Ben is one of the ten nominees for the Temple & Webster Emerging Designer Award 2014. Voting will begin on 2 May 2014.
Below is an interview with Ben:
A designer with Sydney based architectural finishings company Axolotl, Wahrlich’s move to Sydney in 2006 kick started a self taught design education culminating in the establishment of the design studio ANAESTHETIC, established in 2011 with fellow New Zealander Kiri Hughes. With a passion for creating small domestic objects from candle-holders to speaker systems in concrete, Wahrlich has recently begun working in timber on cabinetry, accessories and lighting for Axolotl’s new furniture and homewares brand, Anomaly. His understanding of manufacturing techniques goes well beyond these two materials and includes rotation moulded plastics such as his imaginative ‘Totem’ stools that stack in an irregular building block fashion to form a sculptural statement.
Ben’s Zig chest for Anomaly. Image – Steven Popovich.
What is your biggest motivator, muse or inspiration when you are designing?
Society has become so transient and wasteful in the past few decades. Too often I see cheap and poorly made products discarded on the side of the road at council collection days in my neighbourhood. These products have no emotional or monetary value, so it’s easy for people to throw them away. This is a big motivator for me, as all products I am involved in are very well engineered – built to last. I hope to think that the owners of my products still appreciate them in years to come and that perhaps they will become heirlooms for future generations.
What has been the single most pivotal point or event in your design life so far?
The birth of my son in November last year gave me a new found focus on our future. He has given me the drive to push our company into a new direction and I hope to leave a legacy in design, for him to be proud of in the years to come.
Ben’s ‘Kodiak’ bowls for Anomaly are turned from American oak with a textured metal finish.
What existing object or piece of furniture do you wish you had designed?
I often visit the Rose Seidler house in Sydney’s north. In his move to Australia, Harry Seidler brought several pieces of period furniture for the house that have since become timeless classics. One of these is a Womb Chair, designed by Eero Saarinen, that sits in the lounge overlooking the native bushland beyond.
I love the chair’s simplicity and it feels like it hugs you when you sit down, which is very comforting.
You have done a lot of work with concrete; what draws you to this material?
Concrete has a really nice aesthetic, it’s raw and un-uniform in appearance and is a relatively new form of material to use in design applications. As it is cast in a mould it also enables many design possibilities that are not possible with traditional materials such as timber or metal. For our Kasa range and Jack speaker, we spent many months developing a concrete formula that offers very high strength and illustrates minute decorative details in the mould.
The Zig credenza for Anomaly constructed with a concrete shell and fluted timber components.
You are the only designer chosen who didn’t do a degree in industrial design or something similar. What did you do to teach yourself design?
I have always been a very curious and creative person, even in primary school I would come up with new designs and invent things. I went on to study Mechanical Engineering at Uni and found myself excelling in Computer Aided Design, which I passed with distinction. Shortly after graduating, I landed a job in Sydney at a product design firm as a design engineer.
Starting off with a practical engineer’s mindset, I quickly established a strong knowledge of materials and manufacturing techniques which over several years has had a natural progression into the styling and execution side of products, due to my curious and creative nature that I have had since childhood.
I get inspiration from fashion and architecture and keep a keen eye on what other product designers are doing to stay fresh with trends and techniques, but more importantly to stay original.
Do you come up with a product idea first or experiment with materials and arrive at a product?
A little of both I guess. More often than not a product is determined by the materials and abilities of a manufacturer. I find that I work better with restrictions and constraints of manufacturers because it hones in on what is possible and what isn’t, so you get a quick idea of what tools you have to play with as a designer. Sometimes however, I will conceive a concept that will require some additional thinking to determine how to achieve the design. I have a pretty good understanding of how far I can push certain materials.