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In Conversation: Zachary Frankel

Discovering the work of an emerging artist or designer tracking new ground on the contemporary Australian design landscape is exciting stuff.

Zachary Frankel is one such designer and his very first collection of contemporary furniture and objects is creating quite the buzz at Modern Times. His desire to explore materials and follow his design intuition has resulted in a wonderfully-diverse yet cohesive collection of pieces – there’s side tables with glossy finishes, a chair in rare Queensland walnut and vibrant blue upholstery, a mirror with an apricot rippled frame (a welcome nod to Sottsass) and sculptural objects in marble and soapstone, all referencing Art Deco through motifs and shapes.

Zachary completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Monash in 2006, followed by a Certificate II in Furniture Making. After working in the industry for eight years, he decided it was time to develop an independent practice. And aren’t we glad he did because this collection is an absolute feast for the eyes and a reminder that at any moment, a young designer can tread new path and create something extraordinary.

Get to know our current Designer in Focus and read about his process in our chat below.

Zachary completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at Monash in 2006, followed by a Certificate II in Furniture Making. After working in the industry for four years, he decided it was time to develop an independent practice.

Zac – welcome to Modern Times! We’re captivated by your work and thrilled to have you on board. Designing your first collection is a huge feat – how did it come about and what motivated you to do it?

The furniture series began with an open exploration of form and material. Through a process of play and experimentation, my aim was to develop new ideas without a commercial imperative, and to let my intuition guide me to create a collection both sculptural and functional. 

I sought to design pieces that carry strong geometric volumes referencing the Art Deco style, have a playful feel to them and are undeniably contemporary. 

I sought to design pieces that carry strong geometric volumes referencing the Art Deco style; have a playful feel to them and are undeniably contemporary. ”
— Zachary Frankel
His desire to explore materials and follow his design intuition has resulted in a wonderfully-diverse yet cohesive collection of furniture and sculptural objects.

I also set out to challenge myself – to master new skills as a craftsman. I wanted to problem-solve the execution of my designs by experimenting with multiple furniture-making methods. As well as this, I wanted to explore traditional techniques and appropriate them with contemporary practices, for example using traditional carving and laminating techniques alongside vacuum forming and CNC.

The collection includes side tables with glossy finishes, a chair in Queensland walnut and vibrant blue upholstery, a mirror with an apricot rippled frame (a welcome nod to Sottsass) and sculptural objects in marble and soapstone.
I set out to challenge myself - to master new skills as a craftsman. I wanted to problem-solve the execution of my designs by experimenting with multiple furniture-making methods.”
— Zachary Frankel

Where did you begin?

This collection started with the chair – the ultimate challenge for a designer: a technically complex piece. It allowed me to explore the relationship between sculpture and furniture, using both traditional and contemporary furniture making techniques to create a cohesive piece.

The inspiration for the chair comes from studying Art Deco forms and my interest in the ‘X chair’. The dark timber creates a solid form, softened by precisely curved lines that frame a vibrant cushion in Cobalt blue. The plush cushion, covered in pure wool Kvadrat fabric complements the warm tones of the Queensland walnut, a rare timber that was sourced from old stock.

The chair can act as a stand-alone piece or sculptural element in a room, and matches my aim to create something bold, unique and simultaneously luxurious and functional.

The pieces in this collection reference Art Deco through style, motifs and shapes.

Tell us about the other furniture pieces in this collection.

I created accompanying pieces that display strong geometric volumes and have a playful air, but still maintain the gravitas of the Art Deco style. I coated the timber objects in paint, hiding the grain purposefully to abstract the forms from the material and enhance their sculptural qualities.

The mirror naturally led on from the chair. It uses the same technique and motif of the chair back.  They are offered in the range’s colours but can also be made in light or dark timber with a natural finish.

As well as the furniture, I created accompanying pieces that display strong geometric volumes and have a playful air, but still maintain the gravitas of the Art Deco style.”
— Zachary Frankel
Through a process of play and experimentation, Zac aimed to develop new ideas without a commercial imperative.

The painted side tables (Flute and Fold) flowed on from this, emulating the same play of geometric forms. They are the inverse shape of each other and therefore are perfect in the same room, perhaps on either side of a couch or bed.

The black side table was made as a side table complementary to the chair. Its strong rectilinear lines are meant to contrast the curved forms of the chair but tie in through a similar contemporary Art Deco character. 

The plinth was designed to complement the other forms in the collection while providing a platform for sculpture to sit on, tidying the two collections together in a way.

He also set out to challenge himself and to master new skills as a craftsman. 'I wanted to problem-solve the execution of my designs by experimenting with multiple furniture-making methods,' Zac says.
With the sculptural pieces, I played with materials I felt sympathetic towards, experimenting with techniques, utilising a range of finishes including french polishing, ebonising and waxing.”
— Zachary Frankel

We also love the sculptural pieces that round out this collection. Why did you venture down this path?

Moving away from the formal constraints of furniture design, my aim with the sculpture collection was to create something intuitive and experimental. I was interested in creating a cohesive body of work that explores a variety of materials including timber, soapstone and marble.

I approached the process intuitively; I played with materials I felt sympathetic towards, experimenting with techniques, utilising a range of finishes including french polishing, ebonising and waxing. 

I carved the marble piece slowly using a chisel and hammer. The hardness of the stone gave me time to feel out the shapes and curves as I went. Soapstone is much softer; while it is faster to work with, it holds less detail. The curved egg body with inverted fluting and shelf carved through its middle highlights the translucent, almost mystical properties of the glassy green material.

Overall, Zac sought to design pieces that 'carry strong geometric volumes referencing the Art Deco style; have a playful feel to them and are undeniably contemporary'.

The zigzag sculpture plays with geometry and creates a linear yet complex piece with interesting shadows, while the bean sculpture is fluid with off kilter, carved hollows that make you look closer. On a more intimate level the piece reveals the grain of the American oak which is incredibly nuanced through the ebonized and shellac finish. 

Finally, the curved Tasmanian blackwood pieces are modular, designed like building blocks for adults, they can be arranged in a number of ways and add a playful element to the collection.

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