From left: The Trestle Union – Nikolai Sorensen and Mike Grobelny in the AUT workshop.
While I can’t remember the first time I came across The Trestle Union, I do still remember the momentary thrill at finding furniture designed and made in NZ that I could actually afford! Un surprisingly, accessibility was definitely a motivating factor when two savvy product design students from AUT knocked heads and decided to give a business a whirl.
Trestle Union is as fluid and forward thinking as its two young designers which meant that my afternoon of interviewing made for some pretty cool location visits which you can see below!
Nikolai Sorensen, 29, studied architecture at Unitec but on graduating was offered a role within an engineering company. Despite the pretty terrific opportunities for travel, it became evident to him after a few years that he was limited in moving forward in the industry due to not having an engineering degree.
It was in 2009 while attending his wife; Johanna’s Spatial Design exhibition at AUT that he got a burst inspiration! He realised that he was after a balance between engineering and art and promptly scraped together a portfolio, booking himself a space in the Bachelor Design course majoring in Product.
Mike Grobelny is a 30 year old Masters student and workshop technician at AUT. After a few years travel following his degree in product design at Unitec, Mike returned to Auckland to take up the workshop tech role in 2008 and began his Masters study in 2010. When I caught up with him last year he was in the middle of reasearching and writing his thesis based on the “barriers and opportunities faced by product design graduates when trying to commercialise a product”
(joining the dots now?)
The young designers met in the workshop and Mike “knocked up” a table for Nikolai. The demand for cool but affordable trestles were apparent to the pair as friends constantly requested them, and on research – there appeared to be none fitting price AND style online.
So they decided to collaborate and do something a little more formal. Nikolai had a design for a “higher end” trestle table which they built and photographed. The images went up on his tumblr which he used as portfolio site and next thing they knew it went seriouslt viral! The table became the number on image and search for trestle legs!
The cogs started turning again and they decided to launch the Trestle Union – focusing not on high end product, but on accessible and affordable design to meet, what they discovered, was a very real demand. Their first table was sold to top NZ landscape architect; Xanthe White and they have enjoyed a steady rise in custom from there. Their collection offers simple options in tops, legs, heights and sizes which they have made sure can be bought seperately for convenience . Largely avoiding wholesale contracts to keep prices low and margins under control, they are working proof that web based sales for furniture is both possible and well received.
When I visited, Mike and Nikolai were producing their range from two spaces. This project in production was directly related to Mike’s research for his thesis and AUT, in what is an incredibly supportive move, allowed them to get the wheels turning by using the workshop after hours. Late last year the guys then began to buy equipment and slowly kit out a rural building on the farm owned by Nikolai’s in-laws near Murawai. I was lucky enough to take the drive out there and loved the huge juxtaposition between the florescent, lab-like vibe of the uni workshop and the wooden hut cradled by native bush.
Its simply brilliant and to me, pure start up NZ!
With Nikolai’s graduation in late 2013 and Mike on the last leg of his Masters, the team continue to fill orders and are in the process of prototyping new products in their Trestle Union style (you are going to want to stay tuned for these!) Both manage their own freelance projects and while looking onward at their individual design goals, for the time being Trestle Union allows them a great link to the industry and invaluable experience with the commercial realities of design production locally.
I’m really looking forward to what this pair have to offer, both as the Tresle Union team and as independant, modern designers in their own right.
All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE TRESTLE UNION:
This post was made with the partnership and support of Fisher & Paykel.
It is 100% possible to design and manufacture affordable furniture in NZ!
Oh and – being young, full of ideas, awesome problem solvers and total go getters helps.