Anne-Claire Petre is a French designer and founder of Anaca Studio, a boutique brand based in St Kilda (VIC) offering a range of sophisticated and sustainable products, made to order and manufactured in Melbourne. You might have seen her gorgeous Zoe Table this weekend in the paper.
Anne-Claire says that she brings a little European flavour and inspiration and having in mind that good design is everything, her aesthetic is clean and minimalist and a touch whimsical. “I really put my heart and soul in the designs and the business to create a line of products that have integrity and that will stand the test of time.” I was lucky enough to connect with her and she was more than happy to have a chat about her work, her journey as a designer and the importance of sustainability in design.
What is your background in design? What has led you to this point?
I started my studies in France with industrial design but a few years into it realised the “industrial” part wasn’t for me. So I went on a working holiday in Scotland and somehow ended up applying at the Edinburgh College of Art to study Arts in Designs and Applied Arts majoring in Furniture. It was a very different environment to the previous school and it was incredibly inspiring; so many arts disciplines encompassed in one place, let alone being in Edinburgh… Most fabulous city!
Upon completing my honours degree, I decided to travel and came to Australia. After a bit of moving about, I settled in Adelaide where I was offered an associateship at the JamFactory, Contemporary Craft and Design in the Furniture department. Being there was hard work, long days, late nights, BIG learning curve as a designer-maker, but I enjoyed having access to a workshop and being able to prototype ideas myself. At the same time I was also working at Uni SA as a tutor in Industrial Design.
Following the Jam Factory I continued to work as a designer-maker in a shared workshop but wanted to go on to bigger things and decided to move to Melbourne. I worked for a few years at Jardan, being involved among other things in the design of a few of the early timber collections and working on many of the custom items, which was the most exciting part of the job.
After that, I got into the retail side of the furniture industry for a short while, but I was determined to get back into designing furniture. At the beginning of last year I was given a golden opportunity by Chelsea Hing (of Chelsea Hing Design Consultants) to manage her interior design studio for a few days a week – the timing was perfect and it was just the catalyst I needed to kick-start Anaca Studio.
Most of last year consisted of research and product development and by September/October I finally could see Anaca’s range of products coming to life and felt that the business was only just starting then.
You are passionate about design principles – can you tell us what your personal design principles are?
Balance / unity / scale & proportion / contrasts, those are important to me and they are a fundamental part of my design process. I like working with positive and negative space – it’s crucial to take both into consideration. It’s all part of the aesthetic.
Inspiration comes from Danish & Japanese Designs, Mid Century Modern, Art Deco and Minimalism – what in particular attracts you to these styles?
I love the minimalistic approach of the Japanese. It is pure form, linear shapes, and light aesthetics. Danish designs are just beautiful, organic forms, practical with impeccable manufacturing and detailed designs. Mid-century modern style is for me the best that has been done in design, interior and architecture, it resonates with me – maybe it is the aspect of practicality and the balance it has with a pure aesthetic. The Art deco period is simply a time of nostalgia for me. Graphics, textiles, fashion, objects, buildings were incredible and in furniture it was a time of beautifully crafted pieces and use of noble materials, craftsmanship was an integral part of the designs.
Do you have other sources of inspiration?
I regularly read The Design Files or other printed mags to stay in tune with what’s going on in Australian homes. I also love the aesthetic of est online mag and often peruse European blogs to see what else happening in the world of design & crafts. I check the trends; it’s always worth being aware of what’s coming.
Inspiration for designs can be random, for example, the Phileas floor cushions were inspired by the old fashion suitcase.
You have a sustainable, eco friendly approach to your work, what is important to you about this and have you always followed the sustainable path?
I am probably more aware and dedicated to sustainability now than when I first started designing. However I have always had in mind to make well-crafted and durable pieces. I think this is something I have learned from my mum who has always furnished the home with good quality antique furniture, Persian rugs and accessories.
Eco friendly is not just about using sustainable materials – it’s certainly a big part of it but it is about our attitude towards the things we do and the things we collect in our life. It’s what we do now that will shape the future of the planet. I continually look into how to improve my approach to sustainability within the business – and in my personal life – and how my business can support other sustainable or earth friendly organisations.
I am pretty keen to raise awareness to the terrible ecological & environmental disaster happening in Malaysia and Sumatra due to Palm Oil plantations and anaca studio has just started to support The Orangutan Project (more details on the “environment” tab on my blog) but more is on the cards and I am also currently looking into carbon offsets and FSC certification.
How do you incorporate this into your work?
I aim to use materials that will have smaller impact on the environment. The timbers used come from sustainable certified forests and I also aim to use finishes that have as little environmental impact as possible (ie. powdercoating instead of chrome or other plating finishes on metal). Also I always think of how much material will be used in a specific piece of furniture and if there are ways of reducing usage and waste. Quality of manufacture and materials means the products are very durable and won’t end up being thrown away after a few years.
You believe a beautiful space doesn’t have to cost the earth and that beautiful pieces are for everyone-this is a lovely approach. Can you expand on this, tell us how you see this unfolding in people’s homes, in an every day life?
For me it means buying conscientiously – if you love iconic furniture, instead of buying into the replica scene, try and look for them as “pre-loved” on ebay or at the markets. Sure, it might still break the piggy bank a little but not in the long term. Good furniture is an investment, something you’ll cherish and keep and most probably pass on to the next generation. Buying pre-loved (whether it’s a designer item or not) is a great way to reduce our environmental impact.
I love interiors that can have a good balance of new and old furniture/accessories. Make sure the pieces you fill your house with are practical or have a deeper meaning. Beautiful things can be found for $5-10 at the market; it’s what they mean to you, what you do with them and how you put them together in your home that counts.
What is your personal approach to interior decorating and style, what matters to you in your own space?
Maybe that’s a bit boring but I’m very much for the “Less is more” approach. I very much dislike a space is overdone or has too much “stuff” – it’s like visual noise to me. I find it distracting and unsettling. I like rooms that have subtleties about them and I always try to leave negative space around items of furniture, allowing them to “breathe” and creating lightness into the room.
I generally keep only the things that matter to me, because they are either beautiful or because I have emotional attachment or connection to.
Do your work alone or collaborate with other designers and artists?
For my own range I work on my own during the design process. Sometimes if I am unsure I might send a concept to a couple of friends I trust and see how they respond to it. But a lot of the work comes after the pen to paper and computer renders. Manufacturers take a crucial part in the final design. I rely on their expertise and knowledge to make final changes to keep the structural integrity of a piece.
Otherwise yes collaboration with designers is very much open too. Interior designers work with very various spaces or briefs where customisation is required – that’s a dialogue I really enjoy having.
Do you personally have any people or sources of inspiration in furniture design and interior décor?
Furniture design- love the lines of Ligne Roset – one of my all-time favourite is the Togo chair and sofa designed by Michel Ducaroy, an absolute classic from the 70’s. I am also a big fan of fellow French designers the Bouroullec brothers.
People & Interiors- Chelsea Hing of Chelsea Hing Design Consultants – she is an incredible inspiration and an extremely talented designer.
Jessica Nixon from Okologi Sutainable Interiors. I love her approach on sustainability, her business ethics are very close to mine and I very much connect with her interior design style.
Hecker Guthrie for their impeccable taste.
What is a favourite piece you are creating right now and how do you see your pieces fitting into contemporary interiors?
I am working on a few new things at the moment – including a range of ottomans, small table and stool and timber bar stools. The small table and stool are probably a bit of a favourite right now – possibly because the prototype is half way there so they are more tangible to me. Based on geometric shapes, they have a metal base and timber top and possibly some lovely leather detailing but I am still in thinking/prototyping process.
The pieces I create are quite pure and light. They fit well in contemporary Australian interiors as they are honest pieces with a minimal aesthetic but still a little whimsy or fun injected into them. They are practical and easy to live with and hopefully impossible to live without!