When Featherston got a re-boot and it was real good.
There are few words that evoke the sensibility of a nation. For Australia some of these words include lamington, football, eucalyptus, and of course, Featherston. The last in this list being in reference to Grant and Mary Featherston, the couple who pioneered Australian design and in particular furniture design.
Born in 1922 in Geelong, Grant Featherston had a quintessentially Australian upbringing complete with cricket in the backyard and summers down the coast. He was a self taught glass and furniture designer, and after graduating from the Geelong Technical School, went on to briefly work in these fields before serving in the war from 1940-44. Returning home and moving to Melbourne, Grant Featherston released his first range The Relaxation Series in 1947, which was announced with an endorsement by Robin Boyd in The Age.
The Australian public loved it. Finally a furniture range that was considered, timeless and designed for ultimate relaxation. Later in 1951, came the first of Grant Featherston’s Contour chairs, again this design was met with astounding praise. From here on, until his death in 1995, Grant Featherston’s career was positively unstoppable.
In 1965, Grant Featherston met Mary, an English-born, RMIT Interior Design graduate. Together they formed what would become an enduring partnership in life, love and business. Over the span of the next 30 years, the pair would go onto design many more heralded pieces of furniture, including the Scape chair (1960) and Chaise lounge (1953). They also completed interior fit-out commissions, including the interior design of the National Gallery of Victoria between 1966-68 (the building itself was designed by Roy Grounds).
Ground breaking design and hard work, usually leaves little time for reflection, but decades later we can attribute much of Australia’s design narrative to Grant and Mary Featherston. And finally in 2016, their work is being relaunched to a new generation with the help of Gordon Mather Industries and Grazia & Co.
Since 1989, Gordon Mather Industries have exclusively held the rights to reproduce original Featherston furniture. Each piece is locally manufactured at Gordon Mather Industries' Cheltenham factory. At the helm of this operation is Gordon Mather, who has been working alongside the Featherston family for close to three decades.
In 1992, Gordon hired fresh out of RMIT Interior Design, a bubbly and ambitious graduate, Grazia Materia. They worked together for the next decade. ‘It was here I got my grounding in furniture design, textiles and production,’ explains Grazia. ‘I developed a huge appreciation of the time, effort and precision that Gordon put into every piece of furniture. There were no short cuts.’
Grazia would eventually go onto to form her own furniture business, Grazia & Co, last year and this led to an opportunity to reconnect professionally with her former boss, after a project specified the use of Featherston’s Scape dining chairs. ‘Gordon suggested we join forces, and he went to Mary Featherston with the idea of aligning with Grazia and Co and introducing new pieces from the archive and doing a re-launch,’ mentions Grazia.
Mary gave her blessing, and the collaborative process began, with Gordon and his team in charge of the manufacturing process, while Grazia and her team would manage, market and distribute the collection. Mary did have one condition: that they re-launch her favourite archived Featherston piece, the OBO (1974), a spherical foam ball chair with reflex memory.
Featherston 2016 has now landed, and features a collection of 17 pieces in total. Ten of these have been out of production since the ‘70s, while the others have continued to be produced by Gordon Mather Industries since the ‘80s. ‘All pieces have been revitalised in contemporary, yet timeless fabrics and colours, ensuring the pieces work in today's interiors,’ explains Grazia.
Part of the relaunch includes, the Relaxation Web Chair (1947) from Grant Featherston’s first series. ‘We are very excited to re-introduce this piece in Australian homes after it being originally designed nearly 70 years ago!’ says Grazia. ‘It features a cradle leg base, the exposed ply wood frame is wrapped with interwoven webbing which has been custom dyed and secured to the base with a series of steel studs.’ The B230 Contour Chair, one of Featherston’s most recognisable pieces, is also making a comeback.
Gordon and Grazia describe working alongside Mary to relaunch these pieces as a very humbling experience. ‘Mary has a sympathetic holistic approach,’ explains Gordon. ‘She is always thinking beyond the design, expressing sympathy for the end user, the proposed target market and their interaction with the end product.’
The heart of the collaboration is to acknowledge the work of the Featherstons as some of the most significant in the history of Australian design, while supporting and fostering local design and manufacture. For this trio, good design is trans-generational and can shape the identity of a nation. Grazia sums it up best when she says: ‘Let’s bring back the idea that you buy something special, original and timeless to hand down to the next generation.’
This story was originally published on The Design Files with photos by Lauren Bamford and Sean Fennessy.