After studying architecture, sculpture and set design, Rory Unite found himself working in the movie industry as a special effects artist – not your typical route to furniture design. “I started in Jim Henson’s creature shop on the production of Farscape, then went on to the Matrix, Star Wars episodes 1,2 and 3, Superman, Narnia, Peter Pan and The Great Gatsby. During this time, I renovated my in-laws’ house up in Palm Beach which gave me the opportunity to create all the furniture which basically started my design practice,” says Rory, who then set up a small workshop on Sydney’s northern beaches before Andrew Goldsmith, owner of the Boathouse restaurants, discovered him.
Rory Unite in his Java workshop
“I started making all of the Boathouse signage and then designed a range of furniture for them. As Andrew’s business expanded, I started looking in Indonesia for workshops to help create the volume of product he required. During this period, I met many great craftsmen and started to realise that the best way to work with them was to create my own workshop and employ them all under one roof.
“Australian designers making product offshore is a pretty standard routine these days. The difference for me is that I have made the decision to set up my own workshop in Java in order to maintain the quality and consistency of my designs. As a maker, it is very important for me to be integrated within the workshop environment in order to drive the culture of our brand,” says Rory, who travels to Australia regularly for client meetings but spends most of his time in Indonesia at the workshop and with his family.
The Omni bracket
Setting up a business in Java wasn’t without challenge – the cultural gap in particular. “I come from a very different world from the guys I work with. The glue that binds us is making and designing together. There are universal truths in making an object that manage to bring us together. It’s such a fascinating journey. When I started my exploration in Java I knew nothing of the language or the people. It was very daunting. It was amazing how we were able to connect through the creation of a chair! It seems ridiculous, but the process of making together transcended all our differences,” says Rory.
One of the designer’s most notable creations is the Omni bracket which emerged from the need to create flat pack furniture. “One of the great challenges in making furniture are the joints. By making the main connection joint a universal joining device, not only are we able to flat pack for efficient shipping but the joint itself inspires multiple connection possibilities, creating a constant stream of design ideas.” Rory says the bracket is inspired by the numerous metal factories in Java. “We design and produce all our own hardware with these metal workshops. Being around all this machinery capable of creating almost anything in metal is very inspiring.”
You can find Rory’s designs in Sydney at the Boathouse venues (Palm Beach, Shelley Beach and Balmoral) and Sibella Court’s Society Inc. Warehouse in St Peters.