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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 to 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.