Designer Spotlight – Philippa Abbott

September 25, 2017

On meeting Philippa Abbott – Melbourne-based industrial designer who mixes design with sociology and cultural studies – one cannot help but have her infectious desire to make the world a better place rub off on you. And there is no lip-service being paid here. Philippa works hard to ensure her words are acted upon by collaborating with craftsmen and communities in remote areas .

When Philippa dropped into Jati in early May, she was just weeks from setting off to Cambodia where she is helping a school in Phnom Penh deal with the challenges of a rapidly developing city through the innovative design of school buildings. And more recently, she has spent time in Vietnam looking at the ways in which the preservation of traditional crafts can be both environmentally and economically sustainable.

It is this idea of valuing the craft and working with a sustainably harvested material that led her to design a one-off piece of outdoor furniture for Jati. Her mid-century inspired armchair Una, will hit the showroom floor this month.

“Traditional craftsmen are the true specialists,” she says. “You know, if you have these skills and knowledge and have been working with this material your whole life, generationally brought down to you through your family, then that’s pretty incredible. So I really like to draw off that knowledge.”

Philippa says she gained great insight into the Jati production process and designed the piece utilising sustainable principles, which included specifying thinner material widths to reduce the amount of material used. Additionally, the teak used was sourced from a sustainable plantation where younger trees are harvested, aiding in carbon sequestration.

She says her intention was not to do “mid-century better”, but to pay homage to it.

“As a designer, I think it’s really important to value other people’s knowledge. Even in the mid-century approach we took to the design of this armchair part of the research was understanding the dimensions of mid-century furniture – not thinking that I could do it better.”

And as consumers, Philippa is hopeful we might return to the days when beautifully designed and constructed furniture was valued highly, as mid-century pieces continue to be.

“As consumers, we have to start placing greater value on the craftsmanship that goes into a piece of furniture, and the real value of that. We need to ask questions about it, and want to know how something is made – because that’s what creates the value. If you know how much effort has been put into something, and how that is culturally important, socially important and economically important, then you can add value to what you are willing to pay for it, and you’ll look after it a bit more too.”

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