Pushing the boundaries of a single natural material, New Volumes is the inaugural collection from Artedomus, bringing together eight exciting Australian designers under the creative direction of Thomas Coward.
Carved from solid blocks of Artedomus Elba, a beautiful grey and white marble found only in a single quarry in Greece, each design in the New Volumes collection explores a specific typology, yet at first sight the pieces’ sculptural forms are ambiguous. United by their strong materiality, each in some way challenges or extends the relationship between form and function, highlighting both the individual characteristics of the eight designers and the unique qualities of Elba.
Each of the designers involved in New Volumes was carefully selected as an ‘interesting choice’, Thomas explains. ‘I wanted designers from different backgrounds, genders and disciplines but most importantly the designers were selected for their aesthetic sensitivity’, he says. ‘Each has some influence on the current Australian design landscape.’ The pieces in the New Volumes collection, therefore, are a unique representation of the individual designer’s aesthetic and process.
As Thomas sees it, there is no apparent lineage between each product, but the collection has a definite voice, born of the material but also of the clarity of each design. Above all, he is encouraged by the strength of people’s reactions to different designs, both positive and negative. ‘Trying to appeal to everyone would have us walking in the middle of the road. And that would be a disaster from my point of view’, he says.
Ross Gardam, Tom Skeehan, Emma Elizabeth, Thomas Coward, Nick Rennie, Sarah King, Dale Hardiman and Marsha Golemac all contributed work to New Volumes, each piece crafted from Artedomus Elba, without any other visible materials. Elba is Artedomus’ most well-loved stone, but Thomas explains ‘We use so much of it, yet it’s mostly limited to surfaces. It’s incredibly strong and durable and many other brands have called inferior white stones Elba because of these properties’, he says, ‘but there is only one quarry producing Elba and it’s ours’.
Elba was thus chosen as a unique material that the designers would be otherwise unlikely to work with. Most stone, including Elba, is generally only imported in 20mm slabs, so the New Volumes collection provided the designers with the opportunity to explore much larger blocks. As Marsha Golemac expressed, the lack of experience with the material enhanced the creative process. ‘Having limited knowledge about what was and wasn’t possible was an asset. You go into the creative process without caution. It’s a lovely freedom.’
The ‘Wyrie’ Table by Nick Rennie explores the possibilities of the large blocks of Elba, bringing together three precise pieces delicately balanced to form an eight-seater dining table of impressive power and presence. Thomas Coward’s ‘Hurlysi’ Side Tables are made possible by Elba’s strength and integrity, as they are carved from a solid block, ‘the cantilevered surface would break using a lesser quality stone’, he says. Other designs, such as the ‘Artemis’ Candle Holders by Emma Elizabeth, the ‘Napoleon & Josephine’ Mortar and Pestle by Sarah King and the ‘Lydn’ Platter, also by Thomas Coward, explore Elba’s varied organic properties. Emma Elizabeth’s pieces capture the essence of Elba in its raw state, the forms inspired by the traditional way in which the stone is quarried. ‘Lydn’ and ‘Napoleon & Josephine’ capture the opposite of the raw form, enhancing the sensuous, organic curves of the material once it has
been carved and hand finished.
Without exception, every piece in the collection is abstract, the functionality at first glance to some degree obscured. It is only on closer investigation that the relationship between form and function becomes clear. This was in part driven by the material, as Thomas explains that the outstanding capabilities of the factories and craftspeople meant they could achieve the extremely high level of finish that makes the designs akin to pieces of art.
It was also a conscious decision on the part of the creative director, uniting the highly individual designs in the collection. ‘I thought it important to present the items with their function being somewhat ambiguous. What is it? What does it do?’, he says. ‘To find out by investing some thought into the matter, certainly gives you a closer relationship with the object. There has been a journey of discovery already.’
Look closer, and the influence of the function on the design gradually becomes clear. The ‘Bacchus’ Table by Tom Skeehan, with its unusual proportions and inset bowl, is one such piece – while at first it appears unusual and perhaps even puzzling, its simple forms offer a new take on a familiar household object, and the bowl itself is designed to enhance the table’s functionality. ‘Through the table’s large recessed bowl, I hope Bacchus encourages the sharing of food and objects, and creates an intimate connection to the material and person’, says Tom.
Ross Gardham’s ‘Hemera’ Light also offers a unique take on a well-understood object. Unlit, it appears entirely sculptural, two solid pieces of Elba juxtaposed seeming almost to hover in the air. He explains that he deliberately hid the light source from view, so that when the light is on it appears the stone is naturally illuminated. Similarly, Dale Hardiman’s ‘Semper’ Planter and Vase and Marsha Golemac’s ‘Spomenik I and II’ Vessels only reveal their true nature when combined with something else. Alone, they appear as ambiguous sculptural objects, yet combined with a plant, a flower or a piece of fruit, the utility comes to the fore.
The first Artedomus collection of its kind, New Volumes is leading the way for further collaborations with the local design community and future collections. For now, though, Thomas says they are focused on allowing this collection to ‘breathe’. ‘When we do our next collection, it will be as worthwhile as the first. Not dictated by calendar pressure’, he says. Elba has become the preferred stone of architectural projects in kitchens and bathrooms, now, as the New Volumes pieces are available to interior designers and stylists, it will be exciting to see how new forms of the material continue to enhance interiors.
Photography: Sean Fennessy
Words: Rose Onans
This article originally featured on The Local Project.