Kate & Haslett of Coco Flip Design Studio | The Unparalleled Series
Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Ashley Gladwish

Cathy Marshall

“We work really hard at designing products that have a depth to them rather than just churning out designs that might fulfil a commercial imperative. There are so many products on the market that it can be very difficult to be original and to come up with unique ideas, but we’d rather release fewer products and be thorough in our research and development than be prolific and superficial.”

Kate and Haslett, founders of Coco Flip Design Studio established in 2010.

With a selection of cherished retailers in New York, New Zealand and Australia, Coco Flip founders Kate Stokes and Haslett Grounds bring attention to the sentimental value and benefit of a slower, quality focused process within their designs. Drawn to lighting for its ability to manipulate how people feel within a space, the duo take care in producing timeless quality pendant lighting and a series of woollen ottomans. As part of a community that wants to mitigate the purchase and consumption of easily disregarded pieces, Coco Flip’s reputation has influenced a bigger movement, one that allows consumers to experience living differently by enjoying only a few well made things that last a lifetime. We speak with Kate and Haslett about the conceptual background to their designs, the inspiration they source from Iceland and Palm Springs and what it entails to keep their entire design and manufacturing process local.

“We love hearing that someone has saved up to purchase one of our pieces; that they want to invest in pieces that are timeless and built to last. It’s about buying less and gaining more.”

Tucked away in an old factory warehouse off of Keele Street in Collingwood, Victoria, Coco Flip design studio is located within The Compound Interest, a collective space home to 10 creative companies. Set up by designers Jeremy Wortsman, Stuart Geddes and John McLennan, the workplace is a source of inspiration for its cross-pollination of creative industry leaders. Aligned with their preference to work amongst other local creatives, Kate and Haslett have established relationships with manufacturers who transform their concepts into tactile, performing objects. “It’s important to us that we work with the right people, those who also believe in the importance of creating authentic work. In a market that has a lot of product, we want those who purchase our work to recognise the value and skill that they are supporting by choosing something locally made rather than a cheaper imitation”.

With a background in product design, Kate is the creative behind Coco Flip’s conceptual designs. “I was told early on in my career never to scrimp on product photography, and I think that was very wise advise. Photography is such an important tool so you want to get the best shots possible. I’d also urge entry level designers to pursue opportunities ruthlessly and follow through on their ideas. Go to a manufacturer. Approach a retailer. Exhibit. Take Risks. Don’t wait for someone else to discover you”. – Kate Stokes.

For Kate and Haslett, the intention to promote simple living is an aspect that reaches beyond mere aesthetics. “People have an obligation to take responsibility for the amount of waste Australia is creating. We have a duty to buy less, buy well and limit the amount of items we dispose of so easily. This doesn’t mean spending a lot of money necessarily but to consider the impact of our purchases, and the longevity of the piece.” In a world deeply embedded in social media, Kate and Haslett are starting to see more people consider when and where their things will ultimately end up. “People are beginning to educate themselves on mass production versus locally made. It’s great to see people supporting us because it means that there won’t be as much of a demand on the bigger retailers. A shift in power means supporting independent and authentic design which are often supplying long lasting, unique pieces.”

Haslett with a series of Cooper Pendants. The spun-metal pendant pays tribute to the early 20th Century. The pendants come in brass, copper, aluminium and powdercoated.”The best advice I’ve received is to make sure you are enjoying what you are doing. Life’s too short to chase dreams that you don’t enjoy chasing. There will always be times when things are tricky or stressful but the pursuit needs to provide satisfaction and enjoyment – not just the outcomes. Take risks and have conviction in the concepts that you want to pursue. Being bold and adventurous is far more enjoyable and is essential to creating interesting new work. When someone is truly confident in the quality & authenticity of their design it shows and encourages others to help make their vision a reality”. – Haslett Grounds.

As the Director of Grounds Architecture, Haslett believes Coco Flip is unique because of the different skills that he and Kate bring to the studio. “Kate sketches beautifully and comes up with the conceptual designs. She is very much the creative side of Coco Flip. Alternatively, I am much more involved in the technical side, prototyping and building the 3-D models”. Originally from Western Australia, Kate and Haslett made the move to Melbourne nine years ago to immerse themselves in the design world. The recent purchase of a mid-century home by Alistair Knox in Eltham, Victoria, ensures that their children will grow up in a bustling, creative community, the same community that continues to inspire Kate and Haslett to nurture Coco Flip’s work both locally and globally.

The Puku Ottoman and some of the Mayu Pendants.

Utilising both product design and architectural ingenuity, their signature piece Coco Pendant, is made from Victorian Ash timber and powder-coated aluminium. The structure’s use of spun mental is what inspired Kate and Haslett to create Coco Mini and later, the Cooper Pendant, incorporating brass and copper.  Since launching in 2010, Kate and Haslett have created the translucent Mayu Pendant, a fixture that illustrates fluidity and softness in its shape and comes in several sizes; a piece that is far removed and conceptually distinct from their first designs. The Puku Ottoman and the Puku Nui Ottoman are their first furniture designs, something they are looking into exploring more this coming year. “We gravitate towards lighting because it is often an aspect that people don’t consider retrospectively. Design savvy customers are much more likely to invest in lighting and we see this as an opportunity to explore and research materials that we would like to incorporate into our designs.”

Their studio at The Compound Interest, set up by designers Jeremy Wortsman, Stuart Geddes and John McLennan.

Having grown up in two very different households, Haslett recounts his exposure to design while growing up in Western Australia and how this has lead him to form a part of the way they live now. “My dad is an architect and we grew up in a three storey, steel framed house. It had a large volume of space and everything was exposed. It had ropes for door handles, steal netting, large windows and recycled doors. It was simple and we were right by the river and beach and had the luxury of a big garden; it was a wonderful lifestyle”. Recalling how rustic his family home felt, Haslett talks about the objects his parents collected from their travels and how their home wasn’t geared to be visually appealing but was in an a different way.

“Success to me is the ability to keep doing what I love and to feel great about all the interactions along the way. Relationships are super important to me, and we really try to do the best by everyone we work with, whether it be our manufacturers, couriers, retailers or direct customers”. – Kate Stokes.

Behind Coco Flips’s success is Kate and Haslett distinct preference for curating conceptual designs. Icelandic starkness, isolation and the strange oasis sense of Palm Springs are aspects that continue to feed into the emotion behind their work, although in prevalent in different ways. In their new home, Kate and Haslett tell me of their excitement to incorporate their product but that their greatest feelings are provoked when they see their pieces in places that they would love to live or spend time. “We feel a great sense of alignment when we share similar values with our customers; that they equally value the quality and thought in producing pieces that make people feel happier and relaxed in a space”.

Thank you Haslett and Kate, it was a pleasure to speak with you and learn about your work.