Friday, November 6, 2009

Interview - Abigail Crompton of Third Drawer Down

Third Drawer Down designs - 'Tell me When' teatowel by David Shrigley, 'Can We Dance?' teatowel by Camilla Engman... and fabulous Miranda July pillowcases which you may or may not have also spotted a little while ago in Kat Macleod's house!

Teatowel heaven. Top - 'Waiting' by Pietari Posti (Spain). Bottom - 'Why did my dog run away?' by D.O.T.S. (USA/NZ)

Top - Third Drawer Down promo photo featuring many gorgeous Third Drawer Down teatowels! Bottom - the fabulous Third Drawer Down shop in Fitzroy.

Jeremy Wortsman thinks Abigail Crompton is pretty amazing. And if Jeremy thinks someone is amazing, then that's good enough for me!

Abigail is the creative entrepreneur and driving force behind Melbourne's much-loved Third Drawer Down. Third Drawer Down started life 8.5 years ago, creating fabulous limited edition 'too-beautiful-to-dry-your-dishes-with' tea towels, in collaboration with a seemingly endless pool of super-talented local and international artists. But if you thought TDD was just about tea towels, think again! 2.5 years ago, super smart Abi established the Third Drawer Down Agency, working with some seriously famous art museums (such as Tate Modern in London and MoMA in New York) to design and produce customised collectible (yet affordable) products for these highly acclaimed international galleries... Isn't that amazing!?

I am so impressed and encouraged by Abi's incredible achievements with Third Drawer Down! I am also truly inspired by her interview responses below! I particularly love her Louise Bourgeois story... an incredible example of visualising a dream scenario, which then almost instantly becomes a reality! Very Tony Robbins. (in a totally cool, indie, Melbourne kinda way).

In addition to creating limited edition products and consulting to every major cultural institution worth visiting in the world, TDD also curate a fabulous collection of homewares and kooky gifts in their friendly little retail store at 93 George st Fitzroy! I love LOVE the D-Bros apple / pear notepads (pictured below). Need / Want / Now.

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

Well, it was a “hop, skip and jump” journey to where I am now. My formal qualifications include a degree in Psychology and then many years of Fine Art. The many years were due to the lack of any art experience at school as I was a humanities kind of girl!

Once I realised I wasn’t going to be a Psychologist and I acknowledged my need to explore a more indulgent sense of the world, I sat down and started to draw. I put together a portfolio and got into art school as a Painting Major.

Five years later with exhibitions booked in for the next year, I was offered the position of Product Developer with the
National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).
Armed with an extensive background in retail from my family life and previous teenage jobs, I felt like I had found my niche in life that enabled my passion for the art world to continue to grow.

After a while, my direction was diverted when I was offered a role with Craft Victoria. This was the best move I have ever made in my employment history, as it opened up so many wonderful opportunities. I found that the craft community was so warm and inter-relational. I was introduced to many different kinds of materials, techniques and approaches in running a creative business.

Ultimately it is passion and integrity that I recognise and apply as my driving force within my own creative practice. I still exist as an artist but in my own mind.

What were your initial goals for Third Drawer Down, and how has the business grown and developed since these early days?

You know, not much has changed in the 8.5 years Third Drawer Down has been active. For sure, I have diversified the business into 3 cross-pollinating areas (project/agency/retail store). But my philosophy is exactly the same in everything that is Third Drawer Down.

When I originally sat down and wrote my vision for the project, I wanted to make art more accessible by taking ubiquitous objects and making them collectible yet affordable. I wanted to collaborate with as many amazing people I could squeeze into my lifetime (self indulgent), and travel the world working with people that have the same mission of finding the perfect balance between art and business.

The Third Drawer Down project (textiles etc.) was built on the premise that it would become a part of tradition, rather than a trend. Tea Towels have been around since the word was created, back in the days of Adam and Eve. So it is not as if Third Drawer Down created anything new. We use an object as a vehicle to something greater, as a conduit to question the formats of what makes art ‘art’.

I have always wanted to work with art museums. I bought an airline ticket 10 years ago and went to all the major art galleries around the world, to experience them personally and professionally. When I returned from overseas, I established the Third Drawer Down project with Limited Edition tea towels. My goal was always to open an agency to work with some of the most inspiring artists of our Century (I like to work with living breathing artists rather than “departed” ones, so I admit contemporary art is my vice).

2.5 years ago through a very natural progression, I established the Third Drawer Down Agency when working on the Louise Bourgeois exhibition for Tate Modern (see question below for more details). Since then our clients include MoMA, New Museum, International Centre of Photography in New York and Tate and Whitechapel Gallery in London and Queensland Art Gallery in Australia.

We are currently working with John Baldessari, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas and many other amazing artists but cannot disclose the details until after the individual exhibition launches in December ‘09 and January ‘10.

What have been some of your favourite Third Drawer Down collaborations?

My favourite collaborations ... mmmmm … well there are a few, and they all carry amazing stories as I have met such remarkable people through collaboration with them.

I have told this story a few times but it remains vividly in my mind. I have always had a major “art crush” on Louise Bourgeois.

Once upon a time, a few years ago, Tate in London invited me to meet with them working with them to discuss projects. The day before the meeting, I walked around Tate with my notebook listing all the artists I have dreamed of working with. Quite a list if I don’t say myself!

So there I was, sitting in the meeting the following day and the Tate opened the dialogue with the forthcoming Louise Bourgeois project, and I jumped in head first, telling them about my list of artists and my personal list being headed by Louise Bourgeois.

My meeting folk looked at each other, and slid a folder across the table, saying ‘”Well Abi, it is Louise Bourgeois we want you to work with”! How is that! I was so buzzed out, she so rocks my world and I couldn’t believe my fate in this scenario.

This was the first major project with a museum and the beginning of the Third Drawer Down Agency. During the fantastic project, I met Louise while in New York and she signed the prototype handkerchief we were developing as one of the editions – it reads “I HAVE BEEN TO HELL AND BACK. AND LET ME TELL YOU IT WAS WONDERFUL”.

What does a typical day involve you for?

My days are pretty wacky now. I split my week with my studio and home office. I have an amazing team at the studio/store who run the production and retail arms of Third Drawer Down with me.

As my clients range from bases in the USA to Europe, I am working from 6.00am in the morning to 11.00pm at night to catch their hours. So in between this timeframe, I can take non-work related “gaps” in my days.

My life is full of excitement, energy and wonder. I have other energetic people doing the things I don’t particularly enjoy eg. bookkeeping. I see myself as an artist spending time in the studio making marks and mixing colours of an idea – one of those work addicted souls really. I love what I do, and have learnt over the years, if you are going to like and respect what you do; you need to work with people you like and respect.

Third Drawer Down products for sale instore and online... Desperately need those D-bros apple/pear notepads!

How is your business structured?

I have an amazing team of 6 lovely people (Kathryn Foster, Brittney Bennett, Annette Wagner, Blythe Neve, Kate MacWhirter and Benn Franzmann) based here and in London. All with their own sense of worldly experience and relationships to art and design. They look after design/production, retail, wholesale, online store, public relations and new business, bookkeeping and the warehouse side of things.

Behind the scenes at Third Drawer Down!

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – nature, travel, books, magazines or the web etc?

I am a total art book and eccentric culture magazine addict! I used to work at Metropolis books when it was in St Kilda, and found this ultimate love for art books with glossy pages, not much writing (no time to read) and a world of visual paradise for my mind.

And travel – my favourite place that is not very far away from here that offers me everything as a sensory overload is Tokyo. I regularly visit once or twice a year for a global catch up.

And the Internet is a given – I wasn’t going to include this one on my inspiration list as it almost conveys that blinking is a device for inspiration.

Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire?

This is a biggy. There are so many “amaaaaaazing” people in the world - doing, making and thinking. So I have broken this question up into 2 parts for each discipline – one is a long term admiration and the second is a ‘now now’ crush that could turn into a long term admiration --



Urs Fischer - NOW NOW CRUSH




– (creative people are defined as general all rounders, they do lots of things and are hard to fit into one particular box.)


Betty Nguyen – First Person Magazine - NOW NOW CRUSH

What would be your dream creative project?

I am doing my dream projects right now.

Apartamento photo

What are you looking forward to?

Next year. Ohhhh, and my trip to Tokyo in a few weeks.

Melbourne Questions -

Aside from your own store, where would you recommend to shop in Melbourne for unique gifts/homewares and/or limited edition artwork?

My dear friend and neighbour (next door) at Lamington Drive have the best-looking limited edition prints on this side of the world. Jeremy and I have started our own mutual admiration society!

Safari Living in East Prahran, Felicity always has such an interesting and eclectic range of objects and textiles from around the world. And check out her new Online Store if you can’t handle crossing the river!

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

The Melbourne Wine Room in St Kilda. The back room is so beautiful, simple, and the food and service is brilliant. A perfect place to share a meal and catch up with old friends.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

I love heading down to Café Rosamond in Charles Street (off Smith Street in Collingwood) and eating the best avocado, tomato and fetta on toast ever! Then to wonder around Gertrude Street, pop into the store before detouring to the Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park and be tempted to quench my book addiction yet again before heading home.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Well there are 2 new secrets that I have found, both on Smith Street and only doors away from each other.

One is the best chocolatier in Melbourne – called Monsieur Truffe – wow, it is good. Plus they have chocolate appreciation classes each month. I hope they don’t run out of chocolate now!

And the other space is The Social Studio – which everyone should know about, so please don’t keep this one a secret! The Social Studio is dedicated to providing education and employment opportunities to young people from a refugee background through social enterprise.

Third Drawer Down
Museum of Art Souvenirs
93 George Street

03 9534 4088

Third Drawer Down bedlinen designs


  1. Just wanted to let you know your blog is rad! and have to read it every day.
    It is one of my new favourites, and I've mentioned you on my blog today - hope you don't mind.
    Keep on doing the awesome stuff!

  2. 'passion and my driving force' - say no more, it. a great interview, lucy, thanks! x

  3. I love Abi's story; the idea of getting to do what you want creatively and to make it happen as a successful business – it's often so tricky to pull off, and she's done in a smart, original and inspiring way. Great blog post, Lucy!
    Lee Tran

  4. I second that.. so inspiring, to mix art/business/travel/wonder so beautifully!

  5. Thanks Lucy for interviewing Abi, she has such an amazing story. It drove me to see the store in Fitzroy on the weekend and I met her. She is ace!

    Did you know that Sarah Jessica Parker from Sex in The City is a customer too? So amazing, she is one of my idols..