In the design world, a lot can change in the space of a month – let alone over two decades. If you make it that long in business, you must be doing something right.
For 20 years, Cult has carved out a reputation as Australia’s cool kid of furniture. Initially, founder and director Richard Munao was importing classic and mid-century pieces, mainly from Scandinavia, and mainly for use in corporate office fit-outs. But slowly and with a critical eye for quality, he began to expand the Cult collection to include both residential and commercial pieces, and in 2014 changed the name from Corporate Culture to Cult.
True to its name, most of the brands Cult stocked, and continues to do so – such as VIPP, Republic of Fritz Hansen and Zanotta – are considered to be the best designers of the 20th century.
While this was happening, the company’s physical presence was also growing. When Cult opened in 1997, Chippendale was much grittier than it is today, and from that sole showroom, it expanded to Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland. By the time Cult’s Melbourne showroom opened in 2010, the international hype was such that Prince Frederick and Princess Mary of Denmark came to cut the ribbon.
In a small industry, critical eyes attract critical eyes, and in 2014, Munao decided to use his refined network of design contacts to launch Cult’s own collection. “It wasn’t because we didn’t have enough in our own collection; it was more so we would have something to give back to the Australian design community,” he says. “We wanted to take Australian design from Australia to the world, which doesn’t really happen. A lot of Australian design is just for the local market and not many people take it offshore.”
The resulting brand was NAU, launched last year (the name is a contracted version of “New Australian Design”). Within six months, Cult had signed a major deal for the brand in the US, and launched it in New York. Originally, the sole designer was Adam Goodrum, an industrial designer and a lecturer in design at the University of Technology, Sydney, who met Munao when he brought his students through the Sydney showroom to teach them about authenticity and longevity. Now, NAU has come to comprise multiple collections created by a collective extracted from Australia’s talent pool.
Despite multiple cooks in the kitchen, NAU pieces sit together with a natural cohesion. Like everything else within the Cult collections, the in-house brand is driven by a desire to pull together design classics, and is underscored with a preference for clean, pared-back palettes that don’t date.
“From the beginning, our design has been driven by Scandinavian design,” explains Munao. “Over the years we’ve always liked to mix and match things in the showroom, which is still something we enjoy doing. The brands we’re drawn to are ones that easily fit together. We look at things that are going to last – in all senses. We are, in a sense, in the fashion business, but we don’t like to follow fads and trends.”
As part of the 20-year celebration, the adjoining two warehouses were purchased and an extensive renovation took place, effectively tripling the space. Melbourne-based architecture and interior design practice DesignOffice was recruited to create the new space, including a stand-alone NUA showroom. “[The space is] finally starting to reflect who we’ve become … and hopefully now reflecting how Chippendale has changed.”
Cult’s re-designed Sydney showroom is now open to the public. 21–23 Levey Street, Chippendale. cultdesign.com.au/.