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Living Edge Talks: Michael Young

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We chatted to renowned designer Michael Young in preparation for Saturday in Design and the launch of Michael’s range in Living Edge.

We covered everything from design inspiration & his favourite pieces, to the problems with the Australian design industry and to his current fascination with the 2nd World War. 

How did you come to be doing what you do? (e.g. study, work experience etc.)

I guess I failed about everything at school and was left to my own devices to make a living. When you’re 21 you don’t really understand what it is you want to do, but what I did know was that I wanted to be my own boss, so I got in to college with only drawings and then it went from there. I left school in a recession so had to make things and sell them, which I did, to Conran Shop and others, and things grew. That was almost 20 years ago now.

Describe a typical working day?

I have two types of working days, if I am in Hong Kong I get up around 7am and work for two hours at home. I get to the office at 10am and stay there till 2.30ish when I leave and come home to hang out with the family, I guess with the new baby I’m not quite sure what is in store for me, but it looks likes its all going to change…

I don’t exercise, I hate exercise, but I do like to walk in cities, but Hong Kong is kind of hot a sweaty and if you’re not in the air con you die.

If I’m not in Hong Kong and at the family camp, I’m up early for a walk on the beach, healthy breakfast and some thinking time, it’s good to design because my job is to think and having that amount of space – it is all I need to do my job. I like to drive my mini moke, I’m happiest going to buy a pint of milk or shopping at Woolworths, it’s a bit like hunting for the modern man and I feel like I’m doing my part for the family. I like to be given a task to take mind my off work, but, invariably because I have clients all over the world I have to be on call a lot, I need to be there for them so I don’t get much freedom.

Can you give us a brief rundown of your creative process?

It’s unique each time as my work is based on the last thing I have done and old ideas evolve in to the next – with some inspiration sprinkled on from engineers or the lively personalities of my clients. That combined with good instincts move me forward creatively. Computers are all I need really, I can only use a pencil but I need them to see evolution in a project, I always know what I want within minutes of a project starting.

Chair 4a - Leather

Where do you look for inspiration?

The richness of my life and the passion of others to work with me is all it takes, passion is the driver of life for me, if people have it amazing things can happen, if they don’t it all gets very dark. 

Who do you admire creatively?

I have a few people that inspire me.  Syd Barrett has stayed with me since school, and Matthew Barney is an artist I adore. In design its the old school: Eames, Panton—they captured the industrial revolution post 2nd world war, and with hand techniques to create forms people can’t beat today.  I guess I am also a Jeff Koons fan, I love the objects the manufacturing and the business model.

I still admire old school artists like that old Aussie dude who set himself adrift on a raft at sea, I saw his work in Canberra and felt the life flood into me. Admiration comes from metaphysical moments.

Lemmy is a hero as is Michael Monroe. I guess I like die-hard originals.

What has been a career highlight?

These are relative to the time you are living in and important to that moment. I love to move forward, I don’t think my work is well known enough for me to be too retrospective.

But I do love the Dog House for Magis, prior to that when my work exploded in Japan it was pretty amazing, being young and living the dream in Tokyo, I was maybe too scared to enjoy it but it was a highlight. But I have learnt to avoid raising my expectations on events that should be important; they are normally attached to a lot of responsibilities.

Michael Young's Dog House for Magis

What do you like/dislike about the Australian design industry?

I’m not sure were to start! It doesn’t stand chance to grow with the import of all these so-called ‘replicas’. The Australian government invests in all these design schools to help young people but at the same time don’t provide legislation to protect the industry. These imports reduce the opportunity for young designers to grow by killing the need for new things. I’ve been at this for 20 years and I am a die-hard and if I ever met the guy behind Matt Blatt I would probably end up pulling his balls off. I would seriously hope not to end up in the same room!

It seems young designers here only get they chance to make low investment sofas and so on, so the scope of what they can achieve is pretty limited.

Can you share a goal with us for the future?

Well I have been dedicated to design for a long time, lived all over the world and its time to take control in a new way. I want to do one gigantic joint venture to embrace all the things have learnt. But more than that I am learning to be a father, which has put things into perspective for the first time for me. I’m still in the throws of this thought. We are designing some hovercraft concepts, which are amazing. If we could ever get them made—private hovering all round! 

What are you reading at the moment?

Nothing. I can’t do it anymore. I have so much to think about its not possible. I always have some thought knocking on the door. I like the idea of reading one day in the future. I like music books. I’ve read at lot in the past but I only get to read classic rock and Q magazine on planes these days!

I like the idea of reading a book about the 2nd world war. I’m still mentally in shock when I think about the things that Hitler did and the suffering that was created I feel it’s a duty to understand it. My dad talks about his father in the war and I’m fascinated.

What’s your favourite piece of furniture?

That would have to be a piece by Linge Roset. Its kind of groovy and subtle, the two don’t often go hand in hand. Apart from that I love hi pad chair that Jasper made some years back. When I was in the Living Edge show room last month looking as all the Herman Miller stuff – the Eames stuff is basically all you need. You can’t knock it. I do love what Cappellini did in the early 90′s there was a real spirit in that which has no been repeated.

Come meet Michael during Saturday in Design at the Living Edge Residential Studio, 74 Commonwealth St Surry Hills, from 3pm on Saturday 20th August 2011.

View more of Michael Young’s work here

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