Henry’s Wilson’s A-Joint table is a simple table. It’s ordinary and utilitarian, yet it is also beautiful and elegant. The heart of the table is the A-Joint itself. It’s a clever clamping mechanism Wilson developed and patented. We think it’s genius. It holds the legs together without anything as superfluous as glue, and eliminates the hardest part of making a table – the joinery. The joint makes it democratic: if you’re handy with a saw, you could buy the timber yourself and build it at home.
It’s a form of flat-pack furniture, but his considered design celebrates thought and ingenuity. Strong enough to support marble, it’s acutely functional, but unlike most tables – it’s also interesting. Wilson’s design process is informed; he is rethinking furniture in an original way.
Sitting solo at the A-Joint table, you feel powerful – like you’ll blitz your deadlines and your bowl of cereal while you’re at it. Equally, the table feels alive when you’ve squished a bunch of your friends around it. For something that’s solid wood, it’s also extremely flexible.
The combination of utility and human warmth is what we love about Wilson’s work – whether that’s the A-Joint table, a home accessory we never knew we needed, or the design of an Aesop store. From the big picture to the finest detail, there’s a consistent thoughtfulness.
Wilson’s light touch is visible on everything he creates. It’s the result of personal style and a unique set of experiences.
From a design point of view, Wilson has diverse training. Having studied as a timber joiner at the Australian National University in Canberra, he completed a Masters course in product design called “Man and Humanity” at Design Academy Eindhoven in The Netherlands. The course had, “This human aspect that the Dutch push for in their education,” explains Wilson.
His time in Europe introduced Wilson to a new way of thinking, which he employed back in Sydney to develop a style and culture that we recognise as distinctively his.
Ethical implications and human welfare are at the core of his design, whether in how his products are made (“all the metal casting is done very locally in Sydney”), or how they will eventually be repurposed or disposed of (“they’re fairly style-less and can be recycled endlessly”). He even provides lunch for his small team of staff around an A-Joint table each day. We respect this consideration.
Then there’s the life his products have once they enter the world.
“People like to feel like they have had some part in the creation of something,” he says, pointing to his Vide Poche, a dish made of raw gun-metal bronze used for storing life’s detritus – keys, coins etc. “A friend of mine has got one of them in Bondi, and it’s green. My one here [in Darlinghurst] is shiny. You see that these different atmospheres in Sydney will create a different patina on an object that’s ultimately the same.” His friend could polish it back to its original state, Wilson says, but he doesn’t want to.
Alongside the Vide Poche is another item that has its own life cycle once it leaves the studio: the leather desktop mat. “The pen marks go through sometimes and you see the echo of what you’ve scribbled down, but then it will come out, in time,” says Wilson. “You might spill, as I’ve done, a whole cup of tea on it and it’s got this splodge that then changes. Eventually they get this beautiful, even colour, but they have this really interesting life before that. They’ve been really successful, people tell me how much they love them.” These pieces reflect our own lives, our own stories – which is part of the reason we’re drawn to them. They are hardwearing objects, but they change and adapt as we do. This makes them feel alive, almost part of us.
The two stores Wilson has designed for Aesop also have a similar effect on us –we’ll visit as much for his handiwork as for the hand balm. There’s the newly opened, living-room-eqsue Crows Nest store and Aesop Balmain; where local customers can read the history of their suburb in its raw sandstone walls, complete with convict pick marks.
Increasingly, Wilson is working on his own personal projects that blur the line between functionality and art. The Thoronet Dish is inspired by, “an abbey in the south of France that’s got some of the most beautiful arch work”. These pieces, Wilson says, are, “experiments in artistic license” and “the beginning of a new journey in that sphere”. That journey is already taking him international: Aesop is exhibiting these works in stores in London and Paris. Interestingly, it’s by coming home to Sydney that his work has been taken overseas. “I’m really happy I made the choice to come back from Europe and be here. It helps to be in your hometown – you know how to hustle, get things done.”
We love Henry Wilson’s work because it’s simple, functional and beautiful. He sees potential in the ordinary and industrial and brings it warmth through his considered design. He designs spaces we want to be in and items that grow with us no matter how much we’re determined to spill tea on them. We too are glad he came home.