Much like the furniture they design and manufacture, the Condos family is unique, incredibly durable and posses a deep sense of culture. Here, Furnishing International unveils the truly inspiring story behind Harbour Outdoor and how the family business drives growth and embraces innovation, all while remaining steadfast to its family roots.
Words: Jemmah Kelly
It is often said to achieve success and longevity as a business –irrespective of the nature of the industry – one must be attuned to whatis its key differentiating factors in the marketplace. Equally important are strong values so that the business may continue to improve, innovate and complement the talents of its workers, while adhering to the wants and needs of its consumers. In other words, stay relevant.
Since 1976, the Condos family has been doing just that. After immigrating
to Australia from Athens, Greece, in 1966, family patriarch and budding blacksmith Jim Condos wasted little time honing his craft in various Sydney metal shops. A decade later, Jim founded Tecno Furniture and quickly established a reputation as one of the region’s premium blacksmiths, initially specialising in the design and manufacture of monumental hand- forged iron gates and custom furnishings of brass and steel. Tecno Furniture Co-Director Harriet Condos reveals however, that it wasn’t long before Jim’s
passion for furniture design began to take precedence and the business started to take on a new and exciting direction.
“Jim’s love of furniture design eventually led to the first [furniture] collection being designed in 1984, and due to the very quick success of his designs the business evolved to design and manufacture high-end forged iron furniture,” Harriet says.
Eventually the Tecno Furniture found its niche in the outdoor furniture market and in 2007 Jim’s sons, Harrison and Nicholas, began to see potential to expand business operations internationally. A year later, the brothers boldly expanded and re-branded Tecno Furniture’s outdoor collection with an export arm, and thus Harbour Outdoor was born.
Inspired by Australia’s modern coastal architecture and beachy lifestyle, the Harbour
Outdoor range echoes the modernistic style of Sydney-based Architect Peter Stutchbury. Harrison and Nicholas envisioned hand-forged metal outdoor furniture with elegant, uncluttered silhouettes that seamlessly blends indoor-outdoor living. These stylistic cues have since become a hallmark of Harbour Outdoor’s
designs. The ‘Piano’ collection, for example, is a fun and playful collection characterised by modern, clean lines and aluminium powder coated frames. Light diffusing Batyline® mesh chairs and stools have been coupled with UV-resistant high-pressure compact laminate (HPCL) slats for tabletops and bench seats.
The Balmoral collection embodies plush luxury and innovative design. With a thick cushion and a distinctive signature welting, the Balmoral collection adds a touch of luxury and comfort to any outdoor area. Through an original, innovative design, Balmoral makes use of polymer slots on an interchangeable structure to create twelve possible layout combinations from one setting. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for buyers to sit up and take notice, and
the rest as they say, is history.
“As a start [Harrison and Nicholas] explored the market in USA and Europe, and found a large gap for high quality, well-priced product. After launching at the New York International Contemporary Furniture Fair in 2008 and the MAISON&OBJET [trade show in] 2009, the brand was well received and orders began to come in. From here the manufacturing capacity needed to be considerably increased and a move of the main factory into Southern China was the next step. “Harbour Outdoor still retains the factory in Botany, Sydney [where] all custom items are produced for the Australian market,” Harriet explains.
With the majority of manufacturing taking place offshore in developing countries where culture and language varies drastically, maintaining a stokehold in the international marketplace can present many challenges. But rather than succumbing to the pressure of catering to the global market, the Condos family views challenges as opportunities to review its company’s structure, systems and processes, and ask hard questions that ultimately facilitates business growth.
“Harbour Outdoor faces challenges each day running the production out of China
– communication and adapting our work ethics to embrace a different culture and way of thinking bring the biggest challenges,” Harriet explains.
“When each day presents a new challenge we have come to realise the best way to move is to tackle head on – don’t delay, work it out and move on to the next challenge. The business in the USA is also full of challenges. Language may be universal, however,
the market is so varied and as a high-end furniture company the expectations are
also high. The path the business has chosen turns a full circle [beginning in] Australia
where the design concept begins, towards China where the goods are produced, then internationally where the goods are sold, and ultimately back to Australia where we control all facets of the business.”
In spite of this multifaceted production process, Harbour Outdoor remains extremely
hands-on throughout the design, manufacturing and distribution process. As a result, the company has continued to find success and meet market demand, catering to both domestic and commercial markets in Australia and abroad to the USA, Europe and Asia.
Today, Harbour Outdoor’s Australian branch (Harbour
Outdoor Australia) is based in Sydney, while its American counterpart Harbour Outdoor USA retains a head office in New York Design Centre. There is also one showroom and three retail stores in Los Angeles.
“Harbour Outdoor is in a unique position in the outdoor furniture market – original designs and family-run. Design, manufacturer and distribution under one umbrella enable us to be competitive in the current volatile global climate. We control all our production in order to achieve the consistent high-end finish we
are so well known for. No outsourcing to other factories ensures our quality and ability to deliver on time is ensured,” says Harriet.
“Jim and myself work as a team and are both directors of Harbour Outdoor Australia,
and in partnership with our two boys Harrison and Nicholas are directors of Harbour Outdoor USA [and] as a family business we all work to achieve the same end result.”
That end result being a company characterised by distinctive design, attention
to detail, the ability to come up with new ideas, the skill to experiment with new materials and the expertise to create collections that are classically modern, yet timeless. Key to achieving this is skilled management, experienced tradesmen and the adaptation of technology, both in the design and manufacturing process tailored to suit the business model. Fortunately, Harbour Outdoor is a company that has these in spades, and with its ability to engage modern technology without losing touch of the human element, it will continue to remain at the forefront of innovation and design.
“As designers and manufacturers, we are grateful that this millennium is continually
moving towards high technology in both design and engineering processes. Our future
will engage two philosophies – high-tech and high touch. The utilisation of leading edge
technology [will] maximise our results whilst simultaneously embracing our values of customer care, communication and integrity,” Harriet says.
Consequently, Harbour Outdoor boasts a loyal clientele that is as diverse as they are
many, ranging from individual residential customers both in Australia and USA through
to retail stores, interior designers, architects and hospitality companies. The style, and
importantly, durability of Harbour Outdoor’s product has also caught the eye of high-end hotels, including Starwood Hotels, Conrad International, Westin Hotels in Hawaii and Dominican Republic, One and Only resorts in both Hayman Island and Miami Halekulani Hotels in Hawaii. In fact, if you’ve been fortunate enough to experience any of these luxury stays, chances are you’re familiar with chic outdoor living spaces, punctuated with pieces from Harbour Outdoor’s any number of stylish creations.
“Definitely trends have changed over the last ten years, outdoor is now the new indoor
and we find our customers realise their outdoor space is as precious as the indoor
space, therefore, we need to continually come up with furniture designs that will stand up to the extreme climate experienced in different parts of Australia, and [also] find ways to make this robust furniture as welcoming, comfortable and luxurious as the furniture for the inside space,” Harriet says.
Yet despite Harbour Outdoor’s resounding success, both at home and abroad, the company has no intention of remaining stagnant. Rather, the industry and consumers can rejoice as the company continues to reinvent itself and find more effective and innovative ways to embark on exciting new projects and collaborations.
“Our most current project is a collaboration with Restoration Hardware USA, which
recently launched three new collections and four new collections were released this
Summer. We are a growing company with fresh ideas that are coming from the new
generation. This is driving the brand to places never imagined,” Harriet says.
As Harriet succinctly puts it, “Harbour Outdoor is a work in motion; always looking for
new ideas and mediums to create high quality outdoor pieces for todays market.” Indeed, this has allowed Harbour Outdoor – a once small family business – to flourish into a reputable international brand, while continuing to instil the four values upon which the business was built: integrity of brand, communication, customer intimacy and results.