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  • Holger Dielenberg

Behind the scenes of Sabu Studio Furniture and Lighting

Tell us about yourself and your process.

As a furniture maker and lighting designer, I love bringing the curves of nature into my work. The character of natural materials introduces a special quality that I find very inspiring. These qualities have drawn me to the aesthetics and honesty to material of Japanese and Scandinavian design. The paired back minimalism has informed my design practice considerably and helped the purity of form to take primary place.

Sabu Studio was born from my belief that art and design are intrinsically linked. I completed a degree in both fine art drawing and industrial design at RMIT and I find I can’t do one without the other. For instance, I often blend beauty and the utilitarian. Some elements in my work are made purely for their aesthetic value, while others must consider the functional aspect of the piece. Having studied fields of art and design, I draw from them equally. I find this helps to bring a creative flair to the everyday.

What is it about the blend of art and design that works so well for you?

I take inspiration from nature. Nothing is straight and of course, the material you buy is always straight. So, I’ve had to become quite creative in reshaping materials through use of laminations and vacuum forming techniques to bring the beauty of curves into my work.

Often the artistic side of my work demands experimentation. Like how tight I can push a curve’s radius to meet the creative intent, without breaking the limits of the materials I’m using. Timber holds tension within the grain, so learning these tolerances requires a lot of prototyping. Over time I have developed techniques and approaches depending on thickness and number of laminations of materials and timbers used.

From a design and manufacturing point of view, I’ve developed a range of work that I can repetitively make but I also do custom designs for clients.  Generally, I prototype everything, including the jigs and templates I need to make the works. This helps my work to maintain a consistent level of quality and brings efficiency to my work process.


How has Space Tank helped you on your business journey?

I’ve spent my first five years at Space Tank. It’s a great place to get the ball rolling when you’re starting out and the benefits of having like-minded people working right next to me have been numerous. There are other furniture makers but also designers, product developers, engineers, and electronics experts. Having access to these different mindsets, opinions and knowledge helps me to approach my thinking in different ways. It would have been impossible for me to get this far without that community of expertise literally working alongside my own practice.

When you’re starting out, investing in your own equipment, and paying factory rent is not really an option so having affordable access to communal fabrication spaces and equipment workshops is invaluable. The spaces are large and not overcrowded. There’s enough room to work comfortably and expand if I need to. I also have my own private studio where I can sit quietly and design new pieces and do the business and marketing end of my practice.

Being at Space Tank, my business only took three years to reach sustainably, and I’ve concentrated the last two years on expanding my range and increase sales from overseas markets. Without the Tank I’d still be in a part time job and working out of my backyard garage.

Do you have plans to grow your business?

I’m an artisan so I have input in every aspect of the design and manufacturing process. To grow my business and employ people, I'll need to make sure I am ready personally and that my business is mature enough to take this step.

I never want to expand for the sake of growth alone. There must be integrity to who I am, as well as the process and quality of my work. Much of my works are bigger and more expensive items that are not affordable to everyone, so one way I can maintain integrity is to expand low volume production of smaller works that can sell at a lower price point. Regardless of scale, everything I do must retain the bespoke and personal nature that is intrinsic to my style.


Tell us about the exhibition that you are involved in.

Plural is an exhibition in this year’s Design Week. I have collaborated with a former Space Tank tenant Harley Hamilton to diversify and break away from the typical constraints of a furniture maker. In this show, I’m experimenting with materials and trying new designs. For instance, I’ve got a few pieces with formed aluminum, in particular some wall lights that I’m really excited about.

Furniture makers don’t usually have exhibitions so shows like this set me apart from other makers and help me to gain recognition and exposure to wider audiences like architects, interior designers and property developers. Public exhibitions help me to develop business to business relationships and expand into bigger and more exciting projects.


What advice would you give an emerging furniture and lighting designer?

Get involved in design exhibitions and concentrate on networking. Makers are often not great at marketing and business development, but these are crucial to the success of your business. None of us succeed on our own so build a community of support with like-minded colleagues to collaborate with and learn from.

You must be prepared to put in the hard yards. Growing a business can mean taking two steps forward and one step back. You must be honest about where you need help. Not everything is going to work so be resilient. Be prepared to fail a lot and pick yourself up again and continue. It takes years of learning from your mistakes so you must have a tough skin and be constantly willing to try new things. Face this reality early and decide whether you have what it takes.


If you had a magic wand, what would you wish for in your business?

My own CNC machine! Again, one of the great things about working at Space Tank is I can ask the guy next to me to help me out, instead of travelling across Melbourne to get machine jobs done. One of the Space Tank tenants has a CNC machine and I have outsourced several jobs to him. His knowledge has really helped me refine my processes. CNC machines drastically reduce the time and labor overhead of profiling timber and making jigs and templates. I also use the laser cutter at the Tank for making all my vacuum bagging templates and jigs for bent lamination glue-ups.


What’s the next big thing for you?

Exhibiting in the next Milan show will help me connect to broader international audiences. I already sell to clients in America and am looking at Europe as a next logical step to further establish my international outlets. I went to Milan recently to assess the level I’d need to exhibit. What struck me is that Australians stand equal to Europeans in design quality, style and craftsmanship. It will take me a good six months to design and prepare works for Milan so that will take a lot of my time and energy.

At what point do you think you’ll be ready to transition to your own factory?

Renting my own factory is a quite a commitment and investing in my own machinery and fabrication equipment will be a major milestone. Moving out of Space Tank will require a consistent flow of orders and establishing a range of higher volume products that can bring in reliable cash flow. Consistency is a key goal because a transition like that would mean employing extra people and having higher financial responsibilities. Business procedures and fabrication techniques must be established and efficient and my market penetration must be carefully prepared. Moving out of Space Tank will be my next major goal after the Milan show.

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