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Life Through Design With Charles Wilson

01 Jul 2020 |  Design

Life Through Design


In the Life Through Design series, King Living explores the landscape of Australian design – both current and future – through the eyes of Australian designers, and how they interpret the Australian aesthetic in their work. In the fourth instalment, King Living interviews award-winning industrial designer, Charles Wilson, a long-time collaborator of King Living.

From his first collaboration with King back in 2009 on the Andrea Sofa, Wilson’s partnership has since grown from strength to strength, producing many iconic pieces for the brand, from sofas to lighting. One of his most well-known designs is the Zaza Sofa, an award-winning modular sofa that raises the benchmark in contemporary style and luxury. The Zaza, like many of Wilson’s pieces with King reflects his philosophies in creating not only beautiful and sculptural expressions in organic forms, but also ensuring his designs are rooted in functionality and comfort for the end user.

Life Through Design

The Zaza Sofa & Luna Chair - designed by Charles Wilson in collaboration with King Living

King Living: Do you have a signature style?

Charles Wilson: I think I must do. The longer I work in design, the more I can draw on forms and approaches that I have used and adapt to make interesting new products. It’s hard as a designer to describe the forms that you express visually – to use words to do that. Most of my designs tend to have a sculptural expression in organic forms, but also with a fairly disciplined approach towards functionality, comfort and ergonomic considerations.

Where does your inspiration come from?

CW: I work in a number of different ways. When working with King, I’m often looking at the collection and wondering where we could take it. It’s hard to say where the inspiration comes from. It’s usually too haphazard and random to really describe succinctly. It’s often a brief or a development of an idea that didn’t work out. The answer to this question is quite messy in my case – it’s not like I’m meditating in a field and something comes to me.

Life Through Design

The Luna Chair designed by Charles Wilson

You’ve worked with King for the past decade, do you have any favourite projects you’ve worked on?

CW: I’ve got a couple of favourite projects. The Zaza has turned out to be a really successful project and came together very easily. The development of the Luna chair which came from an entirely different project, and gradually I developed with the design team into what was an outdoor chair, that then became an indoor chair. It is now becoming dining chairs and barstools, and other products as well. And so, it’s been a very productive and collaborative process that I’m really excited about. It seems like we’ve kind of hit our stride with working together with that.

Are there any projects you’re currently excited to work on?

CW: The additions to the Luna range, in particular, are what I’m excited about and they’re going to be released quite soon from now. I was in the studio recently and they’re really going for it with making great progress towards perfecting the prototypes. One of the great things working with the team at King is how seriously they take the functionality and particularly the comfort of the products, and how thoroughly we work towards resolving that.

What do you think defines Australian design?

CW: It’s a question I’ve always struggled with, and it comes and goes, like the Australian character does. If you were to ask what defines the Australian personality – if you were to go too far in defining it, you start to become nationalistic and possibly un-Australian. Whereas, at times there are aspects like an accent or an approach that are distinctively Australian. But there are other projects and work that I’ve done where I wouldn’t really say has much specifically to do with Australian culture. I think it is good to look internationally, and a brand like King is doing just that.

Life Through Design

The Zaza Outdoor Sofa & Luna Outdoor Chair designed by Charles Wilson

What do you think the future holds for Australian design?

CW: I would say the future is looking good, in ways that possibly couldn’t be predicted a decade ago. It wasn’t that long ago that just about any Australian designer with ambition had their hearts set on capturing the interests of major international brands. The sort of circle of brands that are leading the way in technology and style. Now, we’re increasingly seeing brands of equal ambition to that in Australia such as King Living. There’s a lot of work to be done here. That’s one aspect of why things are positive. The other involves so many designers, particularly the generation coming up are self-manufacturing their own brands, and doing very well with it. That’s another thing that wasn’t really happening in the past.

Life Through Design

The Seymour Mid Fixed Chair designed by Charles Wilson

What do you find challenging for Australian designers to be recognised on the global stage, especially of where we’re located geographically?

CW: If you think back to the beginnings of the email-age, there was a lot of excitement that distances never mattered, and then we learnt that it was a bit of a false promise. We learnt that proximity mattered much more than we realised, and face-to-face contact mattered - being in meetings, playing with prototypes and forming direct relationships. That could change again. In fact, with Covid-19, we’re seeing a boom in Zoom meetings and people realising that they can work effectively from home and that entire companies can restructure around working apart together. So that could change again in the design world. But certainly, Australia’s distance from the most advanced manufacturing hubs has proved to be an impediment for most designers.

Do you think this pandemic will change the way people view their homes? More integrated working from home solutions etc.

CW: Yes I do. It’s exciting what the upsides of what we’ve been through is seeing people reassessing their lives and wanting to make them better and integrating work and leisure in a more effective way. I think there are tremendous opportunities there. 

Life Through Design

The Seymour High Back Swivel Chair designed by Charles Wilson