Audio furniture for the 21st century

ESPRESSO YOURSELF: Industrial designer Blaise Houston-Amor’s unique coffee table sound system is part of the audio furniture collection he will exhibit on Saturday. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

WITH free music streaming sites, WiFi, bluetooth, surround-sound and high-powered mini-speakers, sound system technology has come a long way since the 1970s.

Before the 70s, and the advent of separated turntable, amplifier and speakers, integrated sound systems were housed in wooden hi-fi cabinets. Gisborne industrial designer Blaise Houston-Amor references the integrated systems of the 1950s and 1960s in his bespoke audio-furniture designs. The high fidelity sound system, or hi-fi, was part of the furniture because it was furniture.

The 1970s threw that out and cultivated sound separation.

“Audio-culture arose from open-plan living,” says Houston-Amor.

“It started where you’d have a record player that was integrated with a cabinet. Then the design concept went to a two-point speaker arrangement. Then we got surround sound like we have in our TVs.

“The modern way we listen to music is a lot of people have it in the background. People often move around the house with music on in another room. It’s about the way people interact.”

Bose’s high-powered amplifiers and wireless speakers are compact enough to be integrated with each piece of Houston-Amor’s audio furniture. Bose technology uses the room’s acoustics. In a sense, it turns the space into a big speaker.

Houston-Amor’s integrated, audio furniture concept is embodied in the retro-cool, revamped, Awa Radiola, solid-state stereo.

The polished wooden stereogram with its turntable, radio dial panel and, anti-tactile, gold and brown thread speaker-covers is given new life in the industrial designer’s hands.

The 21st century stereogram is fitted with an upgraded turntable and Bose technology and finished in materials of the era — mahogany, copper and cork.

“You can play your records on it but to give flexibility I’ve built in a modern touch with the wireless adaptor,” says Houston-Amor.

“With the wireless adaptor you can come in and play a song you have on your phone.”

While Houston-Amor’s other integrated sound system designs are less retro, they are not futuristic. They are now.

“Soundtable” is the working title of a long-legged, desk-like design.

Laser cut pieces sheathed in hand-sewn, black merino create the rhythmic, acoustic ribs that encase all of the electronics, including speakers. The knob-free design is simple but elegant.

The soundtable is best placed against the wall so the 180 degree sound fills the room. Long tapered legs raise the speakers above sound-absorbing furniture.

“I’ve tried to create an honest construction,” says Houston-Amor.

“It’s complicated, making it simple. A lot of work goes into a handmade, one-off piece.”

A touch of the vintage is incorporated in a particularly sculptural, coffee table piece. A textured table top is set on a base that houses the amplifier and sub-woofer.

To create the table top, Houston-Amor deconstructed an oak barrel previously used for storing red wine. A particular challenge for the designer was to use the wine barrel staves in an original way and to let the honesty of the materials come through.

“Anything I’ve seen before from wine barrels was just the wine barrel,” he says.

Even as planters, rustic tables, retailer storage tubs or even novelty dog kennels, upcycled wine barrels are still recognisable as wine barrels.

The scalloped inner surface of the barrel’s staves forms the table-top in Houston-Amor’s design. The pattern is the result of sanding that gives the barrel another year’s worth of wine storage. After that the barrels are often recycled as planters or wine bar tables.

To maintain the honesty of the material and its history, Houston-Amor has left visible some of the crystals and tartrates in the surface of the material.

“They are part of the result of the natural process of making wine. I wanted the design to be honest to the process of winemaking. I didn’t want the design to resemble its original structure but I wanted the process of winemaking to be embodied in it.”

Houston-Amor’s intention with the slight wave in the table top was to add an interesting dynamic to the form.

“It gives the sense of motion and sound. It’s a fragment of design language.”

Small, arced tweeters are embedded in the table top. The sound radiates upwards and bounces off the ceiling. The piece is designed to be placed in the centre of the room to produce a 360 degree sound.

In his first ever solo show, Houston-Amor will showcase his bespoke designs in the brick-walled, timber-floored workspace above Flagship restaurant. The space will set off both the aesthetics and the acoustic potential of the designs.


WITH free music streaming sites, WiFi, bluetooth, surround-sound and high-powered mini-speakers, sound system technology has come a long way since the 1970s.

Before the 70s, and the advent of separated turntable, amplifier and speakers, integrated sound systems were housed in wooden hi-fi cabinets. Gisborne industrial designer Blaise Houston-Amor references the integrated systems of the 1950s and 1960s in his bespoke audio-furniture designs. The high fidelity sound system, or hi-fi, was part of the furniture because it was furniture.

The 1970s threw that out and cultivated sound separation.

“Audio-culture arose from open-plan living,” says Houston-Amor.

“It started where you’d have a record player that was integrated with a cabinet. Then the design concept went to a two-point speaker arrangement. Then we got surround sound like we have in our TVs.

“The modern way we listen to music is a lot of people have it in the background. People often move around the house with music on in another room. It’s about the way people interact.”

Bose’s high-powered amplifiers and wireless speakers are compact enough to be integrated with each piece of Houston-Amor’s audio furniture. Bose technology uses the room’s acoustics. In a sense, it turns the space into a big speaker.

Houston-Amor’s integrated, audio furniture concept is embodied in the retro-cool, revamped, Awa Radiola, solid-state stereo.

The polished wooden stereogram with its turntable, radio dial panel and, anti-tactile, gold and brown thread speaker-covers is given new life in the industrial designer’s hands.

The 21st century stereogram is fitted with an upgraded turntable and Bose technology and finished in materials of the era — mahogany, copper and cork.

“You can play your records on it but to give flexibility I’ve built in a modern touch with the wireless adaptor,” says Houston-Amor.

“With the wireless adaptor you can come in and play a song you have on your phone.”

While Houston-Amor’s other integrated sound system designs are less retro, they are not futuristic. They are now.

“Soundtable” is the working title of a long-legged, desk-like design.

Laser cut pieces sheathed in hand-sewn, black merino create the rhythmic, acoustic ribs that encase all of the electronics, including speakers. The knob-free design is simple but elegant.

The soundtable is best placed against the wall so the 180 degree sound fills the room. Long tapered legs raise the speakers above sound-absorbing furniture.

“I’ve tried to create an honest construction,” says Houston-Amor.

“It’s complicated, making it simple. A lot of work goes into a handmade, one-off piece.”

A touch of the vintage is incorporated in a particularly sculptural, coffee table piece. A textured table top is set on a base that houses the amplifier and sub-woofer.

To create the table top, Houston-Amor deconstructed an oak barrel previously used for storing red wine. A particular challenge for the designer was to use the wine barrel staves in an original way and to let the honesty of the materials come through.

“Anything I’ve seen before from wine barrels was just the wine barrel,” he says.

Even as planters, rustic tables, retailer storage tubs or even novelty dog kennels, upcycled wine barrels are still recognisable as wine barrels.

The scalloped inner surface of the barrel’s staves forms the table-top in Houston-Amor’s design. The pattern is the result of sanding that gives the barrel another year’s worth of wine storage. After that the barrels are often recycled as planters or wine bar tables.

To maintain the honesty of the material and its history, Houston-Amor has left visible some of the crystals and tartrates in the surface of the material.

“They are part of the result of the natural process of making wine. I wanted the design to be honest to the process of winemaking. I didn’t want the design to resemble its original structure but I wanted the process of winemaking to be embodied in it.”

Houston-Amor’s intention with the slight wave in the table top was to add an interesting dynamic to the form.

“It gives the sense of motion and sound. It’s a fragment of design language.”

Small, arced tweeters are embedded in the table top. The sound radiates upwards and bounces off the ceiling. The piece is designed to be placed in the centre of the room to produce a 360 degree sound.

In his first ever solo show, Houston-Amor will showcase his bespoke designs in the brick-walled, timber-floored workspace above Flagship restaurant. The space will set off both the aesthetics and the acoustic potential of the designs.


Blaise Houston-Amor’s audio-furniture can be viewed upstairs at Flagship restaurant, on Saturday, 8am-3pm.

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