In the back streets of Ballarat there is an unassuming workshop where some of the most glorious pieces of set are created by a team of dedicated, highly skilled, hardworking professionals.
NJW Designs was established by Nathan Weyers. In the past 12 months NJW Designs collaborated on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Lion King the Musical, Disney’s Frozen, Salome for the Victorian Opera and Anna Karenina for the Australian Ballet.
However, in early March the Covid-19 pandemic hit, decimating the entertainment industry.
“When faced with the reality of 48 jobs cancelling overnight, that would have employed staff for up to 12 months, we had to think outside the box” says Weyers.
Known in the industry for their initiative, NJW Designs introduced ‘Formed by Function’ a unique and innovative product range for the home. Designed and made in Ballarat and delivered to your front door in a week, all products are flat-packed, and are assembled with no tools in under 2 minutes.
When asked about the first pieces that were created for the new line, Weyers spoke about the sneeze guards. “These were ideal for local businesses, to help them navigate the daily changes to business operations. The second was laptop stands, my Sister is a teacher and all of a sudden she was in front of a laptop all day and I was just picturing how hard it would be for her and the students to constantly look down at the screen and keyboard, as well as dealing terrible camera angles! The third item was the study desk, which I I was a little reluctant to do as I thought people have enough items of furniture in their house already, but I gave in and I’m glad I did, they have been our best seller! Although I think the protective screen might be on the rise.”
The ‘Formed by Function’ range has now grown to include sit/stand desks, laptop and monitor stands and shelving for the work from home audience. When it’s time to play the range includes hobby tables, indoor mini golf, childhood games and wine racks to keep everyone amused.
Weyers can also take custom orders if your needs can’t be met by the standard product range. “We are doing a range of tall study desks for a local pharmacy, and a range of shelving for their warehouse. We also just had a request to be able to store the study desk on a wall as a work of art when not in use for a small apartment.”
One of the most innovate features of the ‘Formed by Function’ range is that they require no tools for assembly. TP asked Weyers about this and its connection to their set building methods.
“The design of the no tools is a direct lease from our theatre building techniques. For theatre companies, one of the biggest expenses when touring a show is the period the show is moving, so one of the ways we have combatted that is to build scenery that requires no tools to be installed. You simply use your hands to pull pins and release clips. Also, when building the actual scenery, the most costly part is the labor. So, if we can reduce the number of times something has to be measured, drilled and cut, and make it all slot together and our builders just have to add a screw or glue, then we speed up the build, make less mistakes and can offer a better price to build with us. We built a stage revolve and stage surround for Footlight Productions and BLOC Music Theatre’s Mamma Mia at the start of the year this exact way, and we are even starting to design our steel work the same way.”
Not only have the products sold extremely quickly on their brand new website, but NJW Designs has also been able to welcome back 9 of its staff who had previously been released and have increased production to 6 days a week. The business is also supporting the struggling industry that has always supported them in the past with $10 from each sale going to Entertainment Assist, Ballarat Arts Foundation and the Actors Benevolent Fund.
And what does the future hold for both NJW Designs and ‘Formed by Function’?
“Hopefully, they start to ring the bell soon and we can all get on with Act 2″, says Weyers, “at which point we will keep the ‘Formed by Function’ Range running. It is going to be a great learning ground for new staff members, it has already upskilled just about all of us, there are now several people who can operate the CNC machine, and we understand about dispatch and logistics. It has also taught us all so much about things we never considered, like the type of sandpaper we use to get the most cost effective finish.“
Weyers is also in the process of developing a range of products for community theatre groups which will be available for purchase from their online store. “It is based around the difficult things that volunteers are being asked to build, so picture flatpack brick walls, flat pack staircases and wall braces, flat pack stages and rostrums. If we can help the local theatre groups bounce back faster with cheaper solutions, then hopefully this will assist spring boarding the industry back.”
To view and purchase the Formed by Function range, please go to https://www.formedbyfunction.com/shop
For more information on NJW Designs, please go to https://www.njwdesigns.com.au/
Article written by Kelly-Louise Austin