Designer spotlight: Sydney’s up and coming designer maker Ben Percy
There are two things immediately striking about Ben Percy. Firstly, he’s young – not only in years (he’s only just departed his 20s), but also in his youthful enthusiasm that is infectious.
The second striking feature about Ben is his humility, even more, endearing when you tally his long list of career achievements in his short professional life. After graduating with honours at the University of Newcastle in Design & Technology and Teaching, he received a scholarship from the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society to study at the prestigious Sturt School for Wood.
Ben then went on to start his own company ‘Ben Percy Designs’ at a young age of 25, and his works have been on exhibition in various galleries and design competitions. He was also a finalist in the 2013 Australian Timber Design Awards for The Pod and Flex Chair and did a short stint as artist in residence at Sturt.
His passion for design is evident. He is driven by the gratification he gets from communicating his own ideas through furniture. Ben believes great design is functional, beautiful and individual, and strives to create pieces that are not just art but are comfortable, usable forms to be enjoyed. He refined the design of his Rocker – a contemporary take on the traditional version designed for the Treecycle 2016 in the Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens – to be more ergonomic with a taller backrest and armrests.
Another core pillar of Ben’s design ethos is sustainability. Over the years he has grown to be more aware of the responsibility that contemporary designers have today to the environment, so he chooses sustainably sourced timbers such as Tasmanian Blackwood for his designs.
His unique style reflects his close relationship to the environment and nature. His aesthetic strikes the fine balance between contemporary and organic. His lines are fluid, yet simple, mostly hand-shaped or spoke shaved, but also formed with modern technology where appropriate.
Today Ben balances his time between making pieces of furniture, teaching the craft to emerging designers at Freshwater Senior Campus, and enjoying the lifestyle in Sydney’s Northern Beaches together with his wife, whom he married earlier this year, and their son Arlo.
We spoke to Ben about how nature inspires his designs, his signature Mantis Table in Tasmanian Blackwood, and his bushland wedding.
What are some of the challenges you face as a designer-maker?
Designers have a large responsibility in promoting sustainability. Being a furniture designer maker who works predominantly in timber I am lucky as I am able to utilise one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. The challenge of designing for sustainability is that whilst the timber can be considered carbon-neutral, it is the additional hardware, finishes and manufacturing processes, which have the greatest impact on the environment. As a designer, I am constantly trying to find the healthy balance between shape and form of the piece whilst minimising the reliance on energy-dependent production processes. This is why the majority of my work reflects the fine balance between handcrafting and machinery.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
My main inspiration comes from nature. I love the saying “If you want a new idea, open an old book”. Nature has evolved for over 3 billion years of evolution; it is a true example of sustainable design as nature liberates form by removing anything unnecessary. I love to reflect the highly organic shapes found in nature and this inspiration helps to keep me focussed on producing long-lasting, functional pieces of furniture made from beautiful timber.
Even just walking to the car and seeing the shapes of leaves or a gumnut on the ground can be inspiration. I’m always looking unconsciously at the forms in nature.
What inspired the Mantis table design?
The Mantis table communicates a sense of the piece being alive as if it is patiently waiting to emerge its long thin legs from the reeds and gracefully walk across the room.
Why did you choose to use Tasmanian Blackwood?
It is such a beautiful timber which has a story to tell through its grain and tones. The moment I came across that piece of Tassie Blackwood with the red flashes and fiddle back grain I knew that it had to become something special. The design of the Mantis Table was able to become even more elegant as the strength of the Blackwood meant that I could shape the legs down to a very fine footprint and not jeopardise the integrity of the piece. I love how the fiddle back grain wraps around the edge of the tabletop and disappears into the drawer opening.
What advantages do you see with using locally sourced sustainable wood from Tasmania?
I know that the sourcing of timber in Tasmania aligns with my ethos of designing for sustainability. As a craftsman and teacher of furniture design in Sydney Northern Beaches I am always keen to promote and utilise sustainable products to help minimise the Industries impact on the environment and put timber at the forefront of design thinking. The timber coming out of Tasmania is truly beautiful and a pleasure to work with.
What does a bushland wedding look like for a designer-maker?
It took place in Oxford Falls Peace Park that is tucked away in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. It was my wife’s idea. She was keen to have an outdoor bushland wedding. As soon as I saw it I knew I had a mission my hands to start building. We made pizza paddles, etched nameplates and two bridal tables and the wedding arch out of Tasmanian Blackwood. The wedding arch and guest tables were made from tulipwood to contrast the darker Tassie Blackwood.