Mums in Design

June 27, 2014
Mums in Design

It dawned on us the other day that there are many, many mums in the wider HouseofHome.com.au network. Moreover, mums who work in the furniture industry are in several cases the driving force behind the remarkable calibre of creativity and design that informs so many of our homes. So it made perfect sense for us to catch up with a couple of our favourite Design Mums!

Let us introduce you to Antoinette and Fiona…

Antoinette and her husband Bruno opened Toffi Furnishings some 20 years ago, before Antoinette had even entered her 20s. A professional French polisher by trade, Bruno turned his skills to actually creating the timber furniture. Antoinette discovered a flair and talent for designing original pieces, and the combined skills of this husband-wife duo proved immediately popular amongst Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs and beyond.

Now days, Antoinette is Toffi’s Principle Designer and spends her days actively engaged in so many facets of the business. She will meet with clients, work through their plans, respond with a series of concepts and designs and then work with her colleagues in the factory to turn ideas into reality. Toffi is responsible for all stages of the design and development, right through to the polish and home delivery. It’s a hands-on involvement in which Antoinette thrives, as is shown in the literally thousands of designs she has created over the years.

Despite her creativity, Antoinette remains very objective when it comes to helping Toffi customers find exactly what they’re after; she is loath to have her own personal taste and style influence that of her clients. This is avoided in part by the journey Toffi clients take with Antoinette. It usually beings with a conversation – Antoinette gets a good idea of the needs and wants of the customers, as well as the practical considerations of the space in which the furniture will be placed. From this they will often turn to a library of images – literally thousands – which will be quickly refined as Antoinette gages the response of her clients. A lean-in here, a raise of the eyebrow there – it does not take long to discover what really appeals as body language reacts to the images shown.

Then the more tactile fun begins. Furniture examples are presented, but clients are asked to imagine, for example, this section made out of aluminium instead of timber, or that section a little darker, or this piece sitting alongside a chair like that one, instead of this one… And so the creative journey continues until the customer has precisely, exactly, absolutely what they’ve always wanted, and it’s 100% ‘them’.

Contrary to many an assumption, Antoinette, Bruno and their seven year old daughter don’t live in a home showcasing Toffi Furnishings throughout. Much of their furniture in fact is an eclectic mix of finds from varied sources, the majority with that finishing Toffi touch.

But back to work, and mums, and design…

Since having their daughter Antoinette thinks she’s become more intuitive about the needs of children’s furniture. She knows which pieces of furniture need rounded corners, and what needs to be particularly robust. But she might want to be careful – there is competition on the rise…

Antoinette and Bruno’s daughter now has her own little ‘office’ (read desk) set up at the showroom, where she spends her time after school working on her own furniture designs and creative concepts. Recently Antoinette and some clients were interrupted by the budding designer. She had taken one of Antoinette’s business cards, put a sticker over Antoinette’s name and written her own, then stapled on some decorative pieces. The artistic flair (and impressive confidence) has manifested in some furniture sketches as well, and Antoinette has been encouraged (by her daughter) to present these concepts to customers as a certain someone has been ‘very sure they will want them’.

The creative vein very clearly continues to run in this family!


Another family blessed by the creative gene is the Coles.

Christian Cole Furniture is owned by husband-and-wife team Christian and Fiona. In contrast to Antoinette’s creative path, Fiona began her career studying as a Registered Nurse at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. A country girl born and bred, city life did not immediately appeal to Fiona, so she returned home only to realise that her professional options were limited. Back she came to the hustle and bustle where began a string of jobs – administration, Au Pair, sales, beauty therapy, physiotherapy assistant, executive assistant to the director of his own company, etc. In Fiona’s mind, she had no formal training to become a business owner, yet all her positions inadvertently groomed her for the role, which is vast and varied.

No two days are the same for this business owner and mother of two boys (aged 11 and 8). She loves ‘getting amongst the sawdust’ and working on the tools with Christian, as well as filling, sanding and cleaning the factory floor. But as part owner of the business Fiona’s role also sees her busy in administration – designing furniture, marketing, managing the books and accounts, meeting and greeting clients in the showrooms, photographing pieces, even spraying bugs in their factory vegetable garden! A big people person, Fiona relishes the chance to banter with staff over lunch and meet new clients.

Christian Cole U-base dining table.

Over the years, balancing motherhood with business life has not always been easy. Fiona clearly remembers an incident years ago – an incredibly important 5pm deadline and a young son who had been bullied that day and really needed his mum. Thankfully, an understanding editorial assistant granted an extension and Fiona was able to be both.

In her opinion, motherhood has not made Fiona more creative but, like Antoinette, it has made her more mindful about safety and functionality in the home. When their first son was born, the Coles had limited available space and so Christian designed pieces that maximised storage (much of it deliberately concealed from little hands). As their son grew, so too did the opportunities to inadvertently hurt himself. Fiona and Christian set about designing a gorgeous line of solid timber children’s table and seating with softer ‘shark nose’ edges that were less harmful on little bodies prone to losing balance.

Fiona’s furniture designs focus on the simple, symmetrical and practical. She prefers to let the magnificent timber of Christian Cole Furniture be accentuated by design, rather than overpowered by it. For example, units feature skirting to the ground – it looks clean and seamless but there’s often an underlying mother’s prerogative (it avoids vacuuming and doesn’t collect – and then hide – kids’ toys!).

Christian Cole entertainment units are designed with skirting to the floor for a seamless finish.

And like Antoinette, it appears Fiona also has two budding creatives on her hands. The eldest grew up watching his father draw every evening at the drafting board, and would copy his work (a la crayon version). A few weeks back he presented his father with a very detailed design for a Lego storage unit. The youngest is the maker of the two, rather than design by sketch he loves to work with tools and already has an incredible knowledge of tools and timber.

Perhaps the two should get together and realise the Lego project…?

Shop the Christian Cole range here