Spotlight on... Gareth Brown
The hospitality industry in South Australia has been undergoing a dramatic transformation in recent years. These days the aesthetic elements of a restaurant can be paramount to the food, drinks, service and location—put simply, interior design can make or break a business.
Words by Rebecca Freezer.
Photos courtesy of Agostino & Brown.
For Gareth Brown, his background in the world of hospitality has sharpened his eye for detail and functionality in making furniture for bars and restaurants. Chef turned cabinet-maker, Brown is a skilled craftsman in his own right as well as one half of the Adelaide-based design duo Agostino & Brown (A&B). Catering to both residential and commercial projects, food and wine lovers have most likely enjoyed A&B’s fit outs in some of the state’s finest pubs, bars, restaurants and cellar doors. Paloma Bar and Pantry, The Feathers, The Stirling, The Crafers and The Grange Hotels, Mitolo Wines and the 23rd Street Distillery, to name but a few. And yet, the unassuming signage to A&B’s stunning Pulteney Street showroom attests to the pair’s self-effacement towards their celebrated contributions to design in South Australia.
43 year-old, Belfast-born Brown emigrated to Australia as a child. While he was raised in Adelaide, he was living and working as a chef in the UK when he retrained in handcrafted furniture-making at the City of Bristol College in the early 00s. More skill set than design-led, the one-year course built Brown’s specialised expertise in working with solid timber, veneers and joinery, like hand-cut dovetails.
His inclusion in a New Designers exhibition in London, 2006 secured his decision to push his practice further. Upon returning to Adelaide, from 2007-2008 Brown undertook the two-year Associate training program in JamFactory’s Furniture Studio. Brown describes this time as a chance to “explore furniture-making without the pressure of running a business.” The experience also provided him with solid industry connections and resources. This access gave way to Brown making his first commissions. It was his subsequent association with Enoki Director, Susanna Bilardo that led Brown’s introduction to Sam Agostino, an interior designer who has become his business partner of close to a decade.
“we make pieces that last–certainly that’s an important part of sustainable practice.”
“It all happened very organically,” Brown describes the first project the two collaborated on. The Fig table and Fig bench, still in production, were originally made in American oak and were produced using the most sustainable methods and materials available. It is a no-brainer that to maintain a sustainable business model, each item from A&B’s furniture collection must be easy to manufacture, cost-effective and producible in large quantities.
The newest addition to the A&B range, the Muhuhu chair continues these same principles. Named after the caramel-coloured wood much used in the 60s and 70s for parquet, the Muhuhu tree is now listed as ‘endangered’ in its native East-Africa. Rather than using this endangered timber, the Muhuhu chair is made from either oak, leather and/or walnut. What results is a chair that has all of the virtues of its hard-wearing, retro namesake, minus the expense and ecological implications. There is a local and environmental consciousness to much of what A&B do.
18-months ago 20kW solar panels were installed at their Wingfield workshop. Here they also employ 3-5 additional local, skilled tradespeople. A&B always consider the materials first—sourcing locally whenever possible—then make products with minimal wastage. All timber off-cuts become firewood, sawdust is bagged then collected by locals who use it for everything from oil spills to chicken coops. Brown also articulates that above all, “we make pieces that last—certainly that’s an important part of sustainable practice.”