Designer Chat: Mat MacMillan from Maker

April 01, 2021

Tell us about MAKER and what you specialise in?

I set up MAKER early in 2014 with the intention of developing a range of craft-based designs for a market I felt was flooded with digital/mass market design products. As a cabinet-maker and carpenter, materials, process and aesthetics are key elements in my approach to design. As the name implies - I felt it was important that what was purchased from us was actually made by us, and not farmed out to cheaper, off-shore manufacturers. The success of the iO lighting range has definitely led to our being identified with lighting, and it’s true to say that the journey has taught us a lot about the field. However, as I hope the coming year will show, we have other tricks up our sleeves. Our core speciality is in identifying values and translating those into products that raise expectations and add beauty.

Where is MAKER located and what local materials do you use in your lights?

MAKER is based on our Lifestyle block in rural Waitao outside Welcome Bay in Tauranga. We're close to town but tucked away at the foot of Kopukairua. As well as our studio and workshop, we grow avocados and graze horses. There’s a lot of stimuli here for creative exploration. Our Lights are made from Radiata ply. We were keen to keep our footprint small, so we sourced a very good manufacturer based near Greymouth who uses New Zealand-grown Radiata trees for their product.

What is the inspiration behind your iO pendant range?

I was inspired by the artist Jeff Thompson and how he created such beautiful outcomes using roofing iron. I liked the way he was being creative with such a basic building material. My aesthetic influences are Scandinavian and I also admire Japanese simplicity.

How do you approach designing a new product?

My approach tends to be quite process-driven. In other words, I start making and then the ideas come to me. I play with proportions until I feel they are right, so it’s quite intuitive, but also critical. I like to use the skills I have gained as a craftsman but also apply them in unusual ways to arrive somewhere new. It’s a journey really.

Where do you see the future of lighting heading in New Zealand?

I’m not sure. I think there is a lot of talent emerging here but there’s not a huge support base for New Zealand design or designers. It’s a very noisy market with so many products available, all going in-and-out of fashion, that it is challenging to make yourself heard. But in a way, it’s a golden moment. David Trubridge has drawn a lot of attention to lighting design in New Zealand and I think that other designers could really follow up on this and perhaps make a real name for New Zealand as a bit of a design centre of excellencies in the field.

Who has influenced your working methods and designs?

Both my Dad and step-father were huge influences in the early development of my approach both technically and philosophically. Travelling in my twenties and moving to New Zealand in my thirties have all had a significant impact on my values and hopes for a fast-changing world. My designs are all some kind of expression of these factors.

View our iO MAKER range here