Friday, July 18, 2008

Interview - David Walley of Yellow Diva

Yellow Diva's Melbourne showroom

This week I am finding myself constantly reminded of the wealth of local design talent in Melbourne... there's so much going on at both State of Design and the MIDF, its a really exciting, busy time! I think we often assume that it's the big international design events and companies who set the benchmark for innovative industrial and furniture design ... but we shouldn't overlook the incredible work going on right here in our own little city...

Yellow Diva is the latest innovative design house to spring up in Melbourne. It began life in the late 90's as a collaboration between Australian industrial designer David Walley, and English architect James Davis. In recent years, the business has expanded to include David's partner Felicity Joll in the role of Creative Director. The business began in London originally, where David was working in TV as an art director and set designer for the BBC. Both James and David were interested in the sculptural potential of furniture, and combined their varied talents from different disciplines to explore this idea together.

The result is a line of sculptural, tactile and unique furniture - chairs, stool and chaises with an unmistakable sense of fun, energy and personality...! They're statement pieces - and they command attention! The Yellow Diva range blurs that ever-controversial line between design and fine art. At their stunning warehouse showroom in Abbotsford, Yellow Diva displays their range as individual sculptures, resting on plinths in a bright, white space more like a fine art gallery than a retail environment. This unique approach to furniture design and manufacture sets Yellow Diva apart from mainstream furniture retail - they truly create their range with a sense that each item is a unique work of functional art. It's no surprise, then, that the entire Yellow Diva range is handcrafted in Victoria, with incredible attention to detail and craftsmanship. I challenge anyone to find another locally produced piece of designer furniture like this in Melbourne!

Yellow Diva are now based solely in Melbourne - David and partner Felicity have relocated their family here, and are loving living by the sea in Williamstown! (Melbourne's best kept secret?). Read on to find out a little more about the concept behind Yellow Diva, and the challenges David and Felicity have faced in relocating their business and breaking into the Melbourne market. I was also interested to learn about David's varied background - from industrial design at RMIT, to film design (including costume!) both here and abroad, and now furniture design and manufacture back home in Melbourne. Its a colourful history - and a very colourful product!

Yellow Diva's Melbourne showroom features a stunning architectural detail which often receives as much interest as their furniture! Their 'pod' office, designed by David, enables him to work from the showroom floor, without cluttering the space or distracting from the range on display.

Tell me a little about your varied background – from architecture to film design to furniture design… what path led you to what you’re doing now?

Well, James (Davis) came from architecture, I studied industrial design at RMIT and went on to work as set designer and costume designer at the ABC. When I travelled to England in the late 1980s I found work in the Design Department of the BBC in London. I answered a flat-share ad in the Evening Standard, met James and others, and the rest is history. I continued to work as a freelance art director in film & TV over the next 15 years as well as forming Yellow Diva with James.

You established Yellow Diva initially in the UK, and now you’ve moved the business to Melbourne… how have you found the transition, and how has your work been received so far?

Because we have upped the scale of the enterprise considerably and we are starting from an advanced point it has been challenging. In the UK things grew organically at their own speed. I was also working with James on a day-to-day basis whereas he is taking a more consultative role now. The furniture has been received very well; I think Melbourne is now ready for something a little more individual.

How would you compare British style when it comes to home interiors, as compared to Australian style? What would you say are the defining features of an Australian architectural/interior aesthetic?

Australia loves to tack an open plan ‘living zone’ on the back of an existing property. British homes tend to be more homogeneous, demonstrating a clearer understanding of the hierarchy and relationships between spaces. I find the Australian aesthetic refreshingly open & eclectic at best, conservative and predictable at worst.

Your unique range of furniture is designed and manufactured in Victoria. Was it a challenge to find a local manufacturer who you were confident in? Do you see Yellow Diva moving to overseas production and/or distribution in the future?

It wasn’t that hard to find a manufacturer because I knew what I was looking for. I have found manufacturers here to be highly professional, skilled, intelligent and sympathetic to our aims.
Before I left the UK we wound up production/distribution there – we are considering the option of starting things up again to service the ongoing enquiries we still get from Europe.

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

Christo (the scale), Rachel Whiteread (the melancholy), James Turrell (the sublime)

Where else do you find inspiration – ie books, magazines, your environment, travel, your family and friends?

Everywhere my eye stops.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

At the moment it is mostly the mundane chores of small business: accounts, marketing, sales, with a little time left over to design. Hopefully that balance will swing a little more in favour of design over the next few months.

What are you most proud of professionally?

The fact that, as we like to say, ‘Nobody asked us to do it’

What's the best thing about your job?

Being able to explore my own design avenues.

Yellow Diva's early work in product design - the pioneering neoprene wine bottle cooler

And the worst?

Getting it wrong.

What would be your dream project or creative collaboration?

Anything involving tooling. Working on the dream right now...

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

A holiday.

Melbourne Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Bar Lourinha, 37 Little Collins Street

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?

For art supplies: Deans Art in Gertrude Street; power tools: Just Tools in South Melbourne; specialist paints: Porters Paints, Manfax, both in Gertrude Street & for everything else the local timberyard /hardware store.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Walking my dog at the local Williamstown dog beach

Melbourne’s best kept secret?


Yellow Diva
51 Victoria Crescent

ph. 9421 8844

Catch Yellow Diva at the following upcoming Melbourne events:

Royal Exhibition Building, Carlton
July 17th - 20th (that's THIS WEEKEND!) 10.00am - 5.00pm
trade Register here
open to the public in Sunday 20th (entry $5.00)

Saturday in Design
Yellow Diva showroom
51 Victoria Crescent
August 9th, 9.00am - 6.00pm


  1. Hi, I was just wondering if these looked rather similar? Quite a coincidence...

    Eva solo's Carafes have been one of the most iconic products from Danish Design.

  2. Hi there priya mani
    Thanks for the heads-up, it is quite a coincidence . . I designed the keepcool in 1998 and successfully defended the IP rights in Germany in 2000. It continues to be sold in Europe by my distributor there. Perhaps I should get in touch with Eva solo as their "fridge carafe" (designed by "tools" 2007) is very similar.

    Yellow Diva