A Journey Through Design – Phil Brenton of Artedomus
When, as a young computer science graduate, Phil Brenton walked into the Artedomus warehouse one day in 2001, little did he know that it was the beginning of a story that would eventually lead him to the role of managing director and see him become immersed in the design community.
From the ancient geological forces that produce exquisite natural stones to the traditions that lie behind Japanese ceramic tiles and Italian terracotta, there is a certain romanticism to the materials and products that Artedomus searches the world over to bring to Australia. And the collaborative working relationships Artedomus has cultivated with architects and designers are testament to the creative potential inherent in the business. So, it is perhaps surprising that Phil, whose time with the company has seen Artedomus evolve from turbulent origins to the highly respected industry leader it is today, did not come from a background in design.
Born and raised on the green plains of Palmerston North in New Zealand, he recalls that went he off to study computer science because “it seemed the thing to do if you were a geeky person who was good at maths.” While he went on to become a programmer, he discovered shortly into his first job that he hated it. “I quit and never went back to programming ever again,” he says. When his brother suggested moving to Sydney, he jumped at the chance, “because the parties were better than in New Zealand,” working in restaurants and bars until waking up one morning with the abrupt realisation that, much like programming, he could take no more of hospitality.
After perusing the newspaper for other opportunities, Phil responded to a job ad from Artedomus looking for someone with a tertiary degree and an interest in architecture. “I came along for the interview with [founder] Angelo Schepis and didn’t get the job!” he recalls. But despite this inauspicious start, he was called back in a few weeks later and given a role that was described as a junior sales position. In reality, he says, it entailed a little bit of everything, from some sales to cutting samples and shifting heavy tiles. While others in similar roles came and went, Phil remained with the company until he moved to London for a stint in 2005.
On his return, he became Sydney sales manager before starting to work more closely with Melbourne sales manager William Pearse. “He had just started down there and knew heaps about bathware and nothing about stone and tiles,” Phil recalls. This led to a close working relationship between the two as they each drew on their respective areas of expertise. Over time, Phil took an increased national responsibility for sales before being elevated to managing director in 2013.
With such a long and in-depth history at Artedomus, Phil’s tenure has had a significant impact in shaping its latter story, and the company that was founded in the 1980s as Domus Ceramics was a very different place to what it is today. Many changes have been implemented over the years, from hiring key staff to deepening the relationship with companies like INAX in Japan and Agape and Fiandre in Italy, closing the installation side of the business and opening new showrooms in Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane. And in that time, Phil has seen the design industry change too, coming to embrace more refined and unusual products, as well as brands like Agape, which 15 years ago only a saw a handful of pieces move through Artedomus’ doors.
One of the most significant changes of all that Phil has helped to affect was cultivating a strong culture – both within the expanded Artedomus team and between the company and the wider design industry. While sourcing rare and exceptional products has always been at the heart of Artedomus’ success, now this strength in product is complemented by “our personality and our people and our values; that’s what sets us apart,” Phil reflects. It is no longer enough to simply have the best products, he explains, “it’s about nurturing a vision.”
While he himself is not a designer and did not come from a creative background, Phil now sees his role as one of bringing the right products to the right people who know how to make them sing. “We talk about inspiring creative people to bring their ideas to fruition with enduring quality,” he says. Perhaps the most notable example of all is New Volumes, a project Phil masterminded in 2018 that saw Artedomus commissioning leading and emerging Australian designers to create a piece crafted from a solid block of Artedomus Elba, one of the company’s signature stones. “New Volumes was an idea born out of the desire to make the most out of our unique relationship with the design industry locally and our access to the world’s most inspiring materials. It has become a way for us to express ourselves through people, design, materiality and, of course, their stories,” he reflects.
From unexpected beginnings, the journey up to this point may have been less than straightforward. But with the same decisiveness that years ago led him away from programming forever and over the Tasman to Sydney, a singular vision for what the company could be has seen Phil and Artedomus become integrally connected within the Australian design community.
PHOTOS Pablo Veiga
WORDS Rose Onans
This article originally featured on The Local Project.