This week’s Deo Design sale event includes gorgeous milkwashed teak furniture, reclaimed timber frames and lanterns, seagrass storage boxes and water hyacinth rugs. You might have spotted the common thread of ecologically sound, natural products. We invited Anita Woolrych, co-owner with her husband Tim of Deo Design, to talk to us about her guiding philosophy.
Anita, what is your background?
I am actually qualified as a designer, and originally trained as a buyer with Harvey Nichols in London. After moving to Australia I spent time working in marketing and management for shopping centres, ran a retail-based advertising agency and owned homewares shops. Two years ago I decided to walk away from the stress of corporate life and return to my true passion. I love design development, and especially sourcing and working with artisans and craftsmen. My husband Tim had already started Deo Design as a wholesale business so I joined him and now we work and travel together sourcing our products.
What’s the thinking behind sourcing your products?
Tim had always had a policy of ethical trade, but when I joined we added the criteria of using re-claimed or sustainable materials. Having travelled through Asia I have seen first hand the destruction and impact native forest felling has on communities, as well as the contamination of life-supporting waterways by chemical waste.
We consciously set our values to recycle whenever possible, re-use whatever possible, and give things new purpose. It’s basically summed up by the word “respect”, by which we mean respect for the environment and respect for the skills, traditions and lifestyles of the people we work with.
The added benefit is that working with natural materials such as the natural indigo dyes in our printed cushions and the re-claimed timber from old fishing boats we use to make our furniture adds a certain quality that simply does not exist in brand new materials and man-made products. We find customers are naturally drawn to pick up our products and touch them, and I really think this is the connection that comes with things that are made by hand.
We source our products in India, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. We always deal directly with the craftsmen and manufacturers and never through middle men, so that the workers always benefit directly.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the colourful shopping baskets?
Aren’t they great? Would you believe they are made from recycled packing tape, which is an extremely strong material so they can carry a huge amount of weight and volume and they never wear out or break! They are fantastic for the beach, shopping and even storage, and as they’re woven you can easily wash and dry them whenever you need needed.
The frames are made from timber reclaimed from demolished houses in Thailand, and the hurricane lamps come from our Amed furniture range that is made from timber re-claimed from old lorries and fishing boats. The beautiful colouration on these pieces is a result of the layers of paint that have been applied over the years being gently sanded back to reveal themselves.
It sounds like you travel a lot. We hear you spend time in Bali too?
We spend weeks in Bali every year, using it as a jumping off point for the other countries we work in. I first went to Bali about 20 years ago and fell in love with the island. A couple of years ago some friends told us about an old house that was available and we went to have a look at it. I could see the great bones this old house had, and we decided to take it on, renovate it and rent it out as a holiday villa. I loved doing the design and renovations and of course decorating – another one followed and we are just about to renovate our 4th villa!
I love mixing traditional Balinese style with modern comforts and it’s so rewarding when guests tell us they loved the experience and want to come back next year. It’s also a real joy to be able to have a small business in Bali that employs local families and and allows us to spend time there. Tim and I love learning about the culture and traditions through our Balinese friends, and we are taking evening classes together to try to get our heads around the language in the hope that one day we’ll be able to speak it!
We have nothing but respect for the way Anita and Tim run their business, and we’re pretty envious of their work-life balance too. Bali, anyone?