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Design down under

By Erin M. Loewe
January 06, 2013

Photo: Dianna Snape Photography, St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia
Growing up in a family where his grand-father hand-crafted furniture inspired by mid-20th-century design, Anton Assaad traveled frequently to Northern Europe later in life and felt compelled to bring the clean lines and practicality of the region’s modern and vintage furnishings back to Prahran, Australia, where he founded Great Dane Furniture 10 years ago.

As perhaps the only purveyor of authentic new and vintage Scandinavian furniture in Australia, Great Dane features pieces personally curated by Assaad himself, as he continues to cultivate relationships with furniture makers throughout the region. In spring 2012, Assaad teamed up with Sydney-based McCartney Design to open a third showroom, this time in Melbourne’s bohemian Fitzroy suburb. The 5,300-sq.-ft. space pays homage to its far Northern roots through the use of color, light and natural imagery. “We wanted to confirm the expectations of the brand, so we looked for a little more abstract 
sources of design inspiration,” says Gary McCartney, owner and design director at McCartney Design.

McCartney used the “midnight sun”—the phenomenon of the sun not setting during the summertime in the Arctic and Antarctic circles—as the store’s overarching theme, with gray permeating the walls and ceiling of the store.

“The idea that the gray was the midnight sun—when I saw it, I fell in love with it,” Assaad says. “It’s so spot on in brand, so spot on in what Scandinavia is about and what Great Dane is about. It’s a beautiful feeling we hope to try to encapsulate and bring to you from Scandinavia. When they hear about it, people think [the color] could be cold, but when you see it, it’s very warm.”

The space posed a challenge, since it was a long, narrow L-shape. Perhaps the most striking feature is the long, curved, LED-lit wall McCartney’s team created to guide customers through to the back of the store. Dubbed “the floating cloud” by the Great Dane team, McCartney says it also helps to disguise some unusual angles in the store and provides visual focus. “Anton also has designer knickknacks, accessories and chairs, and our idea was to put them in one place as a collection and to make it more shoppable,” he explains.

Another way the design team helped flow customers through the store was through subtle video projections of starling murmurations based on the installations of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur
Eliasson. “It makes a relaxing ambient pattern,” McCartney says. “It’s white on black, and it slows people down and engages them in a very abstract way as they move through.”

White epoxy on the floor reflects the focused lighting used throughout the showroom. Although the Fitzroy showroom is about half the size of the one in Sydney, it has about the same number of lights. “Great Dane Fitzroy uses 35-watt metal halide adjustable spotlights where needed, on the product, and relies on inter-reflections to illuminate the floor space around the furniture,” explains Bettina Easton, partner at Lane Cove, Australia-based E-Lux Lighting Design & Consultancy.

Behind the cashwrap opposite the display wall, a large image of a Great Dane is projected onto the wall using a GOBO (graphical optical blackout) light, which Assaad likens to the vintage “Bat Signal.”

Besides the showroom, Great Dane Fitzroy also has about 538 sq. ft. of extra corner space that can be used as a pop-up shop for guest retailers, as well as a 2,153-sq.-ft. event space filled with vintage Scandinavian furniture, christened “The Den.” “It’s like Don Draper’s apartment revved up 1,000 percent,” Assaad says. “It’s amazing, rich, opulent and dark. We wanted to create an entirely unique retail experience; to add an element of richness you don’t usually see in retail."

Assaad says that the new design at the Fitzroy location is working out better than the company could have hoped. The plan going forward is to refresh the existing Sydney store and to roll out new stores into Asia and beyond. “We’re a luxury brand,” he says. “We are not unattainable, but we want people to feel good when they walk in the door. They will see something they haven’t seen before, and if they buy something, we want them to feel great and know that we have taken the time finessing the finishes, fabrics and designs from start to finish.”