“Like many people born in the ’80s, my earliest experience with design was playing with Lego,” says Sydney-based designer Dan Layden. “Looking back at it now, I like the idea that from such a simple system of building blocks you can imagine and create almost anything you can think of. I was also obsessed with building and flying balsa plane models. I loved building and testing different designs and refining them over time.”

That curiosity led to Layden pursuing a career as an architect. Now a finalist in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Design Award, Layden was shortlisted for his HU chair: a minimalist one- or-two seat timber dining chair.

The design brief called for a product that enhances the dining space, either indoors or outdoors. Entries were open to designs from any category, including furniture, lighting, crockery, utensils and wall-hangings.

The award’s judges include industrial designer Adam Goodrum; interior architect George Livissianis; André Dutkowski from Mercedes-Benz; Broadsheet founder Nick Shelton; and Richard Munao, who will prototype, manufacture and sell the winning design at Cult Design.

“I loved the detailing and the use of wicker, timber and upholstery as materials,” says Munao of Layden’s entry. “It is quite a beautiful, considered chair. You can easily imagine those chairs in a dining room or in a commercial environment.”

Layden – who lives in Newtown, Sydney, with his wife Chloe Joyce, an “amazing illustrator and graphic designer” – says the creative couple shares “a small plant-filled studio space at home that we use to work on our personal projects. On a good day, it’s nice and tidy but more often than not it’s covered in sawdust and timber and balsa offcuts.”

During the week, Layden works at Tzannes architects in Chippendale. “It’s a great collaborative studio with incredibly talented people,” says Layden. “Which gives me a chance to work on some amazing projects.”

We spoke to Layden about his favourite designers, why he loves working with timber, and what it would mean to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award.

Broadsheet: What does good design mean to you?
Dan Layden: Creating something that makes the world better in a small way. Whether it’s a space, a piece of furniture or new technology that has the ability to enhance people’s lives as well as the environment in some way.

BS: What distinguishes your design for the HU chair from other dining chairs?
DL: I wanted to create a simple and elegant modern chair that is minimal both in its aesthetic as well as use of materials. What distinguishes it is a very subtle simplicity, which is a result of an environmentally conscious design approach and a desire to minimise material and waste.

BS: How does it enhance the dining space?
DL: I wanted to create a chair that enhances it both visually as well as providing a unique tactile experience of sitting in a simple, beautifully crafted, chair.

BS: What was the inspiration behind the idea?
DL: It wasn’t inspired by any one thing but developed through an iterative process, and the desire to create a beautiful and functional object while trying to minimise the use of materials and environmental impact.

BS: What materials have you used in your design?
DL: I used timber for the chair with the choice of either a solid timber, rattan or upholstered seat. Timber has a soft and tactile quality that people enjoy interacting with. It’s also never completely uniform and I love the natural variations in pattern and texture that makes every piece unique.

BS: Describe your design philosophy
DL: My design philosophy is fairly simple. I love creating beautiful things that will hopefully have the ability to emotionally engage with people in a meaningful and positive way.

BS: Which designers do you most admire?
DL: Peter Zumthor and Le Corbusier are two of my favourite architects. I admire their ability to create atmospheric and moving spaces through the use of scale, light, material and composition. I also admire Charles and Ray Eames and Nendo for their innovative and experimental approach.

BS: What would it mean to you to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award?
DL: Winning the award would be an incredible opportunity for me to work with and learn from the competition mentors, as well as to learn about the prototyping and manufacturing process. I think that at this early stage in my career, taking the piece from inception to completion would be an invaluable learning experience.

Meet our other finalists John Grant, Rene Linssen and Tom Fereday. The winner of the Mercedes-Benz Design Award presented by Broadsheet will be announced at Mercedes me in Melbourne on 13th December 2017.