How does a sixth generation farming son from South Australia’s limestone Coast make the transition to become a lighting designer in Melbourne, Victoria?
For Hugh Altschwager of Inkster Maken splitting his spare time between the ocean and the workshop was the perfect starting point for a career in design.
“I had an upbringing filled with great creative freedom and all the resources a curious kid could ask for,” he said. “Conceiving and creating things became my passion form an early age and has now become my job, which is a dream come true.”
With a background in architecture and construction project management, Hugh merged his passion for design to form Inkster Maken in 2013. Influenced by both the Australian environment and Nordic heritage, Inkster Maken utilises locally sourced natural unprocessed materials to create long lasting products with a timeless Northern European aesthetic.
His first handcrafted lighting range uses turned South Australian Limestone and reclaimed Australian hardwood.
We took five with the inspiring young designer to chat more about how his farming background shapes his work; why he moved from architecture into lighting; why the hand made process is so crucial to the brand; and the importance of sourcing local materials.
How has this upbringing shaped your view of design and work at Inkster Maken?
I have a love for minimally processed, natural materials which definitely stems from the environment in which I grew up. My current products are all created using local natural materials and the end result is much more tactile that other synthetic and mass produced products on the market. I also like to design by restriction If you give yourself tighter boundaries, you are forced to innovate with what you’ve got or what’s readily available.
Can you tell us the meaning behind the brand name, Inkster Maken?
Inkster is my mother’s maiden name, originally of Norwegian Viking origin. They then settled the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. Altschwager is also a northern German name. so it made sense to use “Maken”, which is a Nordic word for “to make”.
You have a background in architecture and construction project management, what was the impetus behind your move into design and forming Inkster Maken?
It has always been my personal philosophy that a great designer must first be a great builder and craftsman. Over a few years I spent my “day job” hours developing my experience and understanding of construction whilst always working on personal design projects in my spare time. I began to gravitate towards a more product orientated direction which led to the formation of Inskter Maken. Eventually, I’d like to expand beyond the product field into broader areas of the design and architecture world, but that’s a much longer term plan.
Why is it important to you and the brand to only use locally sourced natural unprocessed materials? How does this change the aesthetic of the design?
It is important to me because it makes sense. Something local and unprocessed is better in every way and for every reason. There may come a day when it won’t be possible to uphold this philosophy 100% all the time, but it should be every designers first option to look local first. In terms of aesthetic, I feel natural materials are far more engaging and tactile. They tell a story and have a warmth that other materials don’t possess.
What has been the response to your brand since you launched in 2013?
The response has been very encouraging to say the least. I am finding that people are very interested in the natural materials and the story behind the products. I hope to keep building on the early interest with new ideas, products and materials in the coming years.
Your first range of lighting products were created using South Australian limestone and reclaimed Australian hardwood – can you talk us through this design process from drawing board to finished product? How you sourced these products and why they worked for a lighting range?
Limestone is a very prevalent material where I grew up – “the Limestone Coast”. I was familiar with this materials from an early age and developed an understanding of its properties. This led me to eventually experiment with it for lighting. Due to its porous nature, it provides a warm and inviting tone of light. When designing a new product I usually sketch many versions and then begin 3D prototyping to refine the dimensions and proportions. This process may take months of subtle tweaks.
You hand craft all the products from a studio in Melbourne, why is the hand made process so vital to your work? Would you consider manufacturing a range in the future? why/why not?
Handmade has been crucial to me until this point as I retain full quality control as well as immediate results when prototyping new products etc. Eventually, my manufacturing methods will have to grow and expand with the business. I feel that there will always be an element of “hands-on” in the products I create.