Over the years, design retailer Great Dane has built a number of strong partnerships with celebrated Danish and Scandinavian manufacturers and designers, focusing on quality, craftsmanship and timeless furniture and lighting design. As buyer and curator, Anton Assaad established his business in Melbourne in 2002, exercising an integrity-driven, hands on approach with his Australian customers in mind. Design lovers, read on.
Can you tell us about your formative years and background?
Much of my childhood was spend on a farm in Gippsland. My bedroom was actually my grandmother’s studio (she was a painter) and storage room for all her bottled fruit and conserves, so I was surrounded by her love for painting and food. I can still smell the room, it was a place to disappear in a slumber like nowhere else. I think the serenity that was in that room is always something I subconsciously try to create at home for myself and my three kids.
How did your discovery or love of Scandinavian design begin?
My passion for Scandinavian furniture as a kid came from my Grandfather. When he was twelve years old, he made his first piece of furniture. He was always making things and was really the one to teach me about wood. A lot of his furniture was inspired by Scandinavian design. Because he was a scientist, he was attracted to the Scandinavian ideals of furniture being functional and simple, with no wasted wood or design elements. Without even realising it at the time, he was really the one to transfer this to me, and from here I developed my own passion for Scandinavian furniture.
How often are you in Denmark and what’s the first thing you do when you land?
We generally go to Denmark twice per year, and always in February as we first head to Stockholm for the Furniture Fair. Stockholm is generally the first stop actually, and whenever we travel there we always stay at Ett Hemm. From the moment you first check in, it is truly a home away from home.
What qualities are you looking for when hand-selecting classic or contemporary Scandinavian pieces? What are you personally drawn to?
It’s really simple, and with all simple things, that means it’s complex. You only have to look at examples of Ilse Crawford’s work to see how warm and rich and layered Scandinavian design can be. I get asked this question all the time and I think most people want me to answer “it’s simple, clean, understated and minimalist”. This is a misnomer that has been propagated through stereotypes and the media. Scandinavian life may have roots of simple, clean design, but the life is warm, rich and full of ceremony and appreciation of the surrounds. This ceremony could refer to candles being lit inside, warm pendant lighting, a genuine celebration of the seasons and a deep respect towards nature and natural products. To me, this is a completely authentic way to approach designing something using these materials, and what I am personally drawn to when we talk about Scandinavian design.
What advice do you have for those pursuing a career in design or buying?
As long as it’s something you enjoy looking at and love, then that’s good design. As for buying for Great Dane, this brand been unashamedly devoted to Scandinavian luxury, and I think that has made people trust us as an authority. We aren’t trying to be ten different things to different people. As I say to the team here, sometimes it’s ok to say no.
What ‘wins’ and challenges have you faced in the last decade or so.
When I first started the business, my warehouse leaked so much, I would wake up every night it rained and drive to the warehouse to check on the leaks and move buckets around. At one point, I think I was keeping the $2 shop around the corner afloat with all the buckets I bought. It’s different now – more serious, but still just as fun. I still VM the window displays with my Creative Director and partner Megan, and it’s these sorts of tasks that remind me where the business has come from and just how far we’ve grown.
Can you tell us about your new project The Great Dane Apartment?
I’ve always wanted to create a space that is reflective of not just Great Dane, but my own personal tastes as well. It’s a reflection of my passion for design and the pieces I love. It’s a personal space that is indulgent and I love sharing it with our clients for events. We’ve only recently made it available to book on Airbnb, and so far, the response from people has been amazing, which makes it all the more rewarding.
Parlour X often gets to shoot in your beautiful Paddington store and play with Great Dane’s wide selection of furniture. What’s unique to your Oxford Street space?
We had been searching to find the perfect Sydney location for some time. We felt that a high St. showroom was a better reflection of the Great Dane brand than our old showroom, and we wanted a spot with a genuine sense of community and luxury. After much searching, we found a rundown three story building on Oxford St and we knew immediately that with the right touch, we could create our new home in Sydney. From that moment, Paddington was it. The showroom was designed by us, in close contact with friend and long-time collaborator Nicky Lobo. We asked Nicky to help us create ‘a voyage through the forest’. It takes clients from an urban environment and transports them to the woodlands of Scandinavia and the lights of the north. The ground floor is dense, filled with rich carpets and leather details, whilst the top floor is light and airy, as though one has risen above the trees. It’s an indulgent but incredibly simple idea.
You have some really intriguing and special relationships with legendary designers like Kai Kristiansen and Mads Johansen. How do these develop and what do they bring you personally and professionally?
Designers like Kai and in particular, Mads, are very dear to my heart because first and foremost, they are friends and business associates a distant second. Coming together with designers and helping them put something back into production is one of the most rewarding parts of this business, because it allows us to tell the story ourselves, and Great Dane then becomes a part of that designer’s history, too. We have never been a company that has tried to work with the biggest brands; we’ve always been attracted to design with integrity, whether that’s a company or a team of three working out of a single studio. In the case of Mads Johansen, the Johansen Table was put into production because of Great Dane, and it’s now our best-selling product, so we’ve both benefitted from doing things this way.
For Parlour X fans who would like to implement more Scandi design into their homes or office – what can you suggest?
As I said earlier, as long as it’s something you enjoy looking at, then that’s good design. But if you’re stuck, a visit to Great Dane across the road could never hurt.