Liam Mugavin is at that point of his career when things are about to explode for him. The Adelaide-born industrial designer has recently relocated to Sydney – the third floor of Precinct 75 in St Peters, to be exact. He’s made his mark on the city with his interior fit-outs for Cam Price and Joe Pags’ collection of vegan and sustainable cafes: Brooklands Coffee Co. Martin Place, Zeitgeist and Coffee Bondi Beach. While Mugavin specialises in furniture and lighting, it’s the broader interior projects made up of intricate components that interest him most of all.
“It was quite a spontaneous decision and I just had to go with it,” says Mugavin of the relocation. “Sydney really does make Adelaide look like a sleepy town; I didn’t really realise until I was here.” The view from his corner studio stretches endlessly south-west, across the spread of Marrickville’s industrial warehouse rooftops. While we chat, an orange-dust sunset gives the studio’s stacks of timber a peaceful amber glow, despite the heavy hum of a panel saw in the neighbouring woodworking studio.
Mugavin studied industrial design at the University of South Australia, before spending four formative years in Japan. “I fell in love with the culture,” he says. “Japan has a long tradition and history with timber, and after four years I realised that’s what I wanted to do. Japan kickstarted this passion; I wanted to come back to Australia and learn the skills to prototype and make my own designs.”
Upon his return, Mugavin enrolled at JamFactory, an iconic, internationally recognised South Australian design institution. He completed an associate training program and set up a studio residency. Soon enough, Sydney was calling. “[Price and Pags] approached me to do their fit-out – I worked on the project from Adelaide, freighted the work here and installed it. This led to more projects, and more and more Sydney-based opportunities.”
Among Mugavin’s existing collection of furniture pieces is the distinctive Tangle coffee table, with a glass circular top and interlocking triangles as table legs. The Japanese concept of ma, or the emphasis on absence and voids, is a key element and influence within Mugavin’s work. “The way that [Japanese culture] views things is different to the way that we tend to see things,” he explains. “They focus on what’s not evident, while we focus on the more obvious.”
His two-part Harvested table was inspired by the process in which cork is peeled off the cork oak when harvested – and the design works as a stool, side table and tray. His Clarence Prize–winning Koto Light, made from Tasmanian oak, requires you to manually engage the electrical connection by moving the lamp section of the construction up or down. The idea is to increase our mindfulness and awareness of our electricity consumption via a grander physical gesture than the simple flick of a switch.
Sustainability is an integral, guiding part of Mugavin’s practice – and possibly why his design work was pinpointed for ethically minded food spots like Coffee Bondi Beach. “I am studying a master’s of sustainable design, but sadly I am too busy to finish it up at the moment,” he explains. “On a basic level, sustainability for me involves using sustainable timber, but there is a greater scope in terms of how the design is constructed. I’m concerned with a product’s entire life span. From when I actually make it and use the raw materials, through to when a consumer may not want it anymore.”
For Coffee Bondi Beach, Mugavin implemented a special take-back scheme – the cafe can return the furniture when it decides to move on. “I’ll go in and take back all of the timber and make new furniture out of it. So it’s designed and made in a way that can be broken down, reused or recycled.”
Mugavin has a slew of furniture and interiors projects in the pipeline. He’s in the process of crafting the interiors for Zeitgeist at Barangaroo, which will open in 2017, and a new art and design gallery on Foley Lane in Darlinghurst. Mugavin is collaborating with Robyn Holt for Commission Editions, a new luxury design brand to be launched at Criteria in Melbourne at the end of July. Amid all of this, he is also working towards his first solo exhibition of furniture. “The industry is really engaging for me right now, it’s an exciting time,” he smiles. “The hard work is starting to pay off.”