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Vogue Living: King founder David King on design success and winning over Oprah

23 Apr 2021 |  Design News


David King, founder of King, one of Australia’s most successful furniture businesses, tracks its evolution from humble beginnings at a Sydney market stall to international acclaim and Oprah’s seating of choice.

 

Mum was a really great interior designer. After my parents were divorced she began to buy houses — mostly in absolutely dilapidated states — and renovate them. Every year during my childhood, I think from the age of about nine or 10, we lived in a different house. Sooner or later I started helping her and I could see the results of what she was doing. She was remarkable in making the interiors of a cluttered house very simple and beautiful. She’d always get top dollar when it came to time to sell the house because of the way she decorated — she was really, really good at it. And that’s how we got into furniture because we used to do a lot of things ourselves and one day she thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have some casual furniture for one of the rooms?’

Mum and I started off making little foam chairs, very simple designs that almost looked like kindergarten drawings. We took them to the markets in Sydney and people loved them. We started selling hundreds and, within a short time, we decided to expand the range to include other models. Talking to customers, I knew they wanted something that was comfortable, and that had depth and softness in the seat. I discovered this amazing suspension system made from steel that was used in European cars. But this type of suspension couldn’t be attached to a timber frame — because it would break the timber — so I experimented with using a steel frame. 

 

In 1979, we produced our first sofa using a steel frame with this European suspension. It was a really exciting moment and was hugely popular. People were looking for something better. Many had bought furniture made from webbing and timber, and it would creak and crack and go saggy. And here we had this product that actually holds its shape. It was far more advanced than most of the furniture at the time. That’s how King started.

We design and manufacture all our furniture — and that’s super powerful. We’re still re-covering furniture even from the 1970s. This means that we can also keep improving our products.

What’s exciting at the moment is our young, dynamic design team. Our people look at these products on a daily basis and it really helps them understand what’s come before and how to improve on it. Our whole culture is that of a family business. We’re not answerable to shareholders looking for dividends — we grow the business very carefully and very deliberately, and everybody works as a team. All the people that we employ, we treat as members of the family. It’s very close knit.

Things are changing faster than I’ve ever seen. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, even just a few years ago, people were decorating based on trends. They’d want a certain trend and would buy all the pieces to fit that look, and when that trend moved on, they’d have to discard the whole lot. People are smarter now — because they’re connected, they can get advice and very easily see what other people are buying. They can then buy pieces that work with any trend and also fit into their lifestyles. This is far more sensible than just buying something that has the look of the moment.

We have a range that we call King Motion, which is made up of recliners and furniture that move to fit the shape of your body. Traditionally recliners have been ugly, they take over the room and can look awful. Our recliners look like normal sofas and you can hardly tell they’re recliners until you make a gesture or push a button and they automatically adjust to your favourite position. This category is huge and it’s where our designers are innovating. We have the most advanced products in this range anywhere on the planet.

One of our biggest-selling sofas, the Delta, has appeared on Oprah and our products feature regularly at various Hollywood events. What’s exciting is not only do we sell our furniture to Australian A-listers for their homes in New York or wherever it might be, but we’re also in the most beautiful homes in places like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai. I never dreamed our products would end up in huge home theatres in Moscow, the most beautiful chalets in Whistler, or over in the United States. This is the most satisfying thing to me. To see our products around the world is just incredible.

What I’m interested in is not just making ordinary furniture but making better furniture that will last and be a great reflection on Australia — to have really great products with this Australian substance behind them.

You can read the interview at Vogue Living here