings, this is a couple who have weathered many a storm throughout their 21 years in the Australian furniture industry. Having founded the company with no financial backing except their own, they’ve withstood recessions, the GFC and continue to manufacture their products in Australia when many of their contemporaries have gone offshore. In fact, the duo’s durability in the business – and as a couple who work and live together with two young daughters – is a tangible articulation of what makes their furniture so sought after. “We’re known for our quality, for the quality of our products, we’re reliable, we’re local and we offer unique design while offering something different,” says Gordon.
While still remaining relatively small, the company is prolific to say the least. From seating at Luna Park, universities, bars and cafes to furnishing residential homes, chances are that if you live in Sydney or Melbourne, you would’ve sat on a Tait product. The couple continue to remain as hands-on as possible, with Susan still responsible for the stores’ visual merchandising (it was just two years ago that Gordon stepped back from making all of the prototypes himself).
Gordon, originally from Scotland, immigrated to Sydney as a young boy with his family. His foray into the industry began as a sheet metal patternmaker and he also spent some time making boats as well as producing pharmaceutical equipment. It was working in these controlled environments that afforded Gordon the skills to begin making his robust outdoor furniture and it’s a quality that has been handed down to the close-knit production team at Tait’s Thornbury factory.
Susan’s working life resembles Gordon’s in its varied and hands-on nature, yet most of her story remains tied to Melbourne. After completing a stint working and living overseas, a phone call from her sister who was spearheading the natural beauty brand Red Earth with her husband, prompted her to catch the first plane back to Melbourne, where she took on the title of creative director of the burgeoning company. The role encompassed everything from answering phones and designing recyclable gift boxes to working on in-store design (a background that has helped her with her current role at Tait). The green mentality that Red Earth personifies reflects the Tait’s lifestyle and is something they have naturally injected into their company, which is GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia) Certified despite outdoor furniture no longer being recognised under these standards.
In 1995, Susan became the conceptual “eyes and ears” of Tait and the couple haven’t looked back. Both work to develop at least two in-house products for Tait each year that sit aside their collaborative works with other designers. When asked about the secret to work and living together, Gordon says: “Well, first of all we’re really good mates.”
Adds Susan: “And we design really well together.”
The couple met in the now defunct Gypsy Bar in Fitzroy, where they both used to live and where the first Tait factory was originally situated (their first showroom in Johnston Street still operates from its original site).
Susan credits Gordon to pushing her to take risks in order to make her ideas into actualities. It is not only Susan’s talents that Gordon has helped to materialise. The Taits are revered in the industry for their mentoring of younger designers, such notables as Justin Hutchinson (of the Jak+Jil combo), Adam Goodrum, Alastair Keating and Ross Gardam. The idea came about after visiting the Milan Furniture Fair in 2008.
“We realised there were all these Australians – fantastic designers – and this is what they do, go every year and show their folios hoping someone will pick up one of their designs,” says Susan. “No one in Australia knows about all of these amazing designers and what they do and how hard it is for them to get something made. We realised we were in a unique position. Because we are one of the few left that still manufacture, that can work from the scribble right through to presenting it to sell.”
Much like the diamond motif that has come to represent Tait the brand, these guys may be small, but their longevity has made their worth in the industry, invaluable.
To help celebrate 21 years of Tait with Susan, Gordon and their team, Tait will be marking 21 per cent off all their products for 21 days, starting on May 21. Visit their Melbourne showroom at 176 Johnston Street, Fitzroy or their Sydney showroom at 611 Elizabeth Street, Redfern, or view their products online at madebytait.com.au.