The Design Institute of Australia (DIA) has posthumously recognised the substantial achievements of Brisbane furniture maker Robert Dunlop OAM who was inducted into their hall of fame.

I first came across the work of Robert Dunlop in an article published by Brisbane Modern in 2008. It was a profile on the Brisbane-based furniture maker and his eponymous Studio Line furniture range which was developed in collaboration with Danish designer Tom Larsen.

The Studio Line furniture was created during the 1970s in Robert’s workshop in Stafford. Elements such as radiata pine timber (a timber maligned in Australia but much appreciated in Denmark for its yellowing characteristics), aluminium and leather hide were melded to produce a uniquely Australian look, loosely based on traditional Australian squatter’s furniture.

I’ve had the great pleasure of making myself comfortable in the Studio Line Tanderra chairs and placing drinks upon the Studio Line coffee table when visiting friends who own various pieces of the range. The distinctive pieces are reminiscent of log cabin, post and beam style furniture – a design idiosyncratic and closely associated with the ’70s.

Indeed, the furniture is very much an expression of the time and place in which it was made and of the people who were behind the design – a fusion of the Australian bush and modernist design. The range was admired both in Australia and overseas, as it was sold in 19 countries around the world. This fact is unsurprising, given the furniture is extremely well-constructed and is of an exceptional quality  – designs which interpreted the natural contours of the timbers used.

Robert had an innate talent for transforming found native timbers and giving them a new purpose in his unique furniture creations. Australian Wood Review noted Robert’s own designs were characterised by sculptural carved forms: “Carved panels and motifs frequently appear and some surfaces are textured straight off the chisel.”

By the 1980s Robert’s reputation was firmly established and his work was in high demand. He was commissioned to design furniture for Parliament House and the High Court of Australia in Canberra – his pieces were considered unique, extravagant and perfectly suited to ceremonial furniture pieces. A total of 68 pieces were made for Parliament House alone. Robert’s work can be found in public and private collections across the globe.

Robert died at the age of 89 in October 2014 and in his eulogy he was referred to as the ‘Chippendale of Australia’. It is a fitting tribute that he is being remembered for his exceptional legacy to design and craftsmanship. It is hoped that his entry into the DIA Design Hall of Fame will inspire a whole new generation of designers and furniture makers in Australia.

The Design Institute of Australia inducted six new designers to the DIA Design Hall of Fame in October 2015. To see the full list of who was honoured please visit here.

Photo credit: Robert Dunlop by Chris Osborne
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