Friday, May 29, 2009

Interview - Phillip Graham of Tarlo and Graham

Taxidermy + industrial furniture + vintage French posters + antique medical paraphernalia + art deco lighting = Tarlo and Graham!

Love T&G's antique iron gates...

Wowsers. Lots of eye-candy to share this morning!

Today I feel so lucky to be able to share with you an interview with Phillip Graham, co-owner of Melbourne's wonderful Tarlo and Graham in Chapel st Windsor.

I would venture to say that there is no other store quite like Tarlo and Graham. Whilst vintage and industrial furniture is becoming more and more popular and collectable - no one quite does it like Phillip Graham and his business partner William Tarlo! A visit to T&G always uncovers something unexpected. Don't be surprised to find yourself coveting a tangled collection of traffic lights or a pair of antique skis after a visit to their store! Phillip and William have an incredible knack for buying and styling their store in a way that makes you see the most unusul of objects in an entirely new light. Truly! There's no one else who brings together such an eclectic and varied collection in the most spectacularly beautiful way.

Below Phillip shares some of his styling secrets (volume and repetition - simple, genius!)... AND we get a little peek into his own home, which showcases his passion for Australian contemporary art.

Ooh la la. It's all a bit much. Too beautiful.... Agghh!

ps) If you're hungry for even more images there is a great set of Tarlo and Graham photos on Flickr. (They belong to Daniel Neville of the Nevolution blog).

Tell me a little about your background - what path led you to what you’re doing now?

Tarlo & Graham opened 5 years ago, and for 8 years prior to that I ran The White Elephant in St Kilda. Previous to this I worked mainly in retail, originally at Country Road in the late 80’s and Giorgio Armani in London in the early 90’s. As well as sales I was involved with visual merchandising for both companies, which helped me develop my own skills in the importance of store presentation and understanding the power of placement.

I have always been interested in design, interiors, collecting, brands, trends etc. I am most interested in searching out ‘the different’. I appreciate it when people make an effort to present their stores in a way not seen before. There is too much bland out there and not enough newness. I like it when people push their imagination to create truly unique stores, interiors etc.

There are more and more shops selling vintage and industrial furniture these days…. but Tarlo & Graham truly stands out from the crowd. What do you think sets you apart from other stores with similar stock?

Come on Lucy, that’s an easy one, that’s the whole point of the interview isn’t it?! That’s what I want to come out most strongly from this whole thing. We are determined to be different, we work hard to present our business in such a way that the market can come in and really embrace and enjoy.

It’s all about -

1. product selection

2. presentation

3. placement

4. point of difference

And of course our windows. That is an area of self-expression which we push sometimes as far as we can depending on what we are interested in at the time.

For me, with interiors retailing for a business such as ours, the main area of focus is in the grouping of objects. It’s almost like picking a group of five completely different things (trying to select items that have no clear relationship with each other) and then throwing them up in the air and seeing how they land. Well, not exactly, but if you imagine the concept you will know what I mean. The message is putting items together that will really contrast with the next. If the piece in question is beautiful enough, or has some intrinsic quality or rarity, it should always stand up and easily find its place. Then there’s our obsession with volume and repetition. What I mean by that is the impact created by multiples is much stronger than a single item. Take for example a bag of marbles, compared with a table full of 2000 marbles. Or a collection of 50 matchboxes compared with 10 large glass vessels containing 1000 matchboxes – which looks better?

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

There is no typical day. We generally buy furniture and objects everyday, if we don’t we will definitely look at something. This could come from appointments we have organised with people, or working with other dealers and collectors to obtain stock. Going to auctions, markets, shops, homes – anywhere we can come across the next big thing.

Then there is time spent in the store. William (Tarlo, my business partner) and I divide the week and work 4 days each. We may also spend time preparing stock for sale, dealing with restorers, framers, upholsterers etc.

How are the tasks at the shop divided between you and William? Do you share the fun stuff (ie window display etc) with the boring stuff equally? How are your different strengths balanced within the business?

William and I share the job of styling/presenting the shop and creating windows. This is important for us both to be involved in, as this is what we both enjoy, are good at, and it is our form of self-expression. We share the boring stuff too.

How would you describe your own style of interior decorating at home – as compared to the eclecticism of your shop?

My interior has a strong focus on Australian art. I have been collecting contemporary art for over 10 years now and spend a lot of my spare time researching, going to exhibitions and acquiring some truly beautiful paintings, works on paper and sculpture. Subsequently my apartment walls are filled ‘salon style’ head to toe with as many as I can fit in. There is barely a square centimetre left now. My collection gives me immense pleasure and in a way gives me a break from what we concentrate on at Tarlo & Graham.

In saying that there is still a strong connection with what you would see in our store. There are a lot of objects, ideas at home that are represented in the shop. I sometimes need to live with something before I let it go.

Phillip's apartment is filled with contemporary Australian art... Wow. Beautiful.

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

I could probably write a book on the answer to this question. Where do you start? Is it artists, designers, architects, musicians, actors….I could probably write a page on each, but as I have to summarise and give a definitive answer, the top of my list would be David Bromley. I started selling furniture to David some 10 years ago whilst he was still living in Adelaide. He, like William and I, is an obsessive collector with a wonderful eye. These days we just swap things, we always have something the other covets. My apartment is full of objects, furniture and art from David, and vice versa. David’s workload, drive and output are immense; he is a true artist whose mantra is ‘there is much to be done’. I have had the pleasure of sitting through the night watching David paint. These are truly memorable experiences – to see a canvas come to life is a real joy. He once said to me he has about 20 years of sleep to catch up on! And he has taught me ‘anything is possible’. There is virtually nothing in the creative field he will not explore. Aside from paintings, sculpture and ceramics, David has and continues to create furniture, films, lighting, music videos, interior projects, wallpaper, fabrics - the long list goes on. He is currently working on a luggage and accessories range all covered in his typical painted style, as well as a series of childrens books. It is this list, and the person, that I find truly inspiring.

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

Inspiration is everywhere, isn’t it?

What’s the best thing about your job?

Having a job that allows me to constantly create interesting installations, and seeing literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different things each week and being able to buy a select few. It’s like constantly shopping!

And the worst?

There’s not much about my job I don’t enjoy.

What are you looking forward to?

The future.

Melbourne Questions

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

Dinner at the Windsor Castle.

Best shops in Melbourne for furniture and interiors pieces (except your own shop!)?

Art: Karen Woodbury Gallery, Helen Gory Gallerie, Galerie Montmartre.

Furniture: A Day On Earth, Angelucci, Geoffrey Hatty (Malvern rd, Prahran), Industria (Gertrude st Fitzroy), Le Contraste, Workshop Industrial (Abbotsford).

Incredible clothing: Eastern Market.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I always work Saturdays.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret!
The beautiful taxidermy giraffe at the Carlton Hotel in the city.


  1. mmm nice interview Lucy, I have been eyeing up those taxidermy chickens for a while now. Everytime I go to T & G there is something spectacularly wonderful to feast your eyes on. Stylish men those two.

  2. I love this store!! Have bought a few bits and pieces there recently. Shame the staff are so darn rude otherwise it would be the perfect store. Good to see a nicer side of them in this interview though.

  3. One of the best stores in Melbourne. Always on my list of places to stop past when I am down in Melbourne. TRICK FOR YOUNG PLAYERS: They only accept cash!

  4. Thanks for the fantastic interview. This shop looks amazing, I'm just sorry that is so far from me. Then again if it was closer, I'd probably never leave :)

  5. Brilliant interview & what a fascinating interview subject you have in Phillip. I thoroughly enjoyed this post & it's a timely reminder that I must skip along to Tarlo & Graham again soon. Thanks!

  6. ms lucy, great interview, great pics, great subject. i'd love to know more about phillip's personal art collection; another angle in a future post, perhaps? i never, ever leave this store empty handed - even when i swear to myself that i am simply browsing. love it. x

  7. The wall-mounted sculpture of a man's face, in the first photo of his personal art collection, is one of my partner's pieces!
    His name is Sam Jinks and he is represented by Karen Woodbury Gallery, it's great to see where these works find homes.
    Looks amazing grouped together with all the other prints/paintings.

  8. Hey thanks for all your fabulous comments! Love your feedback - I really appreciate it!

    Vic - Hey! How are you!? I just finished TGYH (finally!!!) and am heading overseas tomorrow for a little break.... got some insanely cheap flights to NYC! yay! We must catch up when I'm back!

    Trixie - thanks for your comment... must say I have never encountered anyone rude at T&G! In my experience all 4 staff are lovely AND not only that, they're all super spunky. Yes! Just another excuse to visit! :)

    Phoebe - Yes one of the best stores in Melbourne! I totally agree. I forgot about the cash only thing actually... thanks for reminding :)

    Lucy C - you must put it on your list next time you're in town Lucy! Actually they are also about to launch a website .... I'll be sure to post when it's up... not sure if they'll have online sales... but at least you'll be able to window-shop from your loungeroom!

    Lee - Thanks so much for your sweet comment! Yes pop in soon... got some great finds in there right now :) And you can tell Phillip you saw the interview here, and he'll be like 'man, not ANOTHER Design Files reader Why did I ever agree to that!!?' ha ha!! just kidding.

    Shelley - thanks for your comment! And thanks for encouraging me to interview Phillip! It was great to learn a little more about his background... and you're not the only one secretly curious about the rest of his home and art collection! Hmmm... that's for another day!

    Emma - oh thanks so much for that tip-off! Wow yes it must be nice to see it's found such a special home! It is such a striking piece... and looks so fabulous amongst Phillip's other eclectic pieces. Thanks so much for your comment!

  9. What a treasure trove of wonderful things for all occasions. I will definitely add this to my list of places I MUST see when next in Melbourne.

  10. Hmm it seems Philip has some serious female fans! Watch this space. He not only has a great eye, but is a wonderful guy. Love you Philip. xx Kimberly

  11. Great shop, very inspiring presentation of objects. Staff have always been very helpful. They clearly know their stuff and have a talented eye for VM.

  12. This shop seems terrbily interesting as does the subject, Philip. Have heard about it from a lot of friends in Sydney and Melbourne and now it will definatley be one of priorities and hopefully i will be able to meet Mr Graham.

  13. Tarlo and Graham is one of my favourite shops in melbourne. The window displays are always impeccable. Great to read about the owner.

  14. wow-next time im in melbourne town-im going to have a little look at this shop thankyou-singing and skipping-jo.

  15. LOVE this store. i was just in there drooling over all their beautiful wares last weekend.

  16. great interview! so happy i came across it--