When Daniel Emma won the prestigious Bombay Sapphire Design Discovery Award (BSDDA) in 2010 it made a lot of people stand up and take notice; not that anyone should have been surprised.
Since graduating from the University of South Australia’s industrial design course in 2007 the husband and wife design duo of Daniel To and Emma Aiston were already appearing on international design radars. In 2009 Wallpaper* magazine had them picked as emerging designers to watch and in that same year they were runners up in the BSDDA. Their 2010 win was a watershed moment from which commissions followed. “Winning the award was a stepping stone for us,” To says. “And it was a goal that we were adamant we needed to achieve.”
It also generated a lot of media interest in the Rosewater-based designers, with much of the attention focusing on their decision to remain in Adelaide. “We lived in London for two years following graduation and we came back to get married,” Aiston explains. “We were going to go away again but stayed. Living in Adelaide allows us to have a comfortable lifestyle while still being able to save that little bit of extra money, which means we can travel.” The decision to remain may have been a personal one, but it also serves them professionally by creating a point of difference with international suppliers and manufacturers only familiar with Sydney and Melbourne.
Daniel Emma’s other major point of difference is the scale in which they work. At a time when so many industrial designers are creating larger scale work, To and Aiston’s vessels and objects are a refreshing change of pace. Amusingly, the choice to design on a small scale may have initially been borne of necessity due to a lack of space. “We lived in a small flat in London and we didn’t have a car, so we had to take the Tube everywhere,” To laughs. Whatever the impetus, the savvy design duo soon realised that no-one else was making desk accessories and so they carved out their niche. Not to be pigeon-holed, however, To and Aiston’s most recent collections are not for the desk.
Their Sweets collection, which was exhibited in Vera Chapter 2 at the 2012 London Design Festival, consists of a vase, container and candlestick. It is an elegantly resolved expression of form and colour that exemplifies what Daniel Emma does best. Each product is breathtaking in its exacting simplicity and surprising in its robust solidity. Sweets also raises questions of influence via its vaguely 1980s postmodern Memphis aesthetic. According to Aiston, however, Daniel Emma’s influences are closer to home. “We’re not necessarily influenced by particular international designers or movements. We’re just designing things that we like and the things that influence these designs are from our everyday life.”
To maintain a broad design perspective, To and Aiston travel to Europe once a year, which also allows them the opportunity to reconnect with their many networks. It means they are regular exhibitors at both the London Design Festival and Milan Furniture Fair, and it was at the latter that they were invited by Wallpaper* magazine in 2012 to collaborate with Guerlain as part of the Handmade exhibition. Creating a collection of polished brass and aluminium dressing table accessories allowed To and Aiston to design a series of unexpected sculptural casings for the cosmetic giant. “We always like to create some sort of surprise in everything we do,” To says.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is yet to come with Daniel Emma exhibiting a collection of furniture towards the end of this year. To and Aiston will be part of an exhibition curated by the Jacky Winter Group and held in the collective’s Lamington Drive gallery in Melbourne. “Up until recently we haven’t had the space to make anything bigger, but we have a studio now,” says To. Daniel Emma is also currently working on a number of different projects with local companies and these will come to fruition towards the end of the year. “We also have the London Design Festival as a goal,” says Aiston. “And Milan… we only had a six to eight week turnaround period with the Guerlain project last year. So we never know, something might come up…” And judging by Daniel Emma’s recent successes it’s a sure bet to say that something will come up.