Our lives are so busy these days, constantly shifting and changing and becoming more and more overwhelming, disposable and loud. So it’s nice when you discover a furniture brand that produces work that reflects timelessness and a simpler, calmer way of life.
PLYROOM is the brainchild of Elise Heslop, former marketing consultant turned furniture designer, who knows just how to make flexible, beautiful and fuss-free furniture that can adapt to our ever changing lives. Constructed from durable, strong and sustainably sourced plywood, PLYROOM’s Italian designed products can be considered the visual embodiment of calm amongst the vivid.
We sat down with Elise at her studio space in Brunswick, Melbourne, to discuss the idea of essentialism into today’s society. To find out what influenced her to move her family to Italy and form a business based around flexible multipurpose furniture.
Elise, can you describe to us what made you decide to completely change your life and career?
“I ran a marketing department at a financial services company. Working for such a big corporate business and working full-time and having young children, was taking a toll on me and my family. I started to feel there was a creative side of me I couldn’t get out. PLYROOM was born out of that need to be creative and enjoy what I do.”
So how did you change your situation?
“It wasn’t a quick transition, there was quite a long period of contenplation for me. We tried to stop and shake things up a bit, to focus on what was really important, and to simplify things. This was why we decided to move overseas to Italy. We went over for a year with a few suitcases, very simple, that was it.”
How did you find the transition from living in Australia to Italy?
“It was really great, a lot of people say it was brave but, at the time we were so focused on taking this time for our family, it felt exciting and liberating. We worked really hard to save so that we could afford to do it. It was going to take a financial toll on us for sure, but it was definitely worth it."
“My mum was born in Italy to Italian parents and I majored in Italian at university. I started studying Italian at university because I wanted to converse with my family. I really enjoyed learning Italian so I just kept going and I guess it seemed like a logical place to start fresh. Italy has always been something that has been part of who I am. When I was growing up most people had Sunday roasts every weekend, I grew up with pasta dinners on Sunday, with most of my extended family and annual passata making days. My Nonna is the matriarch of our family, so there was always this pull to Italy. My husband is also a massive italio-phile, he loves all things Italian. Also, I guess we wanted to give our kids an understanding of how other people live, and learn part of our family heritage as well. It was pretty incredible. The first part was pretty hard, dealing with the bureaucracy, the red tape, and trying to get our kids settled in schools.”
It must have been a big shock for your children, moving to a different country?
“It was a real shock for them as well. My eldest son started prep while we were over there and he couldn’t speak a word of Italian. He was in this very strict school, it was very hard for him. He’s nine now but, back then he was very little, he had just turned six. I thought he was so grown up adapting to a different school. He speaks a little Italian now, he understands it because he continues to do Italian school on Saturdays, which he hates, he'd much rather sleep in! It was a struggle but, for the children I think it’s been very character building.”
How did you go from living in Italy to designing and producing furniture in Melbourne, Australia?
“We moved back to Melbourne in 2013. We spent a year over there living in a little village and while we were over there, I came across an amazing bunk bed by a designer called Paolo Cogliati, who was from Milan. At that time I was spending a lot of time on the internet and I came across one of his beds on a local website, that sold children’s furniture. I became really interested in his work and noticed that he was in Milan. I found out that he was really passionate about ecological design and sustainable materials, so I sent him an email and we had a few conversations. We began talking and working through ways that we could bring some of his products to Australia and also designing a range specific to Australian needs, that was a collaboration between the two of us. A few others suppliers and designers caught my eye while we were over there and really suited the aesthetic and style of the collection I was trying to put together, which was about really simple flexible furniture."
Can you give us some insight into what kind of work your designers produce?
"We have two designers in Italy, one who works mainly with Beech and Ashwood ply curving the material. The other one, Paolo Cogliati, works with pieces that can be flat packed and constructed really simply by the end consumer. Paolo knows how to make things really well and he understands the material he uses, he thinks in a different way. He’s quite lateral in his thinking and the way he comes up with solutions to problems is quite clever. He understands the virtues of plywood, how it really is a sustainable material, and how strong and durable it is, which is why he uses it for his designs. The way our pieces are designed and made is so complex, then the end result is this beautiful seamless piece that you couldn’t achieve without the knowledge and years of experience with the material.”
Why did you choose to become involved in the furniture design and production process?
“It was really out of pure personal need. I needed children’s furniture while we were living in Italy. That, and the fact we’d found when we were living overseas there were these really simple products, like dining tables that had a lift-up compartment that you could put them into small spaces. These designs were about finding really clever solutions for lack of dwelling space. The designs over there made me think we can be, that we should be, more considered with our use of space here in Australia. We don’t necessarily need a huge dining table, just because that’s what we’ve grown up with. It’s about working with the space that we have. I wanted to introduce products that were slightly smaller, than the Australia standard, and make them really usable, such as a slightly smaller dining table that could be used as a desk, or even an entry table in a larger space. I think flexible furniture is really relevant for today’s living. There are so many apartments and townhouses being lived in these days. With the growth of high density living, more and more people are living in apartment buildings but, also smaller spaces.”
Do you have a product that is particularly popular with your customers?
"Our most popular products would be our beds and bedside tables. The single bed and the queen bed and the children’s bunk bed as well, have been really popular."
Can you describe to us your products and what influences your designs and business aesthetic?
“I have been reading a lot about essentialism lately. It’s the idea that you don’t have to live with less but, about valuing the things that you have and getting rid of the things you don’t. That’s been a really clear direction setter for me and what I want PLYROOM to be about. To really focus on the things that are important, that people value and what I value. Life can get really complicated, so it’s really nice to be able to simplify things. I’m quite nostalgic and I like to look back to simpler times. The concept of essentialism definitely keeps me coming back and influencing my designs. From a visual perspective, Mid-century furniture and design is definitely an inspiration. I also really enjoy the work produced by Beth Kirby. Beth’s visual style is very paired back, simple and clean and that’s something that I want PLYROOM to aspire to and how we present our products. It’s about little moments and simple things. When looking at the things that inspire me, it’s amazing how most of them don’t have anything to do with furniture!”
What do you focus on most when you are designing and choosing products for your range?
“Our focus at the moment is on storage. We’re seeing more and more people purchasing our bins and bedside tables, coffee table and drawers. I think people are waking up to the idea of utilising the space they have in a clever but beautiful way. The circular storage pieces are generally predesigned products from our designer in Milan. The focus is on bending of timber products. It’s a family run business that started out making incredibly beautiful percussion instruments, so they’ve really mastered the art of curving timber into drum shapes. These are designers that have donestore fit outs all over Milan for very famous brands. They definitely know what they’re doing when making structurally sound products that are of a really high quality. I really want people to look at our furniture for its own virtue.”
What has been the most rewarding part of starting your own business?
“It was a massive change, and at times the learning curve has been really overwhelming but it’s so rewarding to be able to carve your own path. Being able to make the decisions yourself. Having a hand in the whole process from the design and seeing it through to the end has been really great. Also seeing how people respond to our products, especially when they touch our furniture. When they lay their hands on them and realise it feels so good. It’s very rewarding to watch that.
You recently opened your first studio space and store space, how has that worked for you?
"Its been great, we’ve had so many sales from the website but having a walk-in space is great for those clients that like to physically touch the product they’re about to buy. People’s reactions in the studio are: ‘it’s so much more solid than I thought it was’ and ‘it feels so nice’.
What can we look forward to in the future from PLYROOM?
“At the moment I’m focusing on designs that we can make locally, to add to the original collection. To compliment what we already have and add some new pieces that I have been working on for a while now. I’ll be designing some of the products myself and may be doing some work with other designers locally as well, while we still have our great connections in Milan as well. We are going back to Italy at the end of this year, after Christmas. We went back last year to Milan for the Salone Del Mobile Design Fair. Going back will be a really good opportunity to meet with our designers and have conversations about what’s next and what will go into production.”
Inspired by the ingenuity of the European market, Elise is keen to share her designs and the essence of paired back living to the whole of Australia and we can’t imagine anything that sounds more comforting.
If you’re in Melbourne we suggest you pop into PLYROOM’s studio and experience the magical simplistic quality of Elise's beautifully curated range of furnishings, that are sure to take to you back to simpler times.
PLYROOM Studio Open Times:
- Fridays 10:00am - 5:00pm
- Saturday 10:00am - 2:00pm
- Also by Appointment
The House of Home Team would like to thank Elise for her time and showing us around her gorgeous PLYROOM store