As a child, I was always tinkering in the workshop, whether it was working with the lathes or simply the old tools.
Ross Gardam

Ross Gardam speaks quietly about his success. Trained in industrial design, his latest light, the ‘Polar Desk Lamp’, is featured on the front cover of British-based design magazine Wallpaper* (April 2017). Other career highlights include a solo exhibition at Ventura Lambrate in Milan in 2016. Gardam sees his designs as having an international flavour and audience, in spite of being produced in Melbourne. “I think you can see the Melbourne ‘DNA’ when you pick up any one of my designs, whether it’s a table, a bench or a light. It’s the small detail such as the bespoke components,” says Gardam, pointing out a joint in a light fitting that has been carefully milled from aluminium. “You can tell these designs are also produced in relatively small batches,” he adds.

Gardam first heard the words ‘industrial design’ while at high school. One of his trade skills teachers had worked on Parliament House in Canberra. “I still remember his words that ‘industrial designers create the detail, often overseeing those who are putting things together,” says Gardam. Having a father who was a mechanical engineer and a family who owned a brickworks at Barham, in central Victoria, also played a part in Gardam’s career choice. “As a child, I was always tinkering in the workshop, whether it was working with the lathes or simply the old tools.” Having the family home just a stone’s throw from the brickworks also blurred the division between tinkering and home life.

After graduating from industrial design at Monash University in 1999, Gardam spent the next eight months travelling overseas, backpacking and sleeping in parks. On his return to Melbourne, he found employment with The Greater Group, an interior retail company and a major player in environmental design. The travel bug soon set in again and Gardam returned to London, dividing his time working for smaller retail design companies and freelancing as a consultant. “I was always examining how people move and explore a retail space, as well as consuming and interacting with the products on display.”

So when Gardam returned to Melbourne in 2007, he was ready to establish his own business, initially called ‘Spaceleft’. As with many designers starting out, it’s a cautious and slow start. For the next two years, Gardam produced a limited collection of pieces such as the ‘Flat Jack’, a bookcase made from cardboard that picked up a local award, and a plywood table. His ‘Squash Me’ chair, having a metal frame and a ply seat, featured squash balls in the frame to create comfort.

Each design came with an animated film to explain the process. However, the real breakthrough came with the release of the ‘Oak Pendant Light’, which came onto the market in 2012. Made from oak (in a number of different finishes such as black-stained, natural and limed), the pendant light, with its distinctive circular cutout, responded to the resurgence in the use of timber in people’s homes.

Well-known furniture retailer Stylecraft took up other designs as the ‘Half Full’ collection. This collection includes a table, stool and bench all made from solid oak featuring exposed tennon joints and half-turned rounded legs. Gardam’s latest design, the ‘Ora Desk Lamp’, a limited edition light, was recently presented in Milan. Gold-plated, with an ingeniously conceived gently rotating lampshade, it has a strong 1930s modernist feel. The Polar Desk Lamp also exemplifies why the media attention is getting stronger for Gardam’s designs. Loosely based on phases of the moon, the aluminium disk is connected to a ceramic base, appearing to delicately ‘float’. Rotating the disk creates different ambiences within a space, playing with light and shade.

Even after all the attention, it’s the simple things that still give Gardam enormous pleasure. As well as solving solutions with staff, he enjoys seeing the photos produced by Haydn Cattach. “When I see the designs through Haydn’s lens, I can then see how each product will be perceived in the marketplace. Seeing that image also defines the finale of the design process, one that simply began as an idea,” adds Gardam.

Words by Stephen Crafti.


Ross Gardam can be contacted on 03 9329 4145.

Lifestyle & Design

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