Big dreams for furniture business

Growing a national furniture and homewares retail group isn't easy when the category is suffering. But Anton Assaad, founder of Great Dane, is optimistic about the 'artisan' end of the market. Apart from getting fired up about his iconic Scandanavian designers, one of his biggest finds, he says was working with a professional coach to improve his business.
When Anton met Domonique Bertolucci, of Success Strategies, two years ago as a result of his wife's urging, he realised that he needed to work smarter, not harder.''I drove everything myself, but as Domonique said, you can only go so far on pure energy and at some point, you need strategies and so I learned to buy strategically.'' As a result, he and his team started to systemise Great Dane's stock.' 'The question was how could you grow on vintage furniture one-offs - on a multi-store basis? How can you have a consistent stock flow.''
So we built a showroom offer in which 30% and 40% stock is the same but customised; between 30% and 40% is vintage; and 20% (of the stock) are one-offs.''Buying (furnishings) had to have set costs and I had to know my margin - and that empowered me to move the business (to the next stage).''
It all began back in 2002 when Anton risked his life's savings on buying a consignment of vintage Danish-designed furniture, sight-unseen. He then rang a long-lost cousin in Spain and asked him to fly over to Denmark and check it out. It just so happened that the cousin was thinking of a similar venture and had already shipped in furniture.''I was sitting in a grotty warehouse and in the first month, I'd written a business plan and I knew I wanted to do these products new.''I knew that this would appeal because they would be still made by the same factories as 50 years ago.
The customers tend to be well-heeled older couples who have the money to spend because the furniture isn't cheap: on average, shoppers may drop $10,000 in one visit.'' A lot of people who deal in this mid-20th Century stuff have a trader mentality; I see it as very special.''You don't buy furniture to have it for a year; it's a lifetime purchase. We really believe that and it's a testament to our business.''
Anton's wife Emma became the marketing manager two years ago and the couple have a plan which they review together annually ''and that is one of the best things I've done - it's flexible but there's goals and directions,'' Assaad added.''And it allows the staff to see where we're going in terms of investment in new stock and the gaps in the vintage market we need to fulfil - it allows us to take it to the next level of four to six shops in two to three years time.''

Assaad usually travels four times a year to Denmark to meet with the original designers and sometimes their families. If they're still alive, the designers are aged 80 and over and have to be convinced about getting their old designs back into production.''There's a certain language you have to have to deal with the Danes,'' he explained.''You have to be direct in an indirect manner; rather than saying `I need to this done'. It's more about: `I'd like to do that.'''''You need to have a cross cultural understanding; otherwise, you can end up somewhere you don't want to be. That's true for any culture.''
Recently, he tracked down yet another elderly mid-20th Century Danish designer Arne Voda, who ''wasn't a well known designer in Denmark but did some extraordinary work''. Assaad has started production of a few 'beautiful' pieces to add to his collection.''The most wonderful thing is that now we're working with him and a tiny cabinet maker and another young guy in Denmark and .. that's the most exciting thing I've done in the past 12 months.''
And it's this passion for the culture and significance of design that his clients also buy into. ''If you look back at the period of the 1950s, there were 7,000 cabinet makers in Denmark so there were many other designers who were just as good as the masters - and that's the group we look at. ''

Great Dane has stores in Melbourne, Sydney and, Brisbane and owns a local workshop. The business is quite labour intensive but sustainable. Because of the workshop, we provide a standard of restoration only done by two companies in the world. Most people are amazed by what we do and how much time is spent. That's the big part of our passion to provide the best quality. The restoration cycle is also systemised; they do certain products every six weeks it's much more efficient and productive than three years ago.

Assaad says he's had offers to take Great Dane offshore and he already exports to US, New Zealand and Asia from the website. He's trying not to panic about the state of the Aussie dollar since part of being an importer is coping with fluctuations; some of his dealings are hedged but not the rising freight prices.''Come the New Year, most businesses will restructure prices but there's no point panicking now. We have to see what will happen.''

Hook Me Up

The Dots Coat Hooks.

Made from oak and cut into soft round circles, The Dots coat hooks will treat any garment with care. Often called “the little” family, the coat hooks are a friendly addition to any wall.

The design allows you to arrange the hooks in a pattern that you prefer, and you can add and remove the dots at any time. Each set comes with three different sizes, one large, one medium and one small; and can come in different colours.

Jack n Jill Children’s Coat Hooks.

Inspired buy the iconic male and female symbols who direct us safely across the street,the Jack n Jill coat hooks are an individual and personable addition to your home, kidsrooms or office space.

Just in time for Christmas, the coat hooks are a great gift.

Made of powder coated steel and available in black, red and white; the young at heart and the young just might startpicking their clothes off the floor.

Limited Edition - Finn Juhl N45

The 45-chair was designed in 1945 and is regarded as one of the mainworks of Finn Juhl.

Finn was the first Dane to use teak for furniture production, and the 45 chair is very characteristic of the works of Finn Juhl to come because for the first time he separated the elegant frame construction from the comfortable upholstery part. This gave the furniture a lightness never seen before, which has formed a school and made Finn Juhl world-famous.

In connection with the opening of the HOME OF FINN JUHL exhibition at the museum Ordrupgaard, Great Dane has secured Australia's only Finn Juhl’s model 45. Only 100 of these exist worldwide. Available in Oxblood leather.

You must come in to see this beautiful piece.

Finn Juhl

A stunning piece. Our Finn Juhl range has finally arrived. Inspired by 'free art', Finn Juhl designed Poeten for his own home in 1941.

Today this sofa represents a part of Danish cultural history and modern furniture.

Poeten is made to the finest manufactuing standards with hand-sewn upholstery.W 87 x W 136 x H 80 cm.

Upholstery of you choice and timber for legs - maple, walnut, teak or oak.

Holmegaard Glassware

Great Dane is excited to have a selection of the new range, “Reflections of Scandinavia”, from Holmegaard in store.

The history of Holmegaard began in 1823, when Count Christian Danneskiold-Samsǿe petitioned for the permission to build a glassworks at Holmegaard Mose. The Count passed away the same year but his widow Countess Henriette Danneskiold-Samsøe pursued the project, making her the woman behind Holmegaard.

Holmegaard has now become part of a large modern design collective. During the 20th Century, renowned artists designed for Holmegaard and established a long and proud tradition until today where some of Denmark’s biggest talents are still associated with glass production at Holmegaard.

Rusakko Soft Toys

The Rusakko soft toy collection of animals are 100% natural and 100% organic. Stuffed with cotton grass from the Finnish marshes that is spun with wool then held together by cotton and linen.

Cotton grass can only be combined with the wool after it has lain for at least 500 years in the Finnish marsh, making them some of the “oldest” stuffed toys in the world.

Substances drawn from the Finnish marshes are known to have relaxation effects, and many of the ingredients are used as therapeutic aids. The Rusakko toys are extremely calming, once you hold them; you will never want to let them go.

Every animal is handmade from start to finish by Marjatta Lahtinen and her employees in a tiny factory in Finland. Marjatta Lahtinen says, “Each stuffed animal is made with love and special respect to the materials provided by nature. That is why every one of them is a unique individual.”

The range currently in store includes the reindeer, girl and boy mice, the horse and the rabbit, which can easily switch from girl rabbit to boy rabbit, with a quick change of clothes.

Great Dane New Restoration Service

The Great Dane Workshop specialises in the repair and restoration of mid-century furniture.

We are now able to offer our valued clients a restoration service for their furniture.

We repair and restore:
· wobbly chair legs
· scratches on surfaces
· water or burn marks
· sticky drawers & doors
· structural weaknesses
· upholstery

Contact us to rejuvenate your pieces.

The Firekeeper

I absolutely love this, its so beautiful. It really is the ultimate gift for the design obsessed!

Instead of the traditional three tool fire set in a stand, the Fire Keeper could be the only tool needed for tending fires. Uniquely designed for wood burning stoves, open fireplaces and outdoor grills, the Fire Keeper is very well designed by those clever cold climate Danes.

The Fire Keeper can be used both as a fire blower and a poker. It is used by blowing through the tube directly into the embers, so you don’t have to get too close to the fire. The combination of an optimized length and air flow secures the efficiency of the tool making it very easy to use.

Made of stainless steel, with a lacquered black mouth piece, the Fire keeper is a substitute for the traditional bellows can be easily mounted on the wall next to the fireplace with an elegant magnetic wall fixing.

Light Arch

Light Arch - from the simple to the dramatic - create an exciting atmosphere with candles. The Danes light a candle every single night, explains their fixation with candelabras.

This elegant candleholder is called the Light Arch, designed by Knud Holscher. The arch offers almost unlimited possibilities for combining your own personal candleholder.

To be in a stable position, the candleholder has to consist of a minimum of three arches. Beyond this, an unlimited number of arches may be added in a large variation of ways with almost any combination possible.

Made from polished stainless steel, the sticks curve to mirror and reflect the glow of the candles, so the more arches added, the more exciting the light’s reflections and drama of the arch is emphasized.

The Step Ladder

I really like this design for such a functional product. The Scandinavians believe in beauty in everyday things & this tipifies that philosophy.

The Step Ladder is designed with the purpose of creating an ergonomic and safe device. It is shaped in well laid-out design and with the finish of an exclusive piece of furniture; you will be willing to display it even when not in use.

The Step Ladder is manufactured in solid lacquered birchwood with brass fittings. The simple structure that locks itself, ensures that there is no risk of skidding, when the Step Ladder is in use.

The extended sidepiece, that functions as a railing for the Step Ladder, ensures that all of the steps can be used safely.

For hanging the Step Ladder when not in use, a wall fitting is enclosed, naturally in the same quality materials as the ladder.

Mozartkugel – The Beautiful Musical Orb

The Music orb is a delicate wooden ball 92 mm in diameter made from waxed light beech or dark oak.

A turn of the elegantly shaped key magically produces from the solid wooden ball Mozart’s “Voi che sapete” from the “Marriage of Figaro”.

The eighteen note chime plays whether the ball is rolling across the floor or standing on the table as an intriguing ornament, causing surprise and delight for young and old.

Manufactured in a village on the edge of the Black Forest, the chime is mounted in premium quality wood that has been fashioned into the perfect sphere. Though the mechanism remains hidden, the music will always escape the bounds of the geometric form.

The melody is by W.A Mozart. The Orb comes with a wind up key and ring shaped cradle including instructions in the gift box.

On Ya Bike

Great Dane is about all that's great about Scandinavia. And in Scandinavia everyone rides a bike.

Skeppshult bicycles are a blend of design and quality where neither is compromised. Hand made in the same factory since 1920 in a small town in southern Sweden they believe that a bike is designed to not only get you from A to B but it can do so in comfort and style.

Skeppshult has been producing classic bicycles in Sweden for nearly 100 years. Skeppshult, a name taken from the town where the bicycles are produced, has held on to this tradition of producing fine quality well designed classic and comfort bicycles.

The company has been awarded a royal warrant, which is a distinction awarded by the King of Sweden to those companies that embody the standard of superior quality and workmanship associated with fine Swedish design.

My brush with Arne Vodder

I have been searching for the last 6 months tyring to track down Arne Vodder. I somehow ended up at a website for a small manufacturer on the west, a company called Nielius. They manufacture a sofa by Arne Vodder. We contacted them and asked if they were in touch with him, they were and I asked if it would be possible to meet the great man. Nielius informed us that Arne Vodder had nearly died in January and was still quite unwell, but they would mention our interest. So we waited.

Luckily Arne Vodder was feeling a great deal better and would be interested in meeting us for coffee, as I was travelling with our resident Dane, Jytte and felt it would be a great opportunity to have a Danish national with me, as it is difficult to know how comfortable Arne Vodder might be with English. Of course it was perfect.

I have to admit I was quite nervous to be meeting him and felt myself getting anxious, like a kid on my first day of school; butterflies. It was something special, a feeling as a grown up we don’t get to experience as much as we would like.

Arne Vodder was charming and his English was perfect. He had very kindly brought along some copies of his works and an old Sibast catalogue (one of the manufacturers), which was great. We talked of what he designed and who he worked with.

It came to light that Arne Vodder had studied under Finn Juhl! I delicately asked if Juhl was his inspiration for his use of colour, he replied with a smile; “Yes, it was Finn Juhl”. He talked extensively of the office series he did, which was widely sold into the USA for banks, I can only imagine how fantastic those banks would have looked in their day.

I asked Arne if he was working with anyone else, as we really loved his cabinets and would be thrilled to find someone who might be reproducing it again. I was very excited when he mentioned he was working with a small cabinet maker who was looking at reproducing the cabinet series.

The Vodder designs are unbelievably modern, using a combination of wood, metal and colour, the proportions are exact and combined with the materials, provides a resolved cabinet that cannot be improved upon.
I am constantly impressed by these guys. Amazing that 50 years ago they were coming up with this kind of design, it is truly inspiring and humbling at the same time to have the privilege to work with this product and have the opportunity to meet someone who I believe has had such a significant influence on design today.

It became clear to me that this humble man did not consider himself important or significant, he was simply doing what came to him naturally, this was a really rare experience, to meet someone so humble and so accomplished.

We talked of other designers and makers and we came to be talking of a company Montana (still around today) and their work with Fritz Hansen. Arne Vodder talked of someone in the Montana wanting to make plastic wall systems (Montana made and still makes very high quality wall systems today), he mentioned they were making this plastic system, but due to the material, plastic, there could be a 3mm variation., Arne Vodder smiled at this point, not a big smile but a smile of someone who new exactly what he was leading up to, and was having a chuckle to himself, then he said; “This guy had contracted pantonidies, the disease of Verner Panton, everything in plastic!”’ then he broke into laughter.

He had obviously told this story before. This story was as much about the joke as it was about the integrity, exactness and attention to detail that most of the designers expected of themselves and their manufacturers.

I really felt a great privilege to have met him and I really hope that if his storage range does go back into production and is done with the same integrity and belief that they obviously put into their products all those years ago.

We will keep you posted re development with this project.

I also asked for his signature and photo with him, I think he was quite chuffed about this also, a very charming man.

Juhl Time

Today we met with the Finn Juhl people.

We were greeted in the most Danish of traditions, strong black coffee and a plate of short breads filled with strawberry mousse and covered in perfect Danish strawberries. We discussed business and Finn Juhl for a while and heard how they started.

One of the directors Henrik, was asked by the widow of Finn Juhl if he could make a #57 sofa for an exhibition she had organized in Denmark. Of course he jumped at the chance and they made such a fantastic example that Finn Juhl’s widow asked if they would be interested in producing the sofa, this was almost 10 years ago. Henrik is also the cousin of Peter Morgensen, of Borg Mogensen fame and clearly has the furniture in his veins, a really lovely charming guy.

We talked and talked about design and what we do at Great Dane and then Henrik asked how would we like to do this; as in what shall we do to make our partnership official. I put out my hand and we shook. That is about as Danish as you can get. The deal is done Great Dane is now the exclusive representative for probably the most significant designer to come out of Denmark in the whole 20th century. We are so thrilled.

Henrik then said we should go and see the showroom, but unfortunately and fortunately, all the Finn Juhl furniture is in Copenhagen. I was a little confused, but Henrik informed us that Finn Juhls private residence had recently been given to the Danish government by his widow which is now open to the public, and they have a temporary exhibit of all of his work at a museum that is next to his house. His house is stunning and I cant wait to see it.

We went to the showroom anyway, which was a house from 1790, it was just fantastic. The open fireplace was going when we arrived, beautiful old oak floor, white washed ceiling and walls, it breathed Hygge. We sat down and Henrik and few others from the office joined us in front of the fire for drinks.

The experience of this room, even without the Finn Juhl product was one of those rare moments, that was the culmination of all I consider to be right about what we do. The warmth of the room, the people, the drink and the conversation on Danish design. There was an entire wall floor to ceiling full of books and magazines from the 30’s to now about Danish Design. We talked of Finn Juhl, Illum, WIkkelsoe, Erik Buch…….

It then it came to light that Henrik was Erick Buch’s nephew, it was fascinating. Erik Buch studied under Finn Juhl, then Evan (one of the other directors) said he had met Illum WIkkelsoe and H W Klein and our mouths dropped. He thinks both of them are still alive. I will have to come back soon to try to meet them.

I really felt as if I was sitting here in the perfect place for discussing Danish design and history.

We sat and talked and drank for hours discussing the old designers, how creative and interesting they must have been, what it would have been like to have been involved in such a renaissance of furniture design and manufacturing, and for a moment I felt that we had captured that feeling in that room, it was hygge.

I have waffled on enough, it was wonderful experience and I thought you guys might like to hear it.

We are off to see Aksel Kersgaard this morning and Getama, and then we will confirm today we hopefully will have lunch with Arne Vodder on Friday! Its proving to be my best trip ever.

Buying Trip - 08

I am back in CPH. Its been 6 months since I was here, too long really - but a new baby will do that to you!

Cant wait to get my teeth stuck into things. I am travelling with our Sydney Showroom Manager Jytte who happens to be Danish so am looking forward to making some real progress re getting some exclusive deals going & securing more partnerships for Great Dane.

My itinerary is chock a block. I am particularly looking forward to meeting Arne Vodder so hopefully we will hear from him soon. I will travel across Denmark this trip buying from various suppliers scattered across the country. I am also taking this opportunity to visit some of our partner manufacturers - I never tire of observing their incredible factories & witnessing the authenticity of production here.

Stay tuned.

The Stouby Sofa & Ottoman

We are so excited by this new addition to our range - the Stouby Sofa & Ottoman.

A Borge Mogensen inspired piece they are hugely impressive; a classic and simply Danish.

Made in the finest natural leather; highest strength, best comfort and most exquisite feel this sofa is not just to be sat in but admired and built to last for many years.

Stouby were a natural fit for us as they are committed to pursuing the traditions of good crafts-manship acquired through more than a century of furniture making.

From the beginning in 1902 they have used only the best materials, and through long- term cooperation with selected suppliers have achieved standards of extraordinary quality and excellence.

Art for the floor

Patterns and various textures are abundant as we welcome the new Kateha rug collection in-store. More than a rug to keep the winter chills at bay, but a beautiful piece of art for the floor.

The rugs are of premium quality; using 100%, new wool they are all hand tufted weaves and colours to make the perfect centerpiece for any space.

And important to note; all rugs come with a stamp of RugMark certification, supporting the end of exploitative child labour.

Light My Fire

Winter always gets me thinking about lighting.

What better way to change the mood of home to reflect the season but to add a new light design, and our collection is extensive and impressive. A substantial range of Verner Panton Flowerpot – the iconic lamp & light named after the happy days of flower power arrives in new fashionable hues: Pink & Purple.

And not to be forgotten, the revival of the Topan light emerges, a classic black pendant straight from the 60’s.

Inspired Sofa

This sofa was clearly inspired by Finn Juhl famous Poet sofa, it has a lovely soft shape that reminds me of classic older style furniture, but with the Danish touch. I love the shape and the way it lends itself so well to contrasting fabric, highlighting the delicates curves and feel of the sofa.

I upholstered this sofa with my daughter in mind, it would be the perfect sofa to cuddle up with her, reading a bedtime story while she falls asleep in my arms and the soft curves of the sofa.

1984 Fish Bowl

1984 Fish Bowl was designed by Sydney based industrial designer Danny Cheung.

The Fishbowl was inspired by and takes its name from the novel 1984 by George Orwell.

Design is so human-centric, 1984 Fish Bowl is innovative in meeting the needs of a non-human species, a design which ironically engages our own instinctive curiousity. Domed portholes effectively create an ethereal magnifying lens for compelling entertainments whilst the fish use the opaque walls for refuge and peer out when curiousity strikes.

It's not Scandinavian, but the design was too good to resist!

Beautiful Bins - Vipp

It all started in 1939 in Denmark when Holger Nielsen was asked by his wife to make a handy waste bin for her new hairdressing salon. This bin was the hit of the salon, and in no time Vipp bins were being ordered for professional businesses.

Holger Nielsen was a craftsman with a keen sense of aesthetics and quality: "Good design never goes out of fashion," he used to say. And time would prove him right; the Vipp bin has hardly changed in either design or materials since it was created in 1939. The only difference compared to the original version is the lid.

The lid was originally made of chromium-plated steel with a wavy look. However, in the late 1940s it became possible to draw metal, since then the lid has been manufactured in stainless steel, giving the bin the domed, smooth design we know today.

Vipp still manufactures its pedal bins in Denmark, just as it did back in 1939. The materials are also the same: stainless steel and rubber. Each Vipp bin consists of up to 42 components and is hand-assembled by skilled craftsmen. One employee can assemble six bins per hour - ensuring quality that lasts.

String - Modern since 1949

There are many reasons why String has been popular for the last 50 years and one is that it is so practical – and modern since 1949. The String started back in 1953 originating in Sweden & we've just put it into our stores.

The String and String Plex is a multiple award winning design that continues to grow in strength; a lightweight and flexible storage system that is constructed of side panels and shelves that are easy to mount and move creating various combinations, depths, and frame functions as a unit.

Change a colour, add a shelf, vary a look, or combine all elements to get the perfect String look for your space.

String and String Plex are suited to large or small areas and the framing is discreet but distinctive in character; a refined ladder climbing up a wall. It is simple and integrates with many spaces, unpretentious in design it was quick to become a favourite, a minimalist icon, appealing back in 1953 and still relevant today.