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Sam Henley

Sam Henley

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you fall into design?

I was naturally drawn to interior design and architecture from a young age. From the two, the fluidity of interior design came more natural to me. After completing a Bachelor of Interior Design at RMIT in Melbourne, I decided I didn’t want to work on a computer doing CAD and jumped ship to find a more tactile approach to learn about creative processes in a similar field.

The following week, I miraculously found a job as an apprentice furniture maker working for a local Melbourne company that specialised in timber furnishings. I learnt the ins and out of the trade and found my own language within that. I started my own timber furniture making studio as a side project exploring ideas that were representational of my style.

I carried this on when I began working in the product team within a high-end commercial furniture company. I got the best of both worlds, learning about the industry. Learning about the commercial aspect of high-end brands allowed me to broaden my horizons to the mechanisms needed to create and present refined pieces of furniture design. That’s what lead me to leave Melbourne and be closer to Europe where the industry naturally leads and flourishes.

What’s the story behind your brand name?

Translated from Italian, Agglomerati means ‘to mass together’, or ‘collection of things’. It refers to the composition of minerals which, when placed under pressure over time, react to form a stone. It also evokes the studio’s evolving collective of creative individuals who come together and to produce work made exclusively in stone.

You launched Agglomerati in 2019 and created a line of distinctive stone furniture: marble, travertine, natural limestone and basalt. Why did you choose these materials?

Before starting Agglomerati, I worked for a London-based studio named Dzek, where I was introduced to marble. Marble is the composite material for one of Dzek’s products designed by Max Lamb called Marmoreal.

I related quickly to the process because it is the same reductive methods as working with timber and I was eager to explore the possibilities here. I attended a few large marble fairs in Italy where I was introduced to a whirlwind of marble varieties and fell in love with the material. It was easy to see that the industry had so much potential and room to grow in terms of teams up fabricators with designer-led projects. 

The stone varieties selected for our collections are a broad, but we can source relatively locally through our fabricator in Carrara. I want to offer the best quality stones, that are quarried by reputable and established companies, because they have the best practices when it comes to respecting the surrounding environment. For me, that’s why it’s important to work in Italy, because the knowledge they have about the entire process has been passed down through generations who’ve experienced the changes in the industry and know how to deal with them correctly. 

As an Australian designer based in London, working with Italian artisans, how do these influences play out in your collections?

I source inspiration from Italian masters like Mario Bellini and Angelo Mangiarotti, whose minimalist creations in marble from the 70s remain relevant today. It’s essential to consider the lifespan of a product, mainly when working with stone or any natural material. We must respect material limitations by aiming for permanence, objects that are cared for at conception and built to be loved for centuries. 

When functioning on an international scale, you have to be conscious of your footprint and not cater to fast-furniture trends. The collections are, at their heart, functional pieces that champion materiality without needless adornments. Since form follows function, each piece is simplified, straightforward, and celebrates materiality.

Your pieces are made to order according to the size and type of stone required. How long does it take to create an Agglomerati table? What are the different stages of production?

At the beginning, material selection is an essential process to create something truly individual. We are happy to work with our clients to ensure that the marble features are positioned how they most desire it to be. It’s an intimate process and one that our clients enjoy a lot, being part of creating something of their own.

And at the end, the craftsman finishes the piece by hand. This process brings to light the character and beauty in the depth of the marble. It takes a lot of ability to finish a surface to be impeccable and consistent.

Our production times vary between 8-10 weeks.

Tell us about a moment in every day life at home that brings you joy…

Pasta brings me the most joy. Also, going to the gym keeps me stable.

 

From nero antico marble to red travertine, your materials catalogue is incredibly rich. What are you selection criteria? Are you drawn to certain stones?

I want to offer a diverse range of marbles that invoke and inspire. Everyone has their own favourite stone variety, but I want to bring unique choices to our audience’s attention. I’m attracted to bold pieces that become a centre-point in an interior space. It’s great to view stone varieties side-by-side to stimulate imagination, which can lead to unexpected but right choices.

Which designers or artists would you like to sit down around a table with?

Brian Thoreen – One of my favourite designers, I would love to work with.

Christopher Stuart – I’m currently developing a project with him now, but we’ve never met.

Gaetano Pesce – seems like he’d be the perfect dinner guest.

What do you love most about your métier?

What I love most about my metier is that it brings me to new and unexpected destinations both physically and mentally. I love being able to work in Italy, I never anticipated doing that, and, as a foreigner, I love the challenges of navigating and trialling an industry rich in history and set in its way.

London or Melbourne?

London is a fast-paced spectacle full of incredible people, possibilities, and ideas. Melbourne is down-to-earth, full of lovely people, incredible food, and easy access to nature. I feel joy and at ease when I visit Melbourne, but London has allowed me access to my work and it’s fun.

In parallel with your collections, you’ve partnered with other designers to create some exceptional pieces. Can you tell us more about these collaborations?

Alongside my collections, I work on limited-edition collaborative pieces with established, multidisciplinary designers. I launched Agglomerati at Salone del Mobile last year as part of Alcova with a collection designed in collaboration with Australian furniture maker Fred Ganim. We won a Wallpaper* design award for our collection, called MASS. The collection is a series of modular, free-standing pieces constructed around a central radius.

What’s in the pipeline at Agglomerati?

Over the past year, I have been developing several collaborative projects with some brilliant designers; Tino Seubert, Maria Tyakina, Sho Ota, and Christopher Stuart. They are all in the final development or prototyping phase so I’m super excited to start sharing these pieces this year. They are all completely different from one another, representing the core practice and aesthetic of the designer.

If you had to pick a favourite piece in your collection..

My favourite is the Alessio table. It was the first design I produced. The rest of the designs in the collection are variations based on these core elements. I wanted them all to follow the rules, and those constraints were born from the Alessio design.

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