A week after the Mercedes-Benz Design Award ceremony, winner Zachary Hanna met with Cult Design’s product development team to discuss the production of Stack, his design for a novel three-in-one standing lamp.
It marked the beginning of a rigorous process of review, development and testing. Hanna’s plan for Stack arrived “well-developed” but small changes are always necessary to accommodate suppliers and other constraining factors, says Jason O’Neill, Cult Design’s production development manager.
“The main tweak we made to prepare Stack for production was with the electrics,” says Richard Munao, Cult Design’s managing director. “Zac’s original design had removable panels to hide the wiring that leads to the bulb, but during initial meetings we knew we could better streamline this integration. Our product development team worked with Zac to find a way to conceal the wires internally, channelling them upright to the shade to create a seamless integration.”
The team also explored different options for the lampshade, including fabric that sits over a metal and plastic frame, but Hanna’s original design – a shade made from formed plywood to reduce the use of plastic in the product – prevailed. “I’m glad we’ve ended up going with the plywood,” Munao says. “It has some design features, like being quite seamless on both the inside and outside, as opposed to a conventional lampshade, that will make the product seem quite different to what you expect from a normal lampshade.”
Next, the team finalised the production chain of Stack’s core elements. The lighting component is sourced from Rakumba Lighting in Melbourne, while fine furniture-maker Rolf Barfoed is building the timber frame and assembling the finished product.
Barfoed has a close association with Cult, having developed initial samples for its NAU collection, including a chair by Adam Goodrum that is now in Sydney’s Quay restaurant. He also created the Mercedes-Benz Design Award trophy. “He’s a great maker and is passionate about his work, so he’s a natural fit as a manufacturing partner,” says Munao.
Barfoed and a team of three work out of a Canberra workshop. “We take rough-sawn timber and process it all the way through using a combination of high-tech machinery and traditional cabinet-maker skills,” he says.
With Stack’s final design in hand, Barfoed’s first task was preparing for the production process. “I try to foresee every process in making the product,” he says. “I design and build jigs, tools, and processes required specifically for that product.”
With as many as 30 individual processes involved in Stack’s manufacture, this preparation period is an opportunity for Barfoed to anticipate any challenges that may arise in manufacturing. “It takes a bit of experience to be able to foresee process, especially when it’s not standard,” he says. “There are a number of parts of this light that are quite advanced – we have to do a bent plywood lightshade, which is a little bit complex.”
Barfoed is building Stack with American hardwood timber: white oak, walnut and white ash. Other materials used in the product include hoop-pine bendy ply, LED lights and injected plastic components for the light diffuser.
“American hardwoods are considered very environmentally friendly,” says Barfoed. “They have classic properties for furniture-making, so they grow well, they dry well, they machine well, they sand well, they work well with hand tools, they’ve got a good variety of colours – whites, browns, darks.”
Hanna is pleased to have ended up with a product that is as sustainable as he pitched in the beginning. In his day job as a designer, sustainability is a priority, he says, but “it’s often out of your hands, because it comes down to what the client wants and what they can do within their budget”.
The first limited run of Stack is due for completion in June. The piece is also set to star at Cult Design’s stand at Denfair Melbourne 2019 in June.
Hanna has found the production process fascinating. “It’s been great to be able to negotiate the balance between the idea and real-world constraints,” he says. “I’ve learned about how to go about bringing a product to market … It’s good to have Cult’s insight on what’s really important to them.”
Munao is equally enthusiastic about working with the young designer. “Zac has been amazing to work with, always flexible and always focused on refining the product in the best possible way from both commercial and quality perspectives, whilst always staying true the design integrity of Stack,” he says.
Stack will be available for purchase from Thursday June 20 from Cult Design.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Mercedes-Benz.