Interview: Furniture Designer Stuart Williams

Stuart Williams is a furniture, lighting and object designer and maker based in Hobart, Tasmania. His highly acclaimed work is simple, elegant, and very much connected to the landscape from which it has evolved – both materially and conceptually.

Stuart seems to be a rather quiet achiever – his work has been exhibited and distributed internationally, he has recently undertaken commissions for the Australia Pavilion at Venice, Parliament House South Australia, the Qantas headquarters in Sydney, and when I first approach him about an interview he mentions he’s a bit busy, finishing a commission for David Walsh, infamous owner of MONA! As you do. Thankfully, he had time to answer some questions about his work, inspiration, and his desires.

Furniture designer and maker Stuart Williams
Image by Peter Whyte for Touching Space

Please tell us about  your business, Touching Space?
I established Touching Space in 2007, after exhibiting in Milan with FORM and Curtin University. I went to Milan ready to be humbled by the great design talent of the rest of the world and came back inspired, realising that Australian design had just as much merit as anywhere else. I then developed a range of pendant lighting with the help of a grant from Arts WA and it grew from there.

Touching Space is mostly me – I employ people for skills I don’t have (mainly CAD) or as an extra pair of hands. Then there are the manufacturers; I have 3 main manufacturers in Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney who help produce my production work that sells through Stylecraft.

I love this quote from your website: ‘I am continually trying to strip back my work, making it as simple and honest as I can. Finding a way to connect, to belong to a place and to remind people to think about their environment, their place, the space they live in.’ How do you go about this as a maker?
Hah! This is a great question… and one I’m still trying to answer. I guess for me we seem to be moving faster and faster every day, our existence being more about working than living.

There doesn’t seem to be enough time to dream or sit and contemplate anymore.

Imagination is something I live for. It gives me the space to think about life, who and what I am, and how I fit into it…not to mention how truly amazing it really is. But so much of our imagination is lost. Dreaming is seen as wasting time. For me the ability to walk in the bush or in a foreign city allows me to forget about the every day of my life and dream a little.

You also mention your relationship with the landscape and wilderness of Tasmania. Can you please describe this relationship in further detail, and illustrate the way it plays out within your work?
I love the Tasmanian wilderness (all wilderness really). Its wild places both inspire and humble me, where the elements are not controlled. I like the tension that is created between wilderness and man-made landscapes. There is a boundary between the safe and familiar, and the uncontrolled majestic beauty of the unknown. This draws me into these spaces repeatedly, building anticipation, and challenging me.

I try to design to entice the viewer, like a lure, into the wilderness.

I use materials that come from Tasmania when I can. This gives the work a provenance. I incorporate natural materials and non-shiny finishes to help make my work simple and uncluttered, removing the busy mind… The wilderness does this for me so I like to try and capture this.

Georgette Lamp (Available at Stylecraft)
Stuart's home

What do you desire?
A rich life filled with love, joy and excitement, and to spend more time in my vegie garden! Plus fantastic food and gelato!

What does a typical day involve for you?
Drop the kids off at school and head to the workshop and get stuck into whatever commission or prototype is going on. Then back to get kids and deal with their needs, cook dinner and then once the lovely little flowering cactuses are in bed I catch up on emails I’ve missed for the day, then if there’s time I’ll watch a series or movie (self soothing in front of a screen!).

How would you describe your work/what’s your design philosophy?
Simple. For me too much detail stops the viewer from connecting to the work.

Can you give us some insight into your creative process?
My creative process is all around me. Walking in the bush and seeing a beautiful flower or the way a leaf curls, sitting in a café and watching the way customers interact with the space, and the architecture… all these things I keep in my head in a mental library. Then it’s drawing and sketching, before making scale models and then full size models, making joints and junctions and then making the real one.

Once this is done and I’m happy I can outsource to the manufacturer who will inevitably want to do something slightly different. I think its best to let this be an evolutionary process as they will have better insights into the best way to make things.

How important is it for you to both design and manufacture your furniture pieces?
I’m a designer maker… I make prototypes of everything first until it is right. I am outsourcing the manufacture now more and more for production though. Making and designing is an intuitive process for me. I need to make things first. I can’t use CAD (well I don’t want to…!). Once it’s right, and ready for manufacture I’ll get one of my CAD people to do the drawings from my hand drawings.

How does the process of making inform the design process?
It’s an act of doing for me. I get to see how difficult something is to make, how it can be made more efficient and how strong it is. 

What is one lesson you have learnt since starting making furniture?
Ask for help!

What are you passionate about?
Food, entertaining people and breathing in a lung full of well earned fresh air!

What/who inspires you?
Mother Nature, my partner and children and the incredible design community Australia has to offer.

What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time…what’s that? Between being self employed and having 2 small beautiful but demanding kids I don’t get much spare time but when I do I like to get into my fruit and vegie garden, go for a walk in the bush (or camping if I’m really lucky!) and cook.

What media resources do you look to for inspiration?
Instagram, Google, old Architectural Digest magazines (when I find them) and Design Milk.

What is your dream project?
I guess it would have to be having creative license to to fit out a hotel, or to design for Artemide.

What are you looking forward to?
More work and travel overseas!

If you were a plant, what would you be?
Well, I would have to say a peach tree.

Follow Stuart Williams on insta and Facebook

'Mount Field' Cabinet. Image by Peter Whyte for Touching Space
'Bill' standing lamp and 'Remarkable Caves' cabinet
Details from Stuart's studio
Stuart at work!