Now director at Freiberg Australia and general manager of marketing, based in Perth, Beaver heads a team renowned for its beautiful office and furniture design with a philosophy steeped in creativity, quality and individual service.
Beaver spoke with Curve Editor Belinda Stening about his passion and his early days in the profession.
How and why did you decide on a career in design?
Like most boys in the last years of high school I had no idea what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I loved art, tech-nical drawing, metalwork, woodwork and physics. I had an older friend who told me he was doing Industrial Design at Harrow School of Art. I thought that’s it!
All my interests in one basket and I started applying for art and design courses all over London. I applied for the furniture design and production course at the London College of Furniture and was easily accepted with very average high school marks. That was in 1966.
I loved the Greco Victorian look of the place from the start. In my postgraduate year, 1970, I won joint first prize of 1,000,000 lire in the Artimede design competition for a piece of upholstery design called The Loop. It was in the shape of a giant doughnut of upholstery, which could contort into different seating arrange-ments. The judging panel included Tobia Scarpa and Gio Ponti.
I wrote my major thesis on ‘The utilisation of structural foam plastics in the furniture industry’ and left the LCF, which is now part of Guildhall University, Whitechapel, with a Post Graduate Diploma in Furniture Design and Production.
By 1971 I had become a true ‘furniture-philiac’. Notable teachers and influencers at the college were Peter Heath, Misha Black, Bernard North, Peter Booth, Cyril Rossguard, and Robin Day.
Design and art influencers at that time were Terence Conran, Robin Day, Charles Rennie McIntosh, Claes Oldenberg, Brancusi, Henry Moore, Bauhaus, Ettore Sotsass, Joe Colombo, Mario Bellini. The sixties and seventies were a true design renaissance led mainly by changes in plastics manufacturing technology.
What was your first job and how did it influence your career choices?
Getting my first job was really hard. After writing many letters and three months of unemployment, Monty Berman, the ex GM of Knoll International UK, noticed my competition win, contacted me and commissioned a range of polystyrene foam beds for Slumberland Bedding. I worked alongside Roger Dean, a designer illustrator who designed the early album covers for Pink Floyd.
I was eventually employed full time by Dupont in their design studio. This comp-any owned Slumberland, Vono, and a few other manufacturers.
At Dupont, I spent most of my time producing upholstery designs. Youthful arrogance caused me to get fired. I was out of work for another six months, applied and successfully got the only furniture design job that I saw advertised in Design magazine that year, and it happened to be in Perth WA.
My wife and I emigrated to WA as ‘10 pound Poms’ and only intended to stay for three years and then travel around the world. We got totally sucked into the Aussie lifestyle and have been in Perth ever since and love it.
I have worked with many designers and manufacturers in WA including Donald Cornish Furniture, Creative Interiors, Atelier Furniture, Danish Design Centre – DEDECE, Bristek and Dexion Interior Solutions.
What are you most passionate about in terms of the profession and other designers?
My passions change like the weather, but at the moment I am most concerned with environmentally responsible design. Stewardship and socially responsible design stir my grey matter.
I hate design for the ‘elitist few’ where designers, given expensive and rare materials, easily win acclaim. I also dislike influential interior designers who need the celebrity of well-known international designers and manufacturers to dignify and create notional values for their projects. This will stifle the development of a truly Aussie design culture and is environmentally and socially unsound.
I am passionate about creating unique supportive design and manufacturing islands reflecting strong localised art and cultural diversity. Look at Venice as an example. Perth could be in a perfect position to achieve this, if only our influ-encers of design and industry would give local talent and producers a fair go.
My real passion is to see that good design does become affordable, improves people’s working, leisure and home style. Also stewardship design that utilises local resources, is socially responsible, enriches local geography, engages community, provides equity, is environmentally aware and reduces toxic impacts.
My favourite designs that demonstrate this are, Michael Thonet’s circa 1876, Café Chair and Fritz Hansen’s 3107 by Arne Jacobsen. These chairs are like design dipsticks, timeless expressions of fashion, current materials and available technology. But check out the marketing philosophy of each company.
Thonet’s design and manufacture for all has permeated everywhere you look. Original broken Thonet chairs can be found in the derelict 1890s pubs of the goldfields, and the movie Blue Danube.
They must have been marketed so well and well priced. Not until the 3107 was plundered and copied in Asia could you see affordable replicas of this classic chair everywhere.
Did Fritz Hansen lose an opportunity? Everyone enjoys and wants this chair, almost as much as good tunes becoming public domain, like Amazing Grace. Not so good for the designer, but maybe some universally loved designs should be handed into the public domain?
When did you join Freiberg and what do you enjoy most about your work there?
I am the current general marketing manager of Freiberg Australia and joined as a salesman in 1997; the company was founded in 1946 initially marketing demountable partitioning. We were one of the first companies in Australia to seriously design and market systems furniture in the early 60s. By the late 80s we were the market leaders.
I think slow response to market changes, poor economic conditions and unsuccess-ful research and development, put the company into decline in the early 90s. New ownership in 1997, commitment to research and development and imp-roved marketing has revitalised Freiberg yet again for the next century.
Locally, we employ nineteen full time staff with around twenty to thirty sub-contract suppliers and service providers. We also have a sister company, Freiberg Malaysia, which employs around fifty personnel and twins our products, administration and manufacturing techniques in the port town of Klang near Kuala Lumpur.
We want to become market leaders of workstations, screening systems, related products and services by continually improving, updating our products and services to meet the demands of our clients and current market trends.
During the last five years, design process was fundamental to our future. In 1997 we derived our entire turnover from just two products we had inherited with the company but they were both in sales decline.
We hired our first graduate designer Larry Roycroft in 1999 and developed Synergy as a me too product replacement for our fifteen year old Series 60 to maintain a presence in the government screen market.
This was very successful. Interestingly enough, I would say only twenty per cent of the ideas generated, designed and developed to market have been successful, but that’s enough to sustain Freiberg into a new era.
We have now upgraded factory facilities, plant, equipment and technol-ogy, and look forward to moving into a new showroom, which is now under construction.