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Media

 

Axolotl is proud to have been featured in over 500 magazines, radio and television as well as the recipients of more than 40 awards, including five international design awards.

A selection of the most current articles are included here.

Inside 94: Practice

 

Text: Gillian Serisier

The brain-child of brothers Kris and Kim Torma, Axolotl, or as it was known then, Axolotl Metal Finishes, has come a long way since it first started transforming surfaces with lustrous layers of semi precious metal in 1995.

Now in its 21st year Axolotl has burgeoned into an international practice with factories operating in the UK, China, Hong Kong, and India. Closer to home a 1,100sqm factory and showroom provides the company headquarters in Matraville Sydney.

Interestingly, though a robust program of research and development went into Axolotl before they started their business, neither saw it as their primary career path. (Kris was a highly regarded and successful art director working in film and television while Kim was equally well regarded in his field of horticulture, while not hand building a mud-brick adobe house in Broke).

“The launch of Axolotl itself ended up being a pivotal moment in our business lives. It began almost as an experiment and we thought it would just be part time alongside our existing careers. However the reaction received for our metals was quite phenomenal and ultimately, we had to make the choice between pursuing separate careers or pursuing Axolotl” says Kris. But then they are no normal dabblers; rather, they are possibly the most driven and innovative pair working with surface technology today. And it is this aspect that has seen them steadily expand their offering from the original metal finishes, to concrete, glass and a soon to be launched paint range.

What makes them exceptional is a rare combination of a curious mind, excellent business sense and fearless experimentation: “Each product since inception has centred around using common materials and manufacturing processes in ways that really push the limits and haven’t been seen before. Our business is based on experimentation and not every venture eventuates – but the successes are truly bespoke” says Kris.

This coupled with an inherent ability to design, manifests as a unique formula of layered expertise. Where most would conquer a material simply by creating it, Axolotl see this as the starting point for evolution and innovation. The fact that they have the ability to work artistically with their own materials works in two ways, in that they are able to show application possibilities immediately, while having the requisite skills to deliver their client’s vision. Take their glass range for example, which they started manufacturing in 2005. “Glass was a key turning point for the business and seemed a natural progression of the Axolotl offer. Working with two materials gave us the opportunity to target the same clientele with a broader scope of materials and infinitely more design possibilities” says Kris. Not resting on their laurels, Axolotl have spent the intervening years innovating and developing glass processes that are recognised as unique in the world. In 2012, for example Axolotl Concrete and LINK were voted ‘Material of Excellence’ and selected for inclusion into the material archive by New York’s prestigious ‘Material ConneXion Resource Library’. And while each of their products is consistently recognised with awards, their most recent accolades include the 2015 ADEX Awards Platinum Award for Design Excellence’ for Axolotl Concrete and ‘Gold Award For Design Excellence’ for Axolotl Terracotta.

Key to the success of the product is the small amount of material needed to create a surface. Axolotl Concrete for example, as a surface finish uses 1.5% of the raw materials needed for a square meter of solid concrete (they are currently creating concrete blocks for a luxury yacht interior!). Metal finishes also use far less material and have the additional bonus of being 100% recycled. As such, while art projects have always been part of the Axolotl portfolio, it was not until they were invited to tender for a 520sqm feature wall for Hong Kong Airport in 2013 that they recognised both their talent and expertise to create and manage large-scale public art projects. Required to present a 6 x 6m section of art wall in Hong Kong as part of a competitive pitch against two other designs, the project used custom designed Axolotl glass and their inaugural use of computer synchronised lighting. “Whilst it was disappointing that we didn’t win, as the art piece was truly beautiful, it gave us the impetus to start Axolotl Art Projects. AAP now accounts for a large proportion of our work and really complements our core business” says Kris adding that the piece they created for artist Don Salisbury was recently awarded the 2015 Luminaire Design Award of Excellence for Light Sculpture and Installation.

At 20 plus years they could be forgiven a rest, but in true Axolotl form the showroom is brimming with new ideas and challenges to the way they use materials. Furniture, ceramics, art works, a motor cycle restoration, paint, concrete, glass and terracotta sit and merge with the original metal finishes in myriad incarnations, which, if the Tormas can find a way to do it (ie if it’s at all possible), will include paper by the end of the year. They are in fact an amazing Australian design manufacturing story and truly deserve all accolades.

Innovative Household

 

At Australian company Axolotl, brothers Kris and Kim Torma have developed a seemingly impossible marriage – combining bespoke design with cutting-edge technology and, in the process, inspired designers and architects around the world with their must-have metal, glass and concrete products.

Tiffany & Co was so impressed with Australian metal, glass and concrete designer wunderkinds, Axolotl, that the internationally-renowned jeweller asked the company to craft a stunning entry facade for their new flagship store in Melbourne.

The result – a glowing, translucent sapphire glass border which surrounds an internal frit formed glass feature over two levels and mirrored balustrading, announces Axolotl has arrived, putting its stamp on sophistication in design and décor.

Axolotl has become the darling of designers and those craving greater levels of craftsmanship in their homes and workspaces.

Catering to our increasing desire to reflect our individuality and embrace cutting-edge materials, Axolotl has grown in only 16 years from inspiration to an operation employing 16 full-time staff and an international brand with licensees worldwide in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The company was started by brothers Kris and Kim Torma, after years of research and development in metal technologies, as a small operation run out of a warehouse in the backstreets of Sydney’s Redfern in 1995.  

Kris’s background prior to being at the helm of the Axolotl juggernaut as Managing Director, was in film and television set design and cinematography. His design background and experience allowed him to identify an untapped niche in the market – a need for solid metal aesthetic without the associated restrictions such as weight, cost and availability.  

Collaborating with brother and artist Kim as Creative Director, who brought his practical knowledge, hands-on experience and creative drive to the table, Axolotl was born.

The name “Axolotl” was chosen, according to Kris, as “we wanted the name and brand to be able to stand alone. “We also wanted the company name to be free from the constraints of being a one product company as we knew the company had the potential to evolve to encompass other innovative products and ventures, which it has with glass and concrete.”

Using the proprietary technology, Axolotl has developed techniques which enable designers to fuse metal into glass, concrete into glass and metal into concrete.

“In fact, all three surfaces can now be used together to create virtually anything at all,” says Kris.

Kris believes that metal is a natural element and sits perfectly incorporated into Australian residential design “whether it be a façade of richly-coloured Axolotl orange rust or aged copper, bronze or zinc.

“Australia has an incredibly harsh climate. It is testament to the durability of Axolotl products that after 16 years in our harsh environment, Axolotl coatings look as good today as they did when they first came out of the factory.”

Kris and Kim can proudly describe their work as “bespoke”: “Everything we do is completely custom-made and hand-finished; we don’t stock any off the shelf products,” says Kris. “As metal is a natural element, it is unpredictable and can react in completely different ways from one day to the next. I think that is where the beauty lies in our finishes, the idea that no two Axolotl finishes are never completely identical.

“Every job that is undertaken is a true one-off, from creating a copper front entrance door to bronze screens, carved glass balustrades and concrete furniture.”

Inspiration comes from many places, says Kris – and some of Australia’s most talented artists, architects and interior designers often come to Axolotl with their idea of what they want to create – “We find a way to make it happen”.

Axolotl’s work can be seen on feature walls, garage doors, front doors, gates, in kitchens, bathrooms, on stairs and counters.

Some well-known locations include Sydney International Airport which features Axolotl Metal on shopfronts throughout and the Sydney Opera House with feature pieces in the prestigious Guillame at Bennelong restaurant

Kris’s favourite works

“Rouse Hill Food Court in the new Rouse Hill development is a favourite – designed by Philip Chia, it features over 1,000 square metres of rusted screens, beams and door frames. The same design was even incorporated into the glass. It was a very brave design and it works wonderfully.

“The sculptural work we produce is also a favourite – Artists including Mark McClelland (winner Sculpture by the Sea in 2008 using Axolotl bronze), Jane Cavanough always pushes the boundaries with our products and Janet Laurence’s work is just exquisite.”

Tiffany’s flagship store was created after collaboration with New York architects and designers. Five totally custom-made works of art in glass also feature in the store.

“We’re currently working on totally new designs for their new shop in Sydney and have been asked to produce work for one of their stores in Mexico City,” Kris proudly says.

Audrey Hepburn would also be proud.

JUDY FRIEDLANDER

Custom Homes

 

In 1995 Sydney based Axolotl, launched its surfaces business with a world first - Axolotl Metal.

A unique liquid application comprised of real, semi-precious metals means Axolotl Metal can be applied to the surface of any substrate giving the beauty of solid metal, but without any of the restrictions.

Over the past 20 years Axolotl have continued to expand the realms of design and architecture with the ability to not just manipulate metal, but bring unique and endless design possibilities to a range of surfaces, such as glass, timber, terracotta, stone and concrete. Virtually any household surface or product can be re-imagined as a unique expression of your design vision.

Every product is put through rigorous testing to ensure it meets the highest standards of performance, and has been the choice for many high end and high traffic commercial projects, such as Tiffany & Co and Sydney International Airport. It most often also delivers advantages in logistics, sustainability, as well as cost. 

Globally recognised for their innovation Axolotl continues to win awards.  Recently awarded the Australian International Design Award for Axolotl Concrete, both the terracotta and concrete range were also awarded gold and platinum awards for Design Excellence.. Axolotl products are also referenced in the New York Material Connexion database and were featured in our own Powerhouse Museum here in Sydney for 12 months. 

Managing Director, Kris Torma, tells us that the business does not intend to rest on its very successful laurels. “We started off as a metal surface alternative … but over the years we see ourselves just as much as an innovation and ideas business, constantly testing the paradigms of how materials can be manipulated and enhanced to deliver exceptional and original design - hence our new mission to be  ‘The Future of Surface’”

In line with this ongoing quest to inspire and innovate is the recent launch of Axolotl Architectural Paints. The paints themselves deliver the crafted quality that is synonymous with Axolotl, enhanced with the latest technical innovations. Combined with Axolotl's understanding of materiality and colour in the built environment, the range is offered in a limited edition, curated palette of on trend colours and effects.

The range has also been developed from the perspective of environmental respect and conservation, and is water based, has low and zero VOC's. It is easy to use and comes in a range of acrylic paint, micaceous iron oxides and timber washes. The paints are available for internal and external application.

Just as European appliances add value to your home, it seems that having Axolotl will offer the same cache. Just how you use it is entirely up to you.

 

H+G

 

How was Axolotl founded? What inspired the company – and the name?

My brother Kim and I started the company in 1995. The idea of a liquid metal surface treatment came about while running a part time picture framing business and seeing a demand for semiprecious metal frames. And after years of research and testing into how to work with and apply real metals to lighter substrates the Axolotl metal surface coating technology was created.

Considering my background was in film and television set design, and Kim’s in horticulture it seems an unusual segue to move into metal finishes – however the opportunity to work closely with one another was exciting, and after some market research we saw real architectural potential for our product and decided to concentrate on the company full time.

Collaborating with Kim was natural, he added practical know-how and the same love of design to the partnership. We started as a small two person operation running out of a tiny space in the backstreets of Sydney’s Redfern, and moved into larger spaces as we grew.

The name “Axolotl” was chosen as we wanted the business name to be unique, and sound intriguing enough that people would want to know more. Not choosing a name that related to metal, or veneers was intentional. We also wanted the company name to be free from the constraints of being a one product company as we knew the company had the potential to evolve and encompass other innovative products and ventures, which it has done with glass and concrete over the years.

Where was the first showroom?

Our first showroom was in Redfern - a 40sqm space above a one car garage where we produced all our work.

What did Axolotl set out to achieve upon starting?

Axolotl was born out of an idea to apply semi precious metals such as bronze and copper onto lightweight, cheaper, and more creative surfaces than what is possible when working with solid metals. We saw our metal surfaces having a range of applications such as framing, signage and wherever metal would look great but was handicapped by weight, size or cost. As we established the business we saw a lot of interest coming out of the architectural sector, particularly architects and designers looking for more cost effective and flexible ways to incorporate metals into internal and external designs. The Axolotl brand quickly grew a positive reputation in the industry and forged strong relationships with architects, designers and builders, cementing the direction of the Axolotl product range within the architecture sector.

We decided to complement the range with bespoke architectural glass, through the purchase of Ozone Glass in 2005, subsequently renamed Axolotl Glass. Our new glass procedures were rolled under the Axolotl umbrella and continues to be one of our core products. In 2011 we set out to apply our technology to other surfaces, launching Axolotl Concrete & Terracotta. This development allowed thin concrete veneers to be applied without cracking, to lightweight building materials and opened up a huge range of design possibilities. These surfaces were well received, winning numerous Australian and international design awards including being showcased at the Powerhouse museum for twelve months.

Over the years we have continued to approach common materials in innovative ways, combining surfaces and techniques that hadn’t been considered before such as inlaying metal into stone and concrete into glass. 

What are the core values and goals of the Axolotl?

If we see a brief that has no available solution then we will create one. Our main interest is in usurping the restraints and preconceptions of common materials, re-engineering them to take on new properties – such as being lighter in weight, flexible in form, or stronger than the original.

The willingness to venture into unchartered design waters is not just a business strategy, honestly it often takes more than it gives financially, it stems from our passion for beauty and our enjoyment of being creatively challenged.

This has been a big driver in developing AAP, our art projects division over the past two years. AAP allows us to work directly with artists, helping to develop their ideas in new mediums, or designed for public settings. We were incredibly excited and honoured to be a Supporting Partner of Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi in 2017 and have just re-committed to sponsoring the event in 2018.  

Axolotl is now a successful company – were there any obstacles that had to be overcome to get to this point?

So many. In offering a highly bespoke product and working with natural materials, every piece we produce is custom and we have had to carefully market our brand and materials in this way. There is an expectation for architectural suppliers to have stock ready, to produce very consistent products, and to be automated. We have spent a lot of time developing our processes to be as efficient, and consistent in the effects we achieve as possible, and this has become a valuable asset both for our head factory in Sydney and our newer factories operating around the world in securing work and maintaining profitability.

What are 2 or 3 of the highlights from Axolotl’s history?
Expanding internationally.

Expanding our product range from two materials to nine in just five years.

Winning 40 awards over 20 years

Recognition for innovation and hard work by artists, architects and interior designers.

In your own words, can you describe the style and vibe of Axolotl as a company?

Our showroom is the best way to experience Axolotl – visitors often comment on being impressed by the range and the originality of ideas and materials that we create. They also get to meet our team in a (pet friendly) relaxed studio environment, where we are ready to discuss their brief.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

We have always invested a huge amount of time working on R + D and have at least six new projects underway. A few have been in the pipeline for more than two years now, with plans to bring to market later this year. The new products are always exploring new materials which are unique to the market. We try to take a fresh approach by either using common materials in a new way, or by taking materials that are normally used in a micro level to the macro scale.

We have recently purchased a 3D flatbed printer where we can now 3D print any design up to 2400 x 1600mm. This has opened up a whole new range of design possibilities as we are now no longer restricted by intricate surfaces - any design can be realised in just about any surface. We plan to continue to invest our time into exploring the possibilities of this technology and hope to develop some more phenomenal surface effects.

We would also love to create a more standardised, off the shelf product to reach a broader market in the future. In search of this we have produced furniture pieces with success in collaboration with some amazing talent over the years, including designers such as Matthew Sheargold and David Caon. Recently we have been working on a marketing exercise with Mark Tuckey and Caroma to show how Axolotl finishes can be incorporated into bathrooms with an affordable budget. Our factory in China is also working with a prominent European bathware supplier to produce a range of products.

Axolotl Paint is also a part of this product strategy, with a set range of finishes and colours available to purchase off the shelf. However it’s early days for Axolotl Paint and our marketing focus at this stage is still architects and designers as we simply don’t have the budget to take on Dulux and the like with the broader public market. 

Finally, AAP is a dedicated division set up to support artists and fabrication of their works. It is a very personal love affair for Kim and I as both our parents were artists – our father was a photographer and sculptor and mother was a ceramicist. Over the past two years AAP has worked with a growing number of artists and projects, and we would love to see this part our company continue expand.

What are Axolotl’s most iconic products and why?

Our semi precious metal application would be the most iconic, it was the material that started the business and the one that we have perfected over the past 23 years. 

When the company first started, how many employees were there? And now?

The company started with just Kim and I. today there are over 100 employees working in Axolotl facilities worldwide.

Can you tell me the locations of your current showrooms?

Our factories and showrooms are located in Sydney, Perth, London, Florida, Hong Kong, China and India.  

The head office is Sydney is at 6/73 Beauchamp Rd, Matraville and we are open Monday to Friday. We have four designers in the showroom who can assist anyone, although we do recommend making an appointment if you would like to spend more time going through the surfaces and ideas. We also have two colour consultants who work with Axolotl Paint who are available for on-site colour consultations.

20 years and still innovating

 

In July 1995 my brother Kim and I launched Axolotl from a one-car garage space in Redfern. This month marks our 20th anniversary and to celebrate we wanted to share our story, and to thank all of those who have been involved.

From humble beginnings, booking presentations with architects and designers to showcase our four metal samples (available in a single texture!), we have long outgrown our garage. Our transition, from simple pioneers of a process that involved cold applying metal to other elements, to our current range of products and processes that extend way beyond metal as a material, have garnered recognition and reward on an international scale.

Ten years after we first set up shop, glass was added to our product range and working with two materials now opened up even greater design possibilities. We pioneered LINK, which enabled metal to be inlaid into glass and won us a coveted product innovation award.

We then survived the double hit of the GFC in 2009 and the realisation that we had been embezzled by a manager in the business, reducing our staff of 32 to 13. With lean times and support from our suppliers and staff we were able to survive the ensuing years.

As is often the case, out of austerity came creation and those lean times saw Axolotl launch concrete, sheet metals, timber and terracotta surfaces into our range. Once again we offered design innovators the potential to challenge and author the type of new concepts that drive them.

In a somewhat lateral skew, Axolotl House, a sustainable mud brick home built by Kim was opened in the Hunter Valley as a B&B - a true shrine to quality craftsmanship.

And in 2013, we continued to flex our design muscle, creating furniture brand Anomaly in partnership with Evostyle. Boasting an all-Australian made furniture range designed by some of Australia’s top designers. 

Our latest offer, Axolotl Art Projects, promises a new resource for artists, developers and local governments to not only project manage art projects but to fabricate them. Since 2014 when this was first launched, we have already been awarded high profile and blue chip projects.

Looking back, we are grateful to realise that we have been featured in over 500 magazines, on radio, television and have been the recipients of more than 40 awards, including five international design awards. Our range of four metals has multiplied to hundreds and our products have been featured on buildings worldwide. We have worked with imaginative and visionary people including artists, architects and interior designers who we can’t thank enough for their ongoing support, and their continuing push for us to turn their 2D plans into 3D reality.

But it’s more than just products, it’s personal. Our staff are now an extended family. We have incredibly low turnover rates, which is great as they are so talented we never want them to leave.  

Looking to the future we have, as always, a number of new product developments underway. Nothing we can giveaway yet, but keep a look out at the four grey empty boxes on the Products page on our website, as they get filled with new innovative products over the coming months.

Of course, no business should be in business without a commitment to minimising their environmental footprint. By the end of August we will have installed a 50kW solar panel system on the roof of our factory, the equivalent of 1000sqm of solar panels, which is expected to at least meet, if not possibly surpass, our monthly power requirements.

It’s true that what started out as a small metal bonding business has grown way beyond our expectations back in 1995, but innovation has always been at the heart of the Axolotl brand and this passion to offer new possibilities has not abated with time. Axolotl has always, and will always, transcend the idea of a simple product or manufacturing business.

So, as we move forward, redefining possibilities in the built environment for another 20 years, we would like to thank everyone who has ever been involved with the business, your presence and positivity has greatly shaped us. With your continued support and inspiration we can only promise to try to live up to our past, in the future.

Kris Torma