Bianca Riggio and Ryan Hanrahan are the type of successful and genuinely nice power-couple that don’t quite seem real. Both beautiful and brilliant in an effortless and approachable way, they make jealously disliking them impossible. And really, it’s in one’s best interest to quickly get acquainted with the nifty items and admirable philosophy embodied in their Sydney-based object design label, Page Thirty Three.
The couple has really hit the ground running, with the spark of their design studio only being ignited in 2009. Their first collection was launched in 2010, and anyone from Melbourne can attest to its swift success, with instantly recognisable items like their Wooden Milk Crate becoming a staple for any self-respecting trendy café or space. We asked them to fill us in on the importance of their different creative backgrounds, their new Utopia range, and future plans to expand Page Thirty Three.
What motivated your shift from fine art and graphic design, to the object design of Page Thirty Three?
We have always been dreamers, so I think both pursuits are very similar in that respect. The initial creative process and spark comes from the same place. After we met I think the combination of our thoughts, and also the motivational support of both of us being super excited about our ideas, was enough to ignite the shift. However both our lives are still firmly entrenched in the fine arts and graphic arts. We love working on the finishing touches, like the branding and detailing of our objects.
We just have creative ideas and some work out to be drawings, some work out to be sculptures, while others end up being objects with a function.
How do you see these backgrounds influencing the pieces from Page Thirty Three?
Coming from an arts background has given us the ability to be free from the confines of traditional design practice. As mentioned above, the design ideas come from the same place as an idea for a picture or artwork. However I think that because we are not formally trained as industrial designers, this allows for a certain freedom. It also means there is always a lot to learn – but overall we feel free to design by intrigue.
You’re very focused on having your products produced in Australia with Australian materials. Do you design with Australian materials in mind, or do you come up with your design and then source appropriate Australian materials and production?
In terms of Australian Made, it really is important to start with the definition, and then work from there. The definition for Australian Made means that the product is substantially transformed in Australia and at least 50 percent of the cost of production has been incurred in Australia.
We want to make great quality handcrafted objects that a person keeps and values. Many of our recent objects like The Essential Oil burner, and The Cinematic Lightbox are finished and packed by us at our warehouse. However, making Australian made products financially viable is like the impossible chess game. There are so many issues, particularly material pricing, labour, and lack of manufacturing skill that make it really difficult.
More recently, when we begin to concept an idea, we start with the definition of Australian made, and we look at ways we can make it cost effective, while also producing as much as we can here. This usually involves sourcing materials and parts internationally, and locally, and then finishing and packing the product ourselves at the warehouse to trim down Australian labour expenses. After we have completed one production run, if the object has sold well, and we can increase our order quantity, then we audit the way the object is made, and try to source more local materials and components in Australia. Our ultimate goal is to get each object to 100 percent Australian produced, but it is definitely a work in progress.
How does the process of collaborative creation work between you two, in a conceptual and a practical sense?
Our studio space is a hive of ideas. Whether we are drinking cups of ginger tea, staring at our five-meter long chalkboard covered in indecipherable rants, or Googling our way across the world, we are pretty much always sitting next to each other coming up with ideas.
Aside from our constant ranting, we have come to develop a strict design structure. We focus on the ideas that persist in our minds eye. Generally we individually work on a product from start to finish, so it is easier to follow through the step-by-step process of design, however there is constant discussion and assessment between the two of us the whole way.
What are you drawn to and distracts each of you; if you were to look at the clock and think “My goodness, where did those three hours go?” what would you have been doing?
The two of us run the whole label, from freight, to packing boxes, to design. Basically every eight-hour day feels like about ten minutes. Whenever I have to multi-task the day disappears. The best days are when you can hit Apple Q on the emails and spend a whole day working on a design. I always wish those days would never end.
In our free time we also love sitting down and dreaming about our future – this usually happens on car trips. It’s six hours south to my hometown Tathra, which is just enough time to plan our next move. The first step to creating is imagining, so we love talking about what we could do next.
How does the Utopia Range sit in the design trajectory established by your previous collections?
The Utopia collection is an experimental range of objects that focuses on the ideal of ‘the perfect life’. This does not mean that ‘if you buy this couch you will be happy’. Instead what we are focusing on is the idea of being positive and excited about creating a future that is perfect, attainable and sustainable. There is so much in modern life that drags us away from our basic human instincts, and our goal is to try and reconnect ourselves with the planet we inhabit, without giving up all modern world luxuries. We have been developing criteria to use for design that is based on our idea of Utopia. The criteria focuses on obvious notions of locally produced and sourced objects, but also extend to herbal medicine, and a reconnection with nature. The objects will be created as limited editions, and will be constantly evolving.
Can you fill us in on the motivation and inspiration behind the giant oil burner?
The Essential Oil burner was probably the precursor to the Utopia range, as it is based on the medicinal attributes of heating essential oils. For example, smelling lavender after drinking a double shot large flat white re-establishes your natural resonant level – which would otherwise take 24 hours. This calms your vibrations; removing the sometimes slightly anxious state that coffee can leave you with. We love burning essential oils, and designing an oil burner that we could relate to has been a rewarding experience. The Giant Oil Burner is a limited edition piece made from reconditioned science clamps with brass detailing, a cedar base, and a huge glass flask. It is the first object we will be releasing via the utopia criteria. It is hand-crafted in Australia.
Do either of you have a special connection to any of the pieces that you’ve created, whether they be ones that never made it to production, or pieces that are part of the collections?
Page Thirty Three is our lives, so we are both really connected to all of the pieces. If something is unsuccessful we really take it personally. It sounds funny but it really is true. When you fail at something creatively it really is crushing. But the flipside of that is what makes it all worthwhile. When an object is successful, and you are really proud of the finished product it is fantastic.
You’ve spoken about your desire to move on to creating bigger objects and possibly spaces, and you’ve also mentioned that you’ve done some work in creative direction, styling and holistic branding; what role do you see these avenues playing in the future of Page Thirty Three?
We are launching a creative agency next month that encompasses creative direction as a broad parameter. With a strong art and graphic design background, as well as our love for interiors and object design, we enjoy being involved in creative projects that involve all these areas. Recently we’ve been working on everything from music film clips, to label branding packs, to limited edition product design for established companies. We see this as a major part of the future of Page Thirty Three, as much as we love working together, it is really inspiring to connect with other minds and spaces.
Check out the online store at pagethirtythree.com.au.