This week I’ve had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with the wonderful Franco Crea. Franco is a product designer, who has a luxury furniture company, named FrancoCrea. Originally from South Australia, Franco is now based in Melbourne creating designer furniture for both residential and commercial spaces.
Franco and I had a really beautiful phone call earlier in the week, where we honestly discussed the challenges and rewards of starting your own design business. It was really inspiring for me (at the beginning of my journey) to speak to Franco (well established and recognised) to hear some truths about the journey. He was genuine and let down his ‘fashion façade’ that designers of all disciplines put up.
I really resonated with you speaking about the start of your business, you explained to me that you wanted to be a furniture designer however, there were numerous formally study paths in South Australia to get to this goal. Could you explain a little bit more about that progression from interior architecture into furniture design?
"I resonated most strongly with interior architecture initially having a keen interest in architecture and space. At the time the interior architecture course offered the opportunity to major in either exhibition design or furniture design and that meant I could holistically develop skills in both interior spatial awareness and furniture design specifically. It taught me how to approach the art of designing. I then transitioned to a more hands-on training working closely with master craftsman in metal and wood working to hone my making skills and truly understand how a piece of furniture is constructed to have structural integrity."
You didn’t have the most traditional route into product design as brushed on briefly in the last question. Can you explain to us a little bit about how that makes your approach different to someone who trained purely as a furniture maker?
"One of the lovely elements my journey has afforded me is the holistic approach my training in Interior Architecture has layered to my design aesthetic. Each piece I design not only harnesses my focus on the beauty and integrity of the individual piece of furniture, it also encompasses a dynamic relationship with how it integrates with its home or office interior."
So, you’ve now finished your training, you’ve decided to set up your own business. What does the first year of FrancoCrea look like?
"It was a completely immersive year. I was lucky to have the energy of youth on my side at the time. Anything new is always a challenge but what comes with that is excitement and enthusiasm to embrace those challenges. Wearing many hats and up-skilling in areas not specific to design but to the core basics of running a business was crucial and the most challenging. The hours were long but they seemed to pass in the blink of an eye and my trajectory of growth was exponential."
I’ve found the biggest shift for me from working for someone else to starting my own business is getting out of the ‘I’m just a designer’ mind set and changing that into ‘I am a business owner’. With my business hat on I find I’m struggling to find the balance between an emotive creative and a ‘successful’ business brain. Was that something that you struggled with as well? If so, are you able to elaborate on how you strike a balance between the two?
"I think that is something most creatives grapple with. Our creative brains don’t easily adjust to the more pragmatic demands of running a business. As cliché as it is to say, I’ve found for me it’s important to carve out designated time to focus on both creative and practical components separately and selecting the right time in my week for these. I pick a time in the week when I am freshest and energised to tackle the more administrative components of the business. It’s the best time to concentrate and focus. For the creative elements that come naturally to me, I set aside time usually in the afternoon when energy fades. Being creative re-energies my passion and keeps me fuelled to tackle the not so fun practicalities.
This was a journey for me to truly respect the administrative elements I didn’t enjoy. Initially it was easy to ignore these elements but eventually that brings no joy as the business can’t prosper and grow without them and it becomes disheartening. I wanted a healthy thriving business and ultimately if all components of the business aren’t working well it will lead to demise.
Seeking outside advice on the elements that aren’t your strength can do the world of good to free up time for the creative elements. If you can afford to outsource these components then even better. If not then it’s useful to find out what workshops are available via government small business opportunities. Attending a 2 hour workshop can save you weeks in the long run as you learn tips to execute tasks more efficiently, hence freeing you up for more creative time."
I think a lot of aspects of the creative industries have a lot of ‘mystery’ surrounding them especially for those who aren’t in the industry. I feel a lot of people do not understand what we do and how we do it. In your eyes, what does it mean to be a furniture designer in Australia?
"I made a connection at a certain point in my journey that a large part of what I enjoy is educating my clients on design and what I do specifically. I could see the stress in my clients from what seemed daunting and foreign to them. Buying a beautiful piece of furniture should be enjoyable and exciting and I wanted to alleviate that stress. By educating my clients and providing them detail and information I empower them to make the best-informed decision. Even if they don’t purchase from me I have helped them understand our design industry a little bit more.
In Australia, it is fairly unknown what a furniture designer does. Driven from inspiration and the purpose of the furniture piece, I explain the process starts with sketching, for me by hand, exploring different shapes and forms and exploring different methods of construction.This then translate to CAD drawings and numerous prototypes to achieve the desired aesthetic and to ensure the integrity of construction."
It must be such a special experience to you that you have so many of the product designers of the future coming to you asking for your story and how they can get into the business. What would be your best advice for those looking to follow in your footsteps?
"It has been extremely warming to have people reach out and connect with me. I always welcome anyone to touch base and chat. It is a lesser known career path and if I can share my experience and hurdles to help anyone that is an ultimate honour. I would say being constantly curious is a wonderful place to start. Try new methods of construction, new materials, seek new inspiration, be prepared to fail. Failing is ok. You learn from it and it strengthens your kit of parts. Be open to learning about business and the mechanics of it and have the understanding that these mechanics are vital for your success."
You said something really insightful on the phone about how the furniture isn’t for you, it isn’t your story. Each product you create is for your customers and it is why they love it. Are you able to give us a little insight to what goes into the back end of making your pieces?
"I create my pieces from nostalgic memories to be heirlooms that can be passed on through generations. When I work with my clients I take the time to really understand how they intend to use the piece and what their lifestyle is so I can create furniture that perfectly fits their individual needs. The story really begins when their special piece arrives in their home or office. Layers of memories and stories develop over time as they use their furniture and that creates a rich history and a personal connection with the piece."
Covid-19 has seen a lot of Australians look internally as we have been physically shut off from the rest of the world. I’ve loved the push there has been to buy Australian made products and I think this could be the start of a bright future for Australian design. It might be hard seeing the current financial climate but do you have any optimistic visions for the future of Australian furniture design?
"I feel there has been an undercurrent these past 5 years or so with an appreciation for local design and manufacture resurging. My clients have been so supportive of my work and often truly see the value in what I create for them being extremely high quality, unique furniture. Competition is fierce with overseas imports yet interest is still strong to support local designers and craftspeople. People are taking more of an active interest in where products have come from and how they are made and what sustainable methods have been utilised. Covid has certainly deepened the conversation further to explore local and I am optimistic appreciation will continue to grow."
So to wrap up on a light note, have you developed any little rituals or mantras during the pandemic to keep you sane?
"The definition of sane is a fluid word in my household these days especially being Melbourne based currently. The one thing I have clung to is my daily 5-7km walk that I hope to continue on post covid restrictions. It’s a beautiful time each day to connect with nature, listen to a podcast or give myself time to think."
I cannot thank you enough for your time Franco, you have been so honest and sincere with your story. It’s been such a privilege to pick your brain and have you feature in my little Semper Journal. I’m counting down the days until the borders open and I can come check out your showroom!
About Amelia //
Hi there! My name is Amelia, I am the creative director and owner of Semper Interiors. I created Semper Interiors after working in hospitality studios for many years, during that time I found myself feeling increasingly guilty about the waste created throughout each project. I wanted to be able to design and create spaces that have a minimal impact on our beautiful earth. My approach to sustainability is based around ensuring my projects have longevity in both quality and aesthetic, supporting local trades, artisans and suppliers and using natural materials.
Semper Interiors a bespoke interior design studio based in New Farm Brisbane that focuses on sustainability and conscious construction practices. If you are interested in how we can help you make your home or business more environmentally conscious and beautifully designed please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.