“My mother was a big creative influence for me early on,” says Rene Linssen, a finalist in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Design Award. “She is an amazing creative and a very talented painter and drawer. Growing up and being surrounded by her work has definitely played a big part in my creative development.”

The Canberra-based designer was shortlisted for his design for the SOLA Outdoor Coffee Table, an all-weather multi-use piece made from powdercoated steel that comes in two sizes.

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.

The panel was looking for an innovative design both beautiful and durable. Munao says he and the other judges appreciated the utility of Linssen’s entry. “We loved the indoor and outdoor opportunities these tables offer,” says Munao. “As an outdoor piece, we liked the perforations on the top that allow water to drain away rather than collect on the table.”

Linssen, a graduate of the University of Canberra’s Bachelor of Industrial Design, works at Formswell, an industrial design studio in Canberra. He spends his days in a shared workspace with other creatives where he says he has everything he needs “to make the magic happen, from sketching pads to model-making equipment, 3D printers and computers.”

We spoke to Linssen about his design philosophy and what it would mean to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award.

Broadsheet: What does good design mean to you?
Rene Linssen: Good design means something that delivers on form, function and experience. Does it look good? Does it work well? And ultimately, does it connect with people?

BS: Explain your design for the SOLA Outdoor Coffee Table.
RL: SOLA is a multi-functional coffee table designed for the outdoors. The table features a built-in serving board, which can be removed to reveal a recessed space for wine bottles, drinks on ice or anything else. The multi-functionality makes it suitable for different occasions and keeps the setting clean and organised.

BS: What sets your design apart from other outdoor-dining pieces?
RL: The multi-functionality for different settings. The aesthetics and materials are also sophisticated enough to make it suitable for indoor use as well. It also has potential for use in commercial settings like cafes and rooftop bars.

BS: How does it enhance the dining space?
RL: The dining experience is all about sharing meals with close friends. SOLA was designed with this experience in mind by integrating food and drink sharing.

BS: What was the inspiration behind the idea?
RL: The inspiration came from the brief: improving the dining experience. Which to me was about making sharing food and drink better.

BS: What materials have you used in your design?
RL: The frame of the coffee table is made from powdercoated steel with a perforated steel top. The removable serving board is available in white marble, black marble or hardwood. The materials were all chosen for durability and outdoor use.

BS: Describe your design philosophy.
RL: I'm drawn to pure and simple forms, things that aren't trying to be more than they should be.

BS: Which designers do you most admire?
RL: Marc Newson, Konstantin Grcic, Ronan and Erwan Bouroulle, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby.

BS: What would it mean to you to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award?
RL: Cult is a company I have always admired and wanted to work with. Their designs embody all the qualities I strive for with my own designs – simple yet sophisticated and functional and made from high quality materials. It would be an invaluable and humbling experience to be taken through their design process and mentored by the best of the best.

Meet our other finalists John Grant, Dan Layden 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.