An affinity for design is in Tom Fereday’s blood. His father was an antiques dealer and his mother a ceramicist. “My earliest memories are being surrounded by antique furniture,” says the Sydney designer.“My mother was an art teacher her whole life. There was always pottery in her house when I was growing up as a kid.”

Decades later, Fereday runs his own design business from a studio in an old factory in Campderown, Sydney. He develops furniture and product designs, effectively turning his work into an updated version of those childhood memories. “The studio is filled with prototypes and furniture samples covering every project we work on,” he says.

Fereday is now a finalist in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Design Award for his design for the SIA 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 are 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.

“We loved the combination of solid timber and a metal-framed chair, and the beautiful brass component in the back that gives it adjustability when you sit on it,” says Munao of Fereday’s entry. “His whole presentation told a story really well.”

We spoke to Fereday about the challenge of creating a comfortable dining chair and what it would mean to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award.

Broadsheet: What does good design mean to you?
Tom Fereday: My approach is to always try and make a product that will retain its value. No matter what it costs, if you own that piece for five or 10 years it should still be aesthetically valuable as well as valuable as a product. My favourite designs, the ones I’ve loved, are timeless [in that way].

BS: Explain the design for your dining chair.
TF: The brief I set myself was to create a slim chair that was comfortable. I felt previous products I’d done weren’t always as slender. Quite often with those types of chairs the compromise is comfort, so that was the reason for developing the articulating backrest.

The chair is shaped from solid ash timber and curves to the body’s form while using the minimum amount of timber required to achieve comfort. It’s contrasted by a minimal stainless steel frame, which supports the sculptural timber elements and allows for a stackable design.

BS: And the name?
TF: I was trying to find a short, simple word that referenced the movement of the backrest. One of the traditional meanings of the name “Sia” was “movement”.

BS: How does it enhance the dining space?
TF: The dining space is often tricky in terms of space available. I wanted to develop a slim dining chair that would be accessible to anyone no matter where they lived, but didn’t compromise on the luxury and comfort of dining; something that could fit in anyone’s home. You could put 10 around a table and it wouldn’t feel crowded.

BS: Is it hard to make a good-looking chair comfortable?
TF: Balancing comfort and aesthetics can be very challenging, especially with slimmer chairs. Backrests are often the source of biggest discomfort for people of varying sizes. I attempted to tackle this with an adjustable backrest, which posed a number of challenges – particularly in finding a way I felt it could be aesthetically pleasing as a design detail and yet simple to manufacture. It was the most difficult part of the chair. The frame terminates in the backrest and using industrial bronze bearings within the frame it can rotate. It turned out to be a very simple solution to what I initially thought would be quite a challenge.

BS: Describe your design philosophy.
TF: When I first set out to try to be an independent designer, I was struggling to find direction on how to approach making furniture. I wrote myself a brief for every project and it’s summarised as honest design. With every product I make, I’ve got nothing to hide, whether it’s how it’s made or where it’s made; it’s entirely honest.

BS: What are your ambitions?
TF: The plan is to keep making products I’m proud of that can also sustain an income. It’s fantastic to work with brands that support that, whether it’s Cult or other companies that support local manufacturing at different scales.

BS: What would it mean to you to win the Mercedes-Benz Design Award?
TF: To be mentored by some of the leaders in the design industry would be an incredible honour. It’s an opportunity to potentially shape and guide my career for the positive. An opportunity to work directly with the NAU furniture brand also offers amazing potential to launch a product with one of the most respected Australian brands today.

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