When Dean Toepfer got in touch to share his brand new Vase Versa collection we were excited by his colour combinations and the graphic nature of his 3D creations. As a furniture designer who leans towards minimalism and clean forms, his work is thoughtful and refined and yet, we can place his first Vase Versa collection in both a perfectly considered interior and that of a casual colour enthusiast. We are proud to be the first stockist of the Vase Versa collection and hope you enjoy learning more about the man behind the work.
You describe yourself on your personal site as a furniture designer, but your latest delivery to Makers' Mrkt of vases/candle holders are a small sidestep from your past practice. Would you say you’re transitioning to be more of a mutli-disciplinary designer at the moment? What is motivating your latest direction?
This is true, in the past, my projects were mainly focused around furniture and lighting, it wasn't until the end of last year that I’ve begun to branch out and start developing smaller objects and accessories. In the past, I would design and prototype in-house then outsource manufacturing to local industry in small batch production runs, because of this, the final price point is quite high. While I am still developing pieces of this nature, I am also keen to diversify my product offering, focusing on objects and accessories.
You love to explore different mediums in your work, what is it about trying something new that you find so rewarding and fascinating?
I really enjoy the process as a whole, from the research and development stages through to the execution and production. There are a lot of challenges when starting out with a new material or process as I may not be familiar with the properties and constraints. There are times when a detail or a whole design just wont work and things need to be changed. I have moments where I just need to walk away for the day, sleep off the frustration and come back the next day refreshed and refocused. The real reward is overcoming these obstacles and seeing the end result, when that idea becomes a real tangible thing. I always need to be challenging my skill-set as it keeps things fresh and exciting.
Can you tell us more about your design process, how does a concept start for you, are you someone who’s driven by the desire to make a “thing” eg “I feel like making a vase” or are you more driven by your materials, finding something you love and then trying to figure out what to do with it?
My design process and how I execute new projects is always changing. Generally, I will have a few different ideas floating around in my mind and there are usually one or two that are reoccurring and create a spark. With that spark, I develop the ideas through model making and prototyping. From there, the ideas begin to take shape and are refined through the concept development stages. Some projects are started with a clear intent of the final piece, although I’m trying to steer away from that of late and let the material or process take the drivers seat.
Tell us more about your history, what first sparked your interest in furniture design, how did you get started?
Post-high-school I studied fashion then worked within the industry as a national then international sales manager. It was a great experience getting to attend foreign trade shows, while also managing offshore production for international accounts. After a few years working within the industry, I felt a change was needed and wanted to pursue a more creative and independent path. I moved to Melbourne and undertook the Associate Degree of Design at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2015. It was whilst studying at RMIT that I found my passion for furniture and lighting design, upon graduating I then applied to the JamFactory’s Furniture Associateship Program to further develop my design language and establish my studio practice.
Walk us through your workspace, you’re a designer, but also a maker, do you do your design and making in the same space or keep them separate?
My studio is located in the JamFactory in Adelaide and I share my space there with one other (Object & Sculpture artist Luca Lettieri). Depending on the mess involved, I tend to keep making and designing separate. The studio is generally utilised for “clean” work: sketching, model making, CAD (computer-aided design) and assembly. Then there is a shared machine room in the Furniture Studio where materials are processed and most of the making is done.
Do you make all of your products yourself or do you outsource elements? Is it difficult to get started and set up with furniture design and making?
Generally speaking, I design, develop and prototype in-house, from there I produce CAD drawings to then be outsource for fabrication through local manufacturers. Once the components are made the assembly and finishing is then done back at my studio. It can be difficult to get started and set up for furniture design, but there are so many different ways it can be done. The main thing you need is patience and passion.
What are some things you need to have around you to feel inspired and happy at work?
Coffee, a clean space, good music and creative people.. I am very fortunate at the JamFactory to be surrounded by many talented and creative minds, I think this energy is contagious and a constant source of inspiration.
Maker’s Mrkt places focus on independent makers and educating consumers about the importance of supporting creative community with their spending. Is this something that is important to you? If yes, why is it important?
Yes definitely! The creative community can only survive through the support of independent makers and presenters, I believe a huge shift needs to take place and this can only happen through educating consumers. Unfortunately, in Australia, design is not in our cultural heritage unlike some European countries and the general consensus is to buy more for less. It is crazy to go into larger chain stores and see items of furniture or “design” objects selling for less than what you could buy the materials for. There are so many negative aspects attached to throwaway consumer culture. Over-consumption and excessive production only fuels unethical, environmentally damaging and exploitive labour practices. There are so many more advantages to supporting independent makers: knowing where the piece comes from, the story behind it, who made it and where your money is going. Alongside this, you are supporting independent creatives and local businesses.
Tell us about the new pieces we have at Maker’s Mrkt.
The Vase Versa range is my first object collection and first range that is self-produced in-house. I went into this project wanting to design a piece that was self produced and could be sold at an accessible price point. I also wanted to utilise colour as in the past most of my work is dark and monochromatic. The product collection is called Vase Versa, a take on the saying vice versa, the duotone stem vases have multiple colour relationships depending on the orientation of the piece. Vase Versa is a duotone stem vase, its paired back form highlights the bold graphic quality of varying colour relationships. Each piece handmade in Australia.
What’s next for you? Any projects or happenings you’d like to share?
I was meant to be showing work overseas this year for Milan Design Week, but all was put on hold due to the pandemic. This has been postponed to next year and now I have a bit more time on my side to further develop new work for that. I will have a new object (a bottle opener) launching through JamFactory’s product collection: J.A.M (JamFactory Australian Made). I’m looking forward to getting this piece out there as it has been in the works now for nearly 2 years. And a few other bits and pieces, stay tuned..