The headquarters of local furniture makers Dowel Jones is a narrow loft up a steep set of stairs in the back corner of a rubber factory in Thomastown.
It’s an inauspicious space and a temporary one, just another step in the operation’s snowballing growth. When we meet Adam Lynch and Dale Hardiman, the two men responsible for Dowel Jones, it’s just before another move, to a much bigger warehouse space in Clifton Hill. It’s just as well. Their growing orders won’t fit in this tiny loft, and Lynch hits his head on the ceiling at least twice during our visit.
You might have seen their handiwork on display, or sat on it, at The Broadsheet Restaurant on Gertrude Street. Every chair in the place was designed and built by Lynch and Hardiman in this small workspace. Their work is also in use at Fitzroy’s Mr Burger, the newly launched Grey Gardens project space, and cafe Square & Compass in East Melbourne. They’re also working on the forthcoming food-truck paradise Welcome to Thornbury.
When approaching the design for chairs and needs in different locations, Hardiman says it really depends on the conversation. “We’re not making high-end products, for one. We want people to be able to afford them.”
The pair's design principles are practical, not sculptural. The first piece of the Broadsheet Restaurant job, for example, is snapped together from two pieces.
“It was specifically for hospitality, and it was designed to be low-cost,” says Lynch. “A chair doesn’t need more than two components.”
Case in point: The Broadsheet Restaurant stool - a simple metal frame with a wooden seat. Lynch was inspired by the contours of a BMX bike, to the point that the original design had a BMX foam safety pad on the back. The flourish didn’t make it to the final product, but it shows they are influenced by everyday practicality rather than frills.
They’re frank about the success of their partnership. “I have a kind of business-y head on my shoulders,” says Lynch, “and Dale is more creative. I guess over the years we’ve met in the middle.” The two work so naturally together you could be forgiven for pegging them as lifelong friends, but they’ve only known each other a few years.
“We don’t really like the same things,” says Hardiman.
“I don’t think we even like the same music,” adds Lynch.
And yet something works.
The pair met after being rejected from their preferred degrees: Hardiman’s entrance score was too low for graphic design, and Lynch didn’t make the cut for industrial design. They met in the bridging course in furniture design.
“We came to industrial design with a different background to most,” says Hardiman. “We weren’t so good at the computer design side, but we were good at making things.”
“And that’s more important really,” says Lynch. “We can talk to any manufacturers and level with them. If I came in and just knew heaps of CAD [computer assisted design] they’d just show me the door.”
As well as being good at making things, they were driven. Even before graduating, they co-founded design collection LAB DE STU, which yielded Dowel Jones. They kept their focus on the real world: uni projects became real products, and by the time they’d finished university they had a growing business.
“You can design stuff on a computer and make it look really great, but the finished product is what matters,” says Lynch. “We’re all about meeting manufacturers and working out what’s possible.”
“How do you make a metal tube barstool without knowing the radius to which it can bend, or the tolerance of the materials? It’s about talking to people, not about sitting behind a laptop in a beautiful studio.”
In their new space they'll have more room to prototype ideas, Hardiman says. They’ll have a showroom too, which is a step up from their current retail offering online. Being hands on is just as important for customers as it is for them.
“If you’re just buying from the internet, you can’t feel it,” says Hardiman. “It’s really important for people to see furniture before they choose it, to smell and touch the timber.”
We're selling the Dowel Jones chairs (full hurdle chairs, half hurdle chairs and high hurdle stools) from The Broadsheet Restaurant at discounted prices. If you're interested in purchasing, please contact us here.