Internationally-acclaimed New Zealand-based designer David Trubridge talks about making things with a better world in mind
Englishman David Trubridge has strong connections to both the ocean and dry land. In 1972, he graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in naval architecture, then worked as a forester in rural Northumberland, where he taught himself how to make furniture.
In 1981, he sold all he had and bought a yacht named Hornpipe. He then set sail through the Caribbean and the Pacific with his wife and two young sons before arriving and settling in New Zealand in 1985, where he was inspired to set up his eponymous furniture and lighting design business.
In 2001, fortune shone on the hardworking craftsman-designer when Italian furniture house Cappellini bought the production rights to his Body Raft bench after seeing it at the Salone del Mobile Milan. This was followed by international recognition for his 2004 Coral light, which became the blueprint for his innovative and sustainable Seed System lighting kitset series.
Trubridge's commitment to the environment led to a 2004 Antarctica Arts Fellowship programme, where time spent in the fragile environs of Antarctica increased his environmental sensitivity — the guiding force behind his work. In 2008, he was named one of the world's top 15 designers by French magazine Express, and in 2012, his installation Icarus became a permanent exhibition at Paris' Pompidou Centre.
On the subject of need versus wants, Trubridge's thoughts on the home furnishing industry today aren't particularly flattering — there is too little true innovation, for a start, but there is a lot of manufactured hype, "where we are being duped into believing that our wants are the same as our needs".
"As I see it, the industry needs to sell things more than people need to buy them, and that is not healthy. We need new and effective solutions to the problem of how to fulfil people's real needs without being responsible for the creation of waste, pollution, resource depletion and exploitation," he says.
"This is something we need far more than 'iconic' designs."
That said, there are some who are getting it right. Among thedesigners who Trubridge feels are addressing needs in positive ways is clothing and sports gear company Patagonia, known for its environmental focus, and whose business ethics he says he has always admired.
"Yvon Chouniard's book Let My People Go Surfing has been a big influence on the way I run my business," he says. "Patagonia has pumped lots of money into saving wild environments from excessive development and raising public awareness for nature conservation."
Trubridge practices what he preaches — or, as the saying goes, puts his money where his mouth is, designing innovations such as the Seed System kitset lights to help minimise the environmental footprint. Initially drawn to designing lights because they offered more sculptural freedom and expressive opportunity than furniture — and the profit margins were also better — he discovered that freighting pre-assembled lights was too expensive in both monetary and environmental terms.
This is an excerpt from the “Inspired by both land & sea" article from the April 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.
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