Kate Stokes from Coco Flip Design Studio

Words - Manuela Millan
Photographer – Haydn Cattach

Ahead of the Melbourne Design Week starting on March 14, we met with Kate Stokes of Coco Flip Design Studio to hear about Honey, her new collaboration with Bendigo Pottery, timber craftsman Charles Standford and glass artist Amanda Dziedzic. Honey is a collection of lighting designs including table lamp, pendant and wall sconce which feature slip cast ceramic stoneware or turned American white oak paird with hand-blown glass.
We talked about the inspiration behind Honey, the collaborative process and some of the highlights of the experience. Enjoy!

Honey_Coco Flip_Light_Haydn Cattach
Honey_Coco Flip_Light_Haydn Cattach

MM: How was the collaboration between many elements and different designers with different fields of expertise? (Bendigo Pottery, timber craftsman Charles Sandford and glass artist Amanda Dziedzic).

KS: The collaboration with these three Melbourne Artisans has been hugely enjoyable – they are all so incredibly talented and it's wonderful to work alongside people so dedicated to their craft. We've worked separately with each supplier and in doing so there are always a few challenges in bringing together the components in a seamless way. Each process is so delicate and there are natural variations in the items which is part of their appeal, but obviously we need some consistency to ensure the pieces work together. 

We've worked with Charles Sandford since 2010 – they still turn our Coco Pendant tops or 'Coco Pops' as they call them. And I've known Amanda Dziedzic for some time and worked with her on a previous project. However, Bendigo Pottery was a completely new supplier for us and we hadn't worked with ceramics in a project before, so it was wonderful to learn more about the processes. We took a day trip out to Bendigo to visit the factory and Rod walked us through all of their manufacturing capabilities. He is just the kindest person and has been an absolute pleasure to work with. 

MM: How was the process from beginning to end? Tell us a bit more about your design process.

KS: I love to sketch by hand and find that's how my ideas flow best, so that is always my first step. The table lamp was the first idea that I had down on paper and I thought it was quite a unique, sculptural form for a light – it sort of appeared to be melting into the table. After fleshing out the concept and testing some proportions and scale, Haslett 3D models the form and creates renders to help us visualise what the final product might look like. 

For me it's important to know quite early in the process who we plan to make the piece with, so that we can work out the feasibility and costing etc. So we like to reach out to local manufacturers with a concept and drawings for initial quotes and to see if they have the capabilities to make our ideas come to fruition. From there we test, and tweak and test again until we come to a prototype that we're satisfied with. 

MM: Whats is the main inspiration for Honey? How did you choose the materials and colours?

KS: We usually start our design process with a mood or a tone, and in this case we knew we wanted to work with slip cast ceramic and blown glass as we thought they would be a really nice pairing. I was thinking about the qualities of ceramics and glass and the process of slip casting, and glass blowing – the way a liquid material can be manipulated and solidified into a unique form. The contoured geometries are a reference to these processes and the flowing nature of any liquid – in particular honey with its viscosity. The form also resembles a honey dipper's soft curves and takes inspiration from an Art Deco sensibility. 

Honey_Coco Flip_Light_Haydn Cattach
I was thinking about the qualities of ceramics and glass and the process of slip casting, and glass blowing – the way a liquid material can be manipulated and solidified into a unique form. The contoured geometries are a reference to these processes and the flowing nature of any liquid – in particular honey with its viscosity.
Honey_Coco Flip_Light_Haydn Cattach
Honey_Coco Flip_Light_Haydn Cattach

MM: What is your favourite part of the process?

KS: The most satisfying part of the process is definitely seeing the piece finally come together as a unified product. There is so much imagining that goes on – on paper, in the computer and in our minds, so to see the real thing come to life is something quite magic. It makes all the hard work worthwhile. 

MM: Who/What are you most influenced by?

KS: I'm influenced by materials and form, and all those designers who came before me – Charles and Ray Eames, Eileen Gray, Pierre Paulin. I love mid-century modernist Architecture and find great inspiration in the feelings that those spaces provide. Equally I love being in nature and always feel best when surrounded by the bush, forest or the ocean. For me it all comes down to the emotive qualities of design and their ability to make us feel a certain way, and to enhance our lives. I believe that objects and spaces should be full of stories. 

MM: How do you like to spend your time when you aren’t  designing or making?

KS: I love to spend time outdoors with my family – exploring the local watering holes and park land around Eltham. I also love to visit galleries – particularly Heide Museum of Modern Art – even if just for a picnic on their beautiful grounds. I think the best ideas come from time spent disconnected from the routines of daily life, so breaking away from our busy schedules is vital. Some of my favourite days are spent pottering around our home and tinkering with little odd-jobs, crafting with my little girls and cooking.   

MM: What can't you live without?

KS: I struggle on anything less than eight hours sleep, and as cheesy as it sounds I couldn't live without my little family – they're everything. 

MM: What are you reading/listening right now?

KS: I'm reading Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and really enjoying it. I listen to podcasts when I'm at the gym and my current favourites are CriminalThis is Love and Beautiful Anonymous

MM: What are your plans for the future?

KS: Professionally I'm still in the early stages of my career and I hope to be designing furniture, lighting and objects for a long time to come! After our recent collaboration with nau I'd like to design for some more Australian brands, and potentially some international ones too. I plan to keep growing Coco Flip with a focus on small scale, local production and honest materiality – imbuing our products with personality. 

On a more personal level, I'd like to provide my kids with a fun, warm and safe home environment where they can explore nature and creativity. We feel lucky to have found our 'forever home' in Eltham and we plan to put down our roots in the community there. I'd like to travel a lot more and keep learning about other cultures and history. 

MM: Can you recommend a coffee place and a restaurant in Melbourne?

KS: Cibi on Keele Street in Collingwood is just a few doors down from our studio, and I highly recommend it for breakfast, lunch, or just a coffee. It also houses a beautiful shop focussing on Japanese home wares that is well worth a visit. 

Haslett and I had the most amazing anniversary dinner recently at Greasey Zoes in Hurstbridge. It's a tiny little 'farm to table' restaurant run by a young local couple and the whole experience was just magic – it's worth the train ride to Hurstbrige!