Interview: Gordon Tait

For the last 21 years, Tait has been lovingly designing and constructing innovative outdoor furniture and accessories in their Melbourne factory. Gordon Tait is the man behind it all – He and his team’s designs are inspired by and built for the brilliant Australian climate. He’s a craftsman to say the least.

Photo by Haydn Cattach

Hi Gordon! Please tell us a little about Tait?
Tait was born in 1991 after the company I was working for went into receivership and offered me some machinery and advice to start my own thing. Little did I imagine what that ‘thing’ would become. I have always loved working with my hands and trained as a sheet metal worker making all sorts of items with metal from pharmaceutical equipment and boats, to shop fittings and machinery. I developed an interest in furniture design and started making one off pieces in my free time. It wasn’t until my partner Suzie joined the business I started to see the possibilities of creating and marketing furniture collections.

What does a typical workday involve for you?
These days I’m not ‘on the tools’, I tend to be based in the office and oversee product development. The reality of running a small business requires lots of meetings, emailing and keeping all the balls in the air.

I am happiest when working on new product and really enjoy collaborating with designers and the team at Tait who all bring so much to the table to ensure we finish up with a beautiful well resolved product.

How would you describe your work/what’s your design philosophy?
I am obsessed with metal and really enjoy pushing the boundaries and possibilities of this honest material. I am always looking for new ways to work with it and really enjoyed creating the Volley range with Adam Goodrum, as the mesh proved to be very challenging. Tait products must always have clean, elegant lines and be designed to perform really well. We pride ourselves on producing high quality work with thoughtful details and beautiful finishes.

Photo by Scottie Cameron

Can you give us some insight into your creative process?
I have always been able to visualise things in my head and then go straight into making a prototype. These days, working with designers and as part of a team, we need to communicate clearly what the desired outcomes are going to be from the very beginning. We write design briefs, look at sketches and then produce renders. Once we are happy with the renders we create CAD drawings and start prototyping. I am by nature rather impatient and initially found this drawn out process quite difficult, but I have learnt by going through this longer process you end up with a much better product.

What does craftsmanship mean to you?
I used to just think it meant handmade, but it also says experience and quality to me. If something is well crafted it usually means years of learning and skill have gone into every aspect from the design to the making.

As a design and manufacture business, I would assume sometimes there’s a tension between ensuring your products maintain a high level of craftsmanship as well as being able to be produced in large quantities, at a certain cost. How do you balance these (often opposing) demands?
This is something we face on a daily basis.

In the early days we could play and make one offs but when you have a team of people relying on your business, you need to be far more discerning about everything you do.

Our Factory Manager and Production Manager have both worked at Tait for a long time and constantly look for efficiency savings within the manufacturing processes. We now design product with this in mind and throughout the prototyping stage look at time savings that could be made when the product is put into production. I still remember our first ever jig for our Jak chair and how excited we were (and how much it cost!) and now we have jigs for nearly all our products. Quality and performance is absolutely paramount to us as we guarantee our work. To remain a viable business we have to design and work smarter.

Photo by Brooke Holm
Photo by Haydn Cattach

What is one lesson you have learnt since starting Tait?
Trust your intuition and go with what you feel is right.

What are you passionate about?
Manufacturing in Australia and developing new products.

What other designers/craftspersons/artists are you inspired by at the moment?
Adam Goodrum and Dion Horstman.

What else inspires you?
I love sailing my classic yacht.

What media resources do you look to for inspiration?
I don’t really look to many resources, I prefer to be in the bush or on the water, people inspire me.

What is your dream project?
We have been chosen to replace all the outdoor furniture around the Arts Centre in Melbourne. It doesn’t get much better than that.

What are you looking forward to?
Sailing to Tassie in November on a friends classic yacht

What is your ideal Sunday?
I’m usually first up and cook breakfast for whoever is around then maybe Soccer with my daughter or racing on the bay.

If you were a plant, what would you be?
I’d like to be a cactus taking it slow and steady while baking in the sun.  

Photo by Haydn Cattach