The Time is nau

The Australian design house that’s taking the world by storm.

In under three years, nau has exhibited in Milan, New York and Germany, fielded enquiries from prominent design festivals in Asia and grown into Cult Design’s second best-selling furniture brand.

New Australian (nau) design is on the up and up. It’s a path reflective of not just the nau collection, but the broader Australian design scene.

“Australian design as a whole is getting to the point where it is world class. Not just localised,” says founder of Cult and nau, Richard  Munao.

“Australian design is being seen for our fresh approach. Not living in the past. Forward thinking.”

In his 20 years in the industry, Munao has seen the design scene evolve immensely, including the rise of Australia’s interior designers. This has opened the door to opportunities for a new breed of local industrial and furniture designers.

“Australian interior designers are doing work right around the world – in Asia, the UK – that is starting to see a bit more recognition. Architecture often had a wider reputation, but interior designers didn’t have that. There’s been a fast change and we’ve become known for what we can do,” he says.

A Cabinetmaker by trade, Munao spent two decades specialising in office design before opening Cult in Sydney’s Chippendale. As an importer of esteemed furniture like that of Fritz Hansen and Erik Jorgensen, Cult quickly positioned itself as a leading national destination for contemporary European design in Australia.

An Australian designed collection was debuted in 2014. What Munao felt lacked when it came to Australian furniture, were items that were not only local, but designed differently and uniquely. There was a gap for local designs that could sit beside the best of Europe, with equal aesthetic appeal and quality.

Adam Goodrum’s AG x Cult range delivered this brief.

It led Munao to wonder about the opportunity for establishing an Australian design house that could be taken to a global stage.

“I used to see all these Australian designers standing in queues at Milan to see people. But the big designers jump the queues. I ended up saying to three or four of them, ‘if you give me your best, I promise we’ll take it to the world.’

And that, he did.

“It’s a promise I wanted to honour,” Munao reflects, in regard to the establishment of nau in 2017.

Through collaboration and a focus on building visibility for its collection, nau has achieved unprecedented interest, enough to warrant its own international distribution hub from Cult Design Singapore.

Locally, nau designs are taking the place of their European counterparts more frequently than ever, reflecting a growing taste for Australian design. Monash University, WeWork and the Sydney Opera House are a small selection of the businesses selecting nau furniture for their interiors.

“We’ve just delivered 66 Molloy chairs to the Sydney Opera House. 20 years ago, did I ever think we would have Australian product there sitting beside Danish product?” Munao proclaims, with pride.

Nau’s most recent collection launched at Denfair 2019, incorporating the work of six Australian designers; Adam Cornish, Tom Fereday, Jack Flanagan, Adam Goodrum, Kate Stokes and Zachary Hanna.

While the minimalist, ‘Scandi’ core of Cult does trickle through nau’s aesthetic, Munao says the overarching nau language is defined by purpose and longevity in its designs.

“If it doesn’t add any value or uniqueness, why are we doing it? That’s something my designers need to ask themselves before they bring anything to the table.”

“Everything we do needs to last a lifetime in its form and its design. So if you look at it in 20 years’ time it doesn’t look dated,” Munao explains.

Alongside this lies a personal preference for nau to represent designers with humility, a quality often disassociated with the design world. It reflects Munao’s own refreshingly down to earth approach to business and design.

“It’s a compliment that people [designers] want to get into the brand. To get in, it’s not a club. It’s looking for uniqueness. Simplicity, but also uniqueness,” Munao says.

Nau’s 2019 collection highlights include Stack by Zachary Hanna, the Molloy Chair with Arms and Stool by Adam Goodrum and Kate Stokes’ Jolly Single Rod Pendant.

Photography courtesy nau.