There’s a lot to be excited about in Australian design right now. According to Richard Munao, managing director of Cult Design, this has a lot to do with our geography.

The fact that Australia is an island – isolated and with a unique landscape – means that our local design scene is less bound by the limitations of what others in the market are doing. Our distance from Europe and the US helps “our designers come up with fresh, innovative designs”.

Nor are we burdened by the weight of tradition. “The beauty of the Australian design scene at the moment is that we don’t have a hang-up about our past. It’s all relatively fresh and new,” he says. “We don’t have the masters behind us like some of the other countries like Denmark and Italy, where everyone feels they are being judged against the designers that have created products that have become classics.”

The result, he says, is that up-and-coming Australian designers tend to be “less conservative and more adventurous” than their international peers, which is contributing to a distinct local aesthetic that’s gaining attention overseas. It’s because of this local creativity that Munao is drawn to initiatives like the Mercedes-Benz Design Award – of which he is one of the judges – and is passionate about supporting new talent through providing mentorship and commercial opportunities.

The growing recognition of Australian design was evident in the warm reception the Aussie design contingent received at Milan Design Week in April. Four years ago, the work of only 15 designers featured in the Australian exhibition in Milan. In 2019, that number had grown to an impressive 44, among them past Mercedes-Benz Design Award winners Tom Fereday and Zachary Hanna.

Local Design, a platform committed to supporting Australian and New Zealand designers, curated the Milan exhibition, which occupied a glamorous two-storey palazzo. A constant stream of people visited the venue throughout the fair. “Many Australian designers could have sold their products over and over again if they’d been for sale,” says Munao.

With his eyes on the local design scene (and what’s resonating abroad) Broadsheet asked Munao to list some of the country’s brightest talents.

Zachary Hanna

Zachary Hanna took out the 2018 Mercedes-Benz Design Award for Stack, an innovative three-in-one design incorporating a lamp, a side table and a bookshelf.

The brief called for an innovative design for the living space with an emphasis on sustainability, which led to Hanna choosing sustainably harvested timber and LED lighting for Stack.

Hanna’s choice of materials ticks two boxes fundamental to sustainability: low environmental impact and longevity. Featuring solid timber joinery, Stack is designed and built to “last forever”, says Munao.

Judge Adele Winteridge, founding director of Foolscap Studio, commended Hanna’s “compact and beautiful” concept, which she said would be perfect for apartment living. Stack was “[a] clever and thoughtful product designed with empathy for the user,” she said during the judging process.

Hanna followed up his MBDA win with a trip to Milan Design Week, where his work featured in Local Design’s Local Milan No. 4 exhibition. On show was Trapeze, an “innovative” lighting system comprising a central lighting tube suspended by wire between two mounting plates.

Munao, who saw Trapeze in situ in Milan, praised both its adaptability and portability. Hanna, he says, possesses a singular vision rarely seen in early-career designers: “He creates unique pieces – things that I haven’t seen before.”

Rosanna Ceravolo

Another rising star of Australian furniture design is Rosanna Ceravolo, an architect and designer who runs a studio in Melbourne.

Like Hanna, Ceravolo also exhibited her work at Milan Design Week in 2019, debuting her latest collection Moored at the Local Milan No. 4 exhibition.

Inspired by images of boats moored along the Mekong River, Moored features a modular shelving unit made from powder-coated metal. It stood out as a fresh and original design, says Munao, who first encountered the piece in Milan. He praised Ceravolo for her inventive instincts, particularly when it came to her use of materials. “It was a nice way to use steel – it could be flat-packed and delivered without too much wastage in terms of freight,” he says.

Another reason why Munao identifies Ceravolo as a rising star is how she embraces the challenge of sustainability. Sustainability also encompasses a product’s end of life, says Munao, noting the potential to repurpose or recycle the metal used in Ceravolo’s unit. “It’s a fresh and new way to interpret shelving systems,” he says.

Nick Rennie

Nick Rennie is a young Melbourne-based designer with an international reputation. Since he first exhibited his work at Milan Design Fair in 2000, Rennie has formed close working relationships with a range of prestigious European furniture houses, including Ligne Roset, Normann Copenhagen and Porro.

Recently, Rennie has turned his gaze local and collaborated with several Australian furniture companies. For Artedomus he created a spectacular stone dining table, and for Made by Pen he designed Sway, a cordless floor lamp fixed upon a weighted sphere.

“It’s great to see that he’s now doing some amazing things with Australian brands,” says Munao. “He is experienced, and his designs are mature. He is definitely somebody to keep an eye on in the local design scene.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Mercedes-Benz.