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Future Classic | Cowrie Chair by Brodie Neill

Sinuous, tactile and certainly sculptural, the Cowrie Chair by Tasmanian-raised designer Brodie Neill is a future classic even though it’s only just over 10 years old. Created in moulded plywood and available in walnut and ash, both natural and ebonised, the Cowrie Chair, produced by Brodie’s company, Made in Ratio, was inspired by the concave lines of the cowrie seashell. 

For Brodie, who grew up in Hobart’s Sandy Bay, nature, along with Tasmania’s reputation for working in wood, was instrumental in his career trajectory. He has been a shining star at furniture fairs and collected by museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and, closer to home the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. And in London, where he’s now based, his work is highly regarded by collectors.

“I’ve always been drawn to natural forms, having grown up in Australia. But I’m also attracted to forms that can be recast as functional design,” Brodie says, who produced the organic-shaped and ergonomic Cowrie Rocking Chaise in 2013, the same year as the Cowrie Chair. 

Brodie explored the shape for the Cowrie Chair initially using paper and then cardboard before moving to plywood – with the first full-scale prototype produced in a workshop in Hackney in London. “The secret to the concave form is the removal of the surface tension from within the centre of the plywood leaves to bring about a timeless design,” Brodie says, who combines making designs by hand as well as using digital technology.

NGV Curator of Contemporary Design Simone LeAmon says, “Brodie’s work is so much about the materials but also about the methods he invests in to produce the work. He doesn’t follow routine processes; rather, he looks at how he can intervene in those processes to get a different result with the materials.” 

The Cowrie Chair is sculptural and comfortable – with the option of placing a slim-lined cushion for those who prefer just a bit of padding. Conceived as usable or functional art, it can oscillate between residential and commercial interiors. It can work as a stand-alone chair in a bedroom, a living area or a modern commercial interior. “I don’t just see the Cowrie as a piece of furniture. It’s a statement to creating enduring designs that resonate with both the environment and the longevity of timeless design,” Brodie says.

Interior designer and director of her namesake studio Rebecca Jansma says as many other designers would accord the connection between the work of Charles and Ray Eames’ plywood experiments in producing furniture in the 1940s – using aircraft technology. “There’s certainly a link to the Eames’ Lounge Chair Wood (LCW) released in 1945,” Rebecca says. “Like that chair, the Cowrie is sculptural, functional and ergonomic. It’s a piece of sculpture in its own right,” Rebecca adds. 

Brodie’s career has reached some milestones, including collaborating with the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Brodie designed furniture for McQueen’s store in the meat packing district of New York and was in conversation with him just before he passed away. “I was told that McQueen selected me because he thought my work demonstrated similar technical and creative qualities to himself.” 

Few chairs produced just over 10 years ago can claim to be a ‘future classic’. But it’s testimony to Brodie’s talent, determination, and relentless work ethic that have made both this chair and his broader portfolio of work—that Australia claims as its own—rising stars in the design world. 

The Made in Ratio Cowrie Chair in natural ash. 

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