Tom Fereday has a tip for anyone trying to make it in in the design industry: “Don’t wait to be experienced enough to start developing work.”

The Sydney-based designer can back this ethos up. The same approach helped him win the 2017 Mercedes-Benz Design Award for his SIA chair: a sleek solid ash timber and stainless steel dining chair with an adjustable backrest “designed to be at home in any space”, Fereday says.

Fereday says he faced a conceptual challenge going into the award: he wanted to make a pivoting backrest that didn’t take focus away from the piece’s natural materials. “Really the award was [a] spur to invest the time and money into trying to resolve the product,” he says. “The end result was a not-technically-complex piece [that] also has an air of mystery around how it works.”

Fereday thinks it was his ability to resolve this design challenge that swayed the judges’ final decision. “I think having your own design guidelines is really important, regardless of the job,” he says. “If you can’t stand by your work and justify why you did it then it’s harder to sell it.”

As a part of his award, Fereday was involved in the production of the chair with a team of mentors, including Mercedes-Benz senior manager of product and strategy André Dutkowski, interior designer George Livissianis, industrial designer Adam Goodrum, and Richard Munao, founder and director of Australian interior manufacturer and retailer Cult Design. It was the latter who would be responsible for selling the finished product in Cult showrooms.

Fereday says he watched the chair go from “prototype to production” during the six-month mentoring program. “I think the ideal element of collaboration is when both parties can help each other,” he says. “There’s a lot of work involved in going from making a one-off piece to a production product that can be made en masse and sold. It was really nice to be able to do that together – not just have the product taken [away to be manufactured].”

The experience helped establish a long-term relationship between the designer and NAU, Munao’s in-house brand. “To use the competition to fast-track you to work with a brand is fantastic,” he says. “NAU sells and presents work internationally. So to have a product with a respected brand, whether you’re emerging or experienced, is a real privilege.”

Fereday says the partnership between Cult, Mercedes-Benz and Broadsheet also helped raise his profile as a rising designer. “You have three vehicles of promotion; not only do you get a product, but you get it launched in possibly the strongest way,” he says.

Fereday also got to visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, as part of his prize. He says the experience was “amazing” and exposed him to the automaker’s long history of design excellence. “I got to see all of these early prototypes and the history of the company,” he says. “It’s interesting to learn about a brand from the inside out.”

Some of Fereday’s pieces – which range from furniture to lighting and product design – are currently being shown at the 2019 Milan Design Week – among them the SIA chair. Fereday also recently collaborated with the Louis Vuitton Bondi Junction store in Sydney on a range of bespoke furniture items.

“I try to celebrate the materials and manufacturing processes behind furniture to develop work based on the principle of honest design,” he says. “Which is greatly informed by the Australian manufactures and artisans I work with.”

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