When Gregory Bonasera and Anthony Raymond first got their hands on the building that was to become the Melbourne showroom of their design brand Porcelain Bear, it was one of the most graffiti-covered buildings in Collingwood.
Although it had most recently been used by an events company, the building’s original use was as an auto mechanic workshop, a history that was appealing to the pair.
There’s even evidence of an old petrol bowser in the driveway.
We love its history and its modernist, industrial aesthetic.
The transformation has been remarkable, with the new contemporary retail space featuring charcoal exteriors and clean lines, and the interiors awash with natural light and surfaces selected to highlight the brand’s range.
The ceilings were little more than corrugated iron and had to be replaced with a more robust structure that could hold the weight of the suspended pendant lighting which is the studio’s signature product. After going through a number of options, the team settled on a carefully scattered arrangement of rectangular panels which are suspended from the pitched roof frame and offer level, horizontal false ceilings.
Bonasera says: “They’re at differing heights so we can distribute the lights through the space hung from these panels.”
The duo, partners in life and in work, met socially but had an instant affinity for design, and for porcelain. Bonasera had originally studied ceramics before moving to designing in metal, with porcelain a passion of his – he loves it for its robust nature and ability to be either solid or translucent depending on the type, like milk, he says.
Porcelain can be broken, but if it’s looked after, can be incredibly long-lasting and durable
Despite his love for ceramics, Bonasera realized early on that his heroes were industrial designers, so for him it’s a natural fit to combine the two, which is what Porcelain Bear has achieved. Raymond’s training in industrial design has brought the two disciplines even closer.
Selling a range of lights, as well as some furniture and object design, Bonasera and Raymond’s work is computer-aided ceramics. Designing in CAD, they print the design on a 3D printer and then create a ceramic mold in plaster. The porcelain is then formed using the mold and finished by hand.
Two of the most striking lights are Pablito, a sculptural, three-pronged, rounded shape that hangs horizontally above, while I-O-N is a range with three shapes inspired by the three windows of Australian television show Play School – the round, square and arched window.
While Bonasera has been working in the area for many years, the formation of the partnership with Raymond and the branding of the studio as Porcelain Bear has propelled the work forward, with recent exhibits at Melbourne Now, the Milan Furniture Fair, designEX. The opening of the showroom allows the pair now to show to the public for the first time themselves, without a retailer as buffer. “For us, it’s about being able to show the work as it was intended to be shown,” says Bonasera.
And as for the brand name, it’s not just because the pair are “bears” that they chose “Porcelain Bear”. The polar bear has a lot in common with porcelain – they are both white, both strong, both vulnerable. “The image of the polar bear is robust and dignified, just like porcelain,” says Bonasera. “That’s why Percy the porcelain bear is our mascot.”
Porcelain Bear is at 23-25 Derby St Collingwood.
Visit their website her
This interview originally published on THE DESIGN WRITER by by Penny Craswell and originally republished by SNAP in August 2014.
Images – diana Snape / portrait Steve Granger