This Australian retailer wants to ensure you're sitting comfortably - Kanebridge News
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This Australian retailer wants to ensure you’re sitting comfortably

By Robyn Willis
Mon, Sep 4, 2023 11:46amGrey Clock 4 min

When the newly appointed CEO of King Living, David Woollcott, first started with the Australian furniture retailer last year, he admits he was puzzled by the price point for their popular range of sofas.

“I was questioning why we don’t charge more for our product,” he said. “With the Jasper (sofa), which starts from around $4000, we could charge $7000 or $8000.”

The galvanised steel-framed sofas, which come with a 25-year warranty, have a strong following in Australia where they are a popular choice for those looking for affordable style that will last. The range includes sofas and armchairs in a variety of styles designed to be flexible enough to suit any space, or lifestyle, at a price point that is deliberately accessible.

King Living CEO David Woollcott

Central to the success of King Living, which started as a mother and son enterprise with David King and his mother Gwen in the 1970s, has been the decision to keep design, manufacturing and retailing under the one roof. Woollcott said it places King Living in a rare position in the market.

“We are in control, which is exciting for the consumer,” he said. “We know how our product is made and where the materials are sourced and we are acting as one entity. That instils trust.” 

It also means there are no additional players looking to add further costs.

“We don’t support a third party, so the additional margin we invest in quality,” he said.

King Living has marked their time in the Australian market with the re-release of its first piece of furniture, now known as the 1977 sofa. A surprisingly contemporary-looking chair designed to be ‘built’ piece by piece to create a modular sofa of your choice to suit small or large spaces, it embodies the kind of relaxed elegance Australian design has become known for.

The 1977 King Living sofa was recently re-released. It can be mixed and matched to any configuration.

It’s a design aesthetic and business model Woollcott said has been embraced as King Living expanded into markets in Singapore and Europe in recent years with North America to follow.

“What delineates us is that we are a designer, manufacturer and retailer of furniture — that is really unique,” he said. “There are many businesses who do the retail bit and they source from factories around the world. But we are in control, which is exciting for the consumer.” 

While the size of living spaces vary significantly across Europe, Asia and North America, Woollcott said there is enough variation and flexibility in the range to accommodate customers’ needs, whether it is the generous proportions of the Jasper and Kato sofas or the more compact Aura and Fleur designs. While best known for their sofas, King Living also has an extensive range of dining furniture, as well as beds, floorcoverings, lighting and storage options. Their outdoor furniture range is also gaining a strong following, taking the same approach to the design and construction of their interior furniture and translating it for  outdoor spaces.

And it’s not just the Australian market taking notice.

“Australian design is globally loved because it has a casual nature to it,” he said. “It’s informal, which doesn’t mean it is less sophisticated or less detailed. 

“Coming from the UK where it is all about the class structure and formality, Australia is the antithesis. It’s warm, approachable and casual.”

The King Cove reclining sun lounge is part of the popular outdoor furniture range.

Having spent the past five years in Europe as managing director of Fisher & Paykel UK & Europe, Woollcott is aware that customers are increasingly concerned about the sustainability of their products. The ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ ethos is nothing new to King Living, he said.

“What stunned me when I met (founder) David King, they have acted sustainably from day one because they have made that link with waste not being a good thing,” he said. “It’s all about resources. I don’t think there would be a business leader out there who would not see the link between preserving resources and saving money.”

King Living also offers their King Care service, a commitment to recover or completely refurbish sofas for a cost, whether they were manufactured in 1977 or 2023.

While it may seem like a lot of fuss over a sofa, Woollcott noted that this key piece of furniture is often the backdrop to family life for years.

“Memories are made on our furniture and the sofa can end up becoming a member of the family,” he said. “Our furniture is designed to last for generations — and to be reconditioned.

“They take on a personality of their own.”



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”