First published in The Adelaide Review December 2013.
Over the last 17 years, the name Zuster has become synonymous with Australian designed and made high-end furniture.
Established in Melbourne, the family owned company recently launched their range of furniture and homewares through Outdoors On Parade in Norwood. Zuster’s expansion into Adelaide is in response to growing interest from local designers and follows the success this year of their Sydney showroom which opened in April, and the launch in August of their latest collection, Traverse, at Sydney Indesign 2013.
Zuster, meaning ‘sister’ in Dutch, is a name that perfectly underscores the heritage and business model for which sisters Wilhelmina McCarroll and Fleur Sibbel are known among designers. McCarroll is a Director and the design visionary for the Zuster brand and Sibbel is the Managing Director. The sisters’ design lineage stems from their grandfather who established a home building business after arriving in Australia from Holland. Their father, Meyer Sibbel, carried on the business and manufactured kitchens and wardrobes for the houses that he built.
“We’ve got photos of houses that were built in the 50’s and 60’s with that handle detail in the kitchen cupboards so it’s been adapted,” explains Sibbel pointing out the handle of a buffet unit nearby. “Willy’s redesigned it to make it more modern.”
“The interiors had a really European look and we still use a lot of the details of the joinery that they used in Holland in some of our pieces today,” adds McCarroll.
Attention to details such as shadowlines, the way handles are designed and the elevation of joinery off the ground are a signature Zuster look. “We are always looking for the minimal look so you’ve got to pare everything back,” explains McCarroll, adding that each piece has to work and stand on its own.
After completing furniture design at RMIT University, McCarroll’s first range of furniture was manufactured in their father’s factory in the mid 1990’s and sold through a local furniture store. The collection was then sold through Daimaru – a Japanese department store and former anchor tenant at Melbourne Central Shopping Centre. Zuster now has a large manufacturing plant and a talented team of skilled staff.
“With everything we manufacture, we customise size and we have ten different finishes and colours over the American Oak stains that we do,” explains Sibbel. “We can do leather inlays or all timber tops for desks and our dining tables are mostly solid timber in American Oak with solid legs. But we can do a veneer top as well,” she says.
Colour has also been incorporated into the range of furniture and is becoming increasingly popular. Fixings and drawer runners are always concealed and as much attention is given to the back of the units as the front so pieces can be used as room dividers. Zuster pieces are increasingly being selected for commercial projects too.
From the time McCarroll first puts pen to paper to draw designs, to the time a product has been engineered, prototyped, photographed for catalogues and installed in the showroom is a mere 12 weeks. “She is amazing,” Sibbel says with admiration.
“I build ideas in my head over periods of time,” McCarroll says. “Next year we are going to launch new pieces probably every month to two months.”