New Volumes

Interview: Thomas Coward and Sophie Lanigan

Union sat down with Thomas Coward to discuss New Volumes, a recent initiative from Artedomus. Conceived by Managing Director Phil Benton and Creative Director Thomas Coward in 2017, its ambition is to combine Artedomus’ rich material knowledge and networks with the Australian design community. Each collection is based on a single material that is interpreted by a diverse group of contemporary designers. Collection 01 explores Elba, a complex stone 250 million years in the making that is quarried in Italy before the pieces are finished by hand. Collection 02 focuses on terracotta, which is essentially made of clay and fire – a solidified piece of earth with a striking colour.

Sophie Lanigan Congratulations on such an exciting initiative – it’s wonderful to see a collaborative project with longevity. There are now two ‘volumes’ or collections from this brand, in two materials, with 14 designers. How have you found the project so far?

Thomas Coward Thank you! It’s been fantastic to work on something intentionally timeless and collaborative. To me personally, collaboration is the foundation of New Volumes and is the most important thing we can do as designers. Every encounter or discussion has the potential to change everything profoundly.

SL I couldn’t agree more – I am sure the conversations you have had with the designers in the collection have been so varied.

TC Yes. Working with Chris Connell, for example, who is probably the most experienced designer in the collective, we suggested prompts and keywords which resulted in fullyfledged, manufacture-ready designs. Art Director Marsha Golemac, on the other hand, treated the exercise like a sculptor which meant that history and story dictated the path we took. Both methods resulted in highly considered pieces that have life embedded into them.

SL What sparked the idea of an initiative in volumes?

TC When we were creating the brand for the first volume my concern was that it was going to be viewed as an exhibition of products. However, it was really important to me that the objects had longevity beyond their initial release, and the notion of volumes suggests continuity across the various collections. Working against waste, we decided that we would put our efforts into something substantial that could build upon itself.

SL In a way, it seems to position the product within a larger narrative – so I guess each piece has to have a precise reason for being.

TC That’s right. With the first collection, I didn’t want people to think it was just marble products – we always knew it was going to be larger than that. It’s about volumes of a story and volumes of matter. Doing this second collection solidified what we are doing. When you see those two images together – a collection of products in stone and terracotta – people can connect the dots. All the collections will be different so there will be lots of links to make across the materials and their interpretations.

SL At first glance, New Volumes looks like it’s quite materially driven, but learning more it’s clear that it is actually about a considered approach to the craftspeople, the designer and the user.

TC Exactly – each object has a designer behind it that is accountable for the product. It’s not just something we’ve pulled together. It is a product that has been deeply considered by a professional – this is their work. There are brands out there that bring marble products into the market that are so cheap – which means that somewhere along the line someone will be getting a really raw deal, and it’s probably the person making it or the person in the quarry. Our collections, by contrast, are concerned with each phase of the process – where is the material coming from, how is it being made, who has designed it and for what purpose.

SL It’s a strategy to reconnect the object with the designer in a straightforward way.

TC That’s sort of what curating the collection was about. We were asking ourselves: should this piece exist at all? Is it original enough? Is there an appropriate use of material? Is any harm being done to the environment? Is it successfully telling the designer’s story? And if these questions were answered positively, then we would continue with the product. When we’re asking if it had any impact on the environment – both collections are made from completely natural materials and the way we look at it is that with things like carbon neutrality you can buy your way into a green star, but in a purely honest way both terracotta and marble, if you threw them out into the garden, there would be no impact. They would weather over time and go back into the ground.

SL It’s so important to be asking those questions. The structure of the collection is really interesting as it is such a good opportunity to bring contemporary designers together under one umbrella – to review or survey the Australian industrial or object design landscape.

TC Precisely, yeah. And the beautiful thing about doing it in one material is that you really see the form and aesthetics – they really come to the front.

SL There is kind of a purity – one designer, one material – and you can read the intentions and influences quite clearly.

TC Exactly, and that’s what I was interested in with each designer. Especially for the first collection, it was about picking people who had a real sense of form.

SL It is a dream brief! And I am sure that as the collections continue, it will be like a hallmark on the designer’s CV that they were part of this.

TC That’s the sort of vision we want to have with this brand – we are quite protective of it and very proud of it. The success for me is seeing the products altogether, it makes me so excited about what will happen in the future.  

“Our collections are concerned with each phase of the process – where is the material coming from, how is it being made, who has designed it and for what purpose.”