“I’m not trying to become a famous furniture designer,” Softer Studio founder Dustin Fritsche tells Broadsheet of his process of coming up with new designs. “I just make whatever feels good at the time and then if people like it, that’s great.”

Despite this humble attitude, Softer is steadily building a name for itself as a high-quality furniture and interiors studio. Fritsche offers a core collection of original designs, from wooden chairs to bedside tables, and provides custom cabinetry and built-in furniture for houses at renovation stage.

He carries out the entire process himself: from ideation and digital 3D renderings to physically handcrafting every piece. As well as being meticulously well made, Softer’s range has a down-to-earth practicality combined with a playful charm and unexpected details. There’s the Boxy side table, which almost seems like a little character standing on its thick, close-together legs.

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And rather than handles on the Three Drawer dresser and Next to Bed drawers, there are circular finger pull details carved out from the oak, and rounded legs that diffuse its sharp lines.

Most Softer pieces are made of solid timber, with the option of custom finishes, veneers and bright colours on bespoke orders. Despite their sturdy, blocky nature, designs share a rounded, lighthearted quality – a nod to the studio’s name.

Growing up in beachy Wamberal on the Central Coast in NSW, Fritsche first discovered his love of making through shaping surfboards with mates in a farmhouse shed. This was just after high school; he then moved to the far north coast of NSW and completed an apprenticeship at a cabinet making business, and then studied furniture design at RMIT in 2015.

Two years later, Fritsche moved to Melbourne and started Softer. The catalyst was his Smaller coffee table, which he’d crafted for his own home. “When friends saw it, they encouraged me to grow the range and start a small business behind it.”

Now, Fritsche operates Softer out of a co-operative workshop in Thomastown which he shares with multidisciplinary designer Nick Rennie and woodworker Brendan Finn. There’s a nice sense of camaraderie to the studio, he says. “Sometimes we’ll help with working on each other’s projects, and it’s good to bounce ideas off each other or [offer] different tweaks or skills that someone might not have.”

Fritsche enjoys working collaboratively, and has two other side projects on the go. One is another furniture brand called Oku Space, which he and Rennie have created to cater to the higher end and the commercial market. “We work together on bringing [Rennie’s] ideas to life and collaborate on the best manufacturing methods that work not just in our workshop, but [also] if we were to outsource to bigger, more high-tech factories.”

The other is Pim Pom Project, which Rennie is also involved in, as is Fritsche’s partner Charlotte Vermeersch. Taking playful furnishings to the next level, Pim Pom Project offers sculptural, multicoloured cat towers that make for eye-catching decor – cat or no cat.

Fritsche says he finds inspiration for his practice in the past, and likes to reference a few design eras. “Lately I’ve been really focusing on the Memphis design movement and combining that with my own style – especially with colours and altering materials.”

The Memphis movement, originating in Italy and popular in the 1980s, was characterised by a combination of bold colours, shapes and patterns, and often clashing tones, with figures like Ettore Sottsass and George Sowden as the key practitioners. “They all brought something fun and creative to the scene. I’m pretty reserved as a person, and doing the bold shapes and the colours is a way to express myself and show off my personality.”

A bonus of being such a skilled maker is the ability to customise his and Vermeersch’s Brunswick West apartment in Melbourne’s inner north. The space had limited storage when the couple moved in, so Fritsche set about installing cabinetry with coral handles to match the custom shade of their Okay Goodnight bed. It’s flanked by bright blue Next to Bed Remix tables which add a fun contrast. “We wanted to make the place warm and inviting, and practical at the same time.”

He’s also created bench seating for the living room, which will be part of a dining nook and entertainment unit, and is looking forward to finding time in his busy schedule to do the kitchen.
Fritsche’s own space could be thought of as a reflection of Softer’s overall philosophy, too. “Every room has its own personality but it’s still the same language.”

Shop online at softerstudio.com or visit the showroom at 2/9 Charnfield Court, Thomastown, by appointment only. For custom enquires get in touch via the form online.

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

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