David Trubridge is a New Zealand-based designer who has become an international ambassador for sustainable design. One of his most famous designs is The Coral light (2003), which established a blueprint for kitset products that minimise environmental impact. David Trubridge Ltd now purveys high-end lighting, furniture and jewellery.
Trubridge has featured in influential international publications, as a setter of the ‘raw sophistication’ trend and a beacon of environmentally responsible design. He has also been listed as one of the top 15 designers in the world by L’Express.
The company’s ethos is heavily tied to a love of the environment. David says that one of the reasons he designs is to ‘recreate that vital connection to nature that we have lost so much of, living in insulated cities’. This love of nature is demonstrated in his approach to design and the act of making. Wherever possible, all materials are sourced from sustainable plantations and wood is left natural.
Decor + Design are delighted to be presenting David Trubridge as a speaker on the International Seminar Series, 21 – 24 July in Melbourne. We sat down with him in the lead up to the show to gain some insight into his inspirations.
David, can you give us a snapshot of your journey from self-taught Northumberland furniture maker to where you are today?
By the end of the 70s, I had established a good career designing and making furniture. In 1981 Linda and I decided that we wanted to see a bit of the world beyond UK home shores. So we sold everything, bought a yacht and set off with our two small children across the Atlantic. Five years later, after stopping to work in the British Virgin Islands and Tahiti, we arrived in NZ. For a time, I continued working alone, making furniture and also doing some architectural design. That changed after 2001 when I took a new design, the Body Raft, to Milan and it was picked up by Cappellini. That’s when my business started to grow, mostly with the help of the lighting, to where we are now.
I don’t separate out design. It is creativity that is important to me and that embodies art, design and craft. You can’t be truly creative unless you can generate ideas as an artist, compose them into a structure as a designer, and make them with craft. I believe that what we do enriches and communicates, that is why it is important to me. And today it is vital that this is done with utmost care for the environment.
You had a trip to the Antarctic in 2004 which left quite an impression on you. In what way has that impacted you and fed into your work?
Wilderness has always been the source of my inspiration, so of course Antarctica — the ultimate wilderness — was very special. I have always cared a lot about not making waste or pollution but after that trip I came to care a whole lot more. On the ice, I was not only confronted by the bewildering beauty of this planet but also its tragic vulnerability to our careless activities. That impelled me to do more to protect it.
Can you tell us about the ‘Seed System’?
This is our kitset system. Living this far away from most of our markets, we cannot begin to compete overseas — or even justify our presence there — unless we make our freighting as efficient as possible. So we made up this story: why transport one tree in a truck, when you could fill that truck with thousands of tiny seeds . . . and then have fun watching them grow? Seed System is my gift to the purchaser, so that they can have all the fun and fulfilment of making their light. And having done so, they will love it more and keep it for longer. A win all round!
In 2012, the Pompidou Centre in Paris purchased your ‘Icarus’ installation for its collection, which was a huge coup. It is a stunning piece. Did the idea start with the Grecian parable or how exactly did it come into being?
Yes it did. I find it hard to create a new design just for the sake of it — the form just becomes arbitrary. But I love to tell stories; this gives a justification for the design, especially if that story has a moral. And it gives a reason for the form, in this case the Wing and the Sun. Icarus’ act of hubris in ignoring his father’s advice and flying too close to the hot sun is an even more relevant warning in our world today.
Given your commitment to both design and sustainability, it must be upsetting to have replicas of your products in circulation. What kind of steps can be taken to prevent this from happening?
In most countries, where the intellectual property of creative people is respected, it is fairly easy to prevent this. Not so in Australia, which is way out of step. Yes, it is very upsetting, especially as there is little that can be done about it there until the government changes the law. There is no incentive for young designers to stay in Australia where their ideas can be copied with impunity, when they could work in the UK where copying is a criminal offence and their copyright lasts for 70 years after their death. I have been fortunate in that I have never worked as an industrial designer — I am an artist and a craftsman, and this has enabled us to prevent my work being copied in Australia under a different law.
There are people (mainly large-scale commercial retailers) who argue that replicas give people who can’t afford high-end design access to beautiful products. What are your thoughts on this?
Creating a new design takes a lot of time and is the result of experience learnt the hard way. In the industry, if a company wants to sell products created by a designer, they pay him or her a royalty, thus respecting that investment. Replica sellers do not do this, they effectively steal the design, purely for their own profit. But worse than this, because for them cost is the ONLY criterion, they cut every corner possible in order to make it as cheap as possible. We have other criteria: we use sustainable materials, we make the product so that it will last as long as possible, we reduce our pollution and carbon emissions as much as we can, all because we care. This of course will cost more in the short term, but the cheap knock-off that quickly ends up in landfill, irresponsibly defers that cost to a future generation.
It is also interesting to note that for much of my life I designed and made one-off, hand-crafted pieces of wooden furniture. It always saddened me that so few people could afford or even see them. Now I have created designs that tens of thousands of people have bought . . . and those designs are being ripped off!
Don’t miss David Trubridge speaking at the Decor + Design 2016 International Seminar Series on Friday 22 July at 11:45am. View the full seminar schedule here and register to visit now.