Careers In Art: Carolyn Dunnell

Term: 3 Year: 2007

Furniture Designer and Maker

At what age did you decide to make a career from furniture design?
From the age of 18 I worked as a performer, then when I turned 27 I decided I wanted to do something practical and to express my creativity in objects.

How long have you been in the industry and how did you get there?
Four and half years – studied at RMIT- Furniture Design Diploma and Furniture Technology.

Are there peers in your industry that set the benchmark?
Yes- Marc Newson (industrial designer) Australian Frank Gehry ( Architect- US) Charles and Ray Eames- (Furniture designers – US)

Do you come from a creative family?

What is a day in the life of Carolyn like?
Currently I am working for a furniture manufacturer (in Epping). I am working there from 7 am to 3.30 pm in  production. In my spare time I’m starting up my own small furniture design business. For the last three years I have designed and produced prototypes (with my business partner). We exhibit these in trade shows to gain exposure and to get feedback on our designs and potentially find a manufacturer.

What effect has the computer age had on your work?
There are quite a lot of components (furniture pieces) that are now made on computer operated machinery and all design work is done on the computer. Also there’s more pressing buttons than using tools!

What are some of the negative aspects of your job?
In terms of design- it’s very hard to break into the industry and make a name for yourself. That’s why I chose to work full time – to pay the bills and to finance the building of my business and brand.

What is something you would love to do that you haven’t already done?
Design and build a house.

What is it like working in a team environment and is it important?
Yes it is important. Personally I need the interaction… I like to bounce ideas off other people and learn from their experience.

Concept to completion. With any given project, how much of the end result is your initial concept? Explain how your team / client may change those initial ideas. How do you deal with the compromise?
We compromise on the materials used to make our prototypes – due to limited funds. You have an ‘idea’ that you want to use a certain material for – but after making the prototype we discover it’s not appropriate. This is due to my inexperience but it adds to the learning process.

Besides design ability – what skills are essential to your role?
Because I’m starting my own business I need to publicise and promote the brand. Project management and construction techniques – trade skills are also needed.

Where do you get most of your inspiration?
From witnessing the real world and talking to other people.

What’s your favourite design job to date?
An upholstered chaise longe that I made in second year furniture design. The process was exhausting but exhilarating. And the final product made me very proud. 

What is your favourite piece of clothing in your wardrobe?
Steel cap boots.

Who would you most like to sit next to on a flight to Europe?
The pilot.

If you were speaking to a secondary school student who was showing interest in following in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?
Take the medication early. Follow your heart.