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Design out front, business at the back: Behind the Brand with Zahava Elenberg

Continuing our series spotlighting aficionados across the design industry, we spoke with Zahava Elenberg of Move-in and formerly Elenberg Fraser.

Design out front, business at the back: Behind the Brand with Zahava Elenberg

Behind the Brand is about getting to know the real design enthusiasts who work just outside the spotlight across our industry. We hear lots from the architects and interior designers, but what about the sales managers and marketing experts who link them with products, specifiers and so on? This time, the ficus is on someone who does indeed know the design spotlight, having co-founded Elenberg Fraser. Zahava Elenberg, however, is now focusing on Move-in, an FF&E studio specialising in creatively inspired and commercially driven turn-key fit out solutions for the multi-residential, BTR, student accommodation and hotel sectors

Indesignlive: Let’s start with the new. Tell us about The Super-Graphic Collection.

Zahava Elenberg: Lisa and I delved into our collective teenage pasts and pulled out what become this collection of textiles. It’s called the Super-Graphic Collection because of our shared interest in the big and the bold, and the beguiling way scale can impact your proprioception and change the nature of things in unexpected ways. The patterns and colours are very much inspired by the 80s.

I had never worked in the fabric field before but wanted to offer our clients at Move-in a bespoke fabric option for large projects, and thought design legend, Lisa Gorman, would be a good fit. Lisa brought her unique design language to the project, and we have ended up with something fabulous and entirely idiosyncratic. We are excited that Warwick Fabrics has come on board and will be printing the textiles exclusively for Move-in. 

I am always looking for new and interesting things to do, to both elevate what we can offer at MI and to satiate the creative part of my brain. During COVID it was Clikclax, the physical distancing screen I produced during lockdown, based on the 70s toy, Playplax. Seems the 90s might be next…

At Move-in, we try to advance local design and products where we can across our projects and have worked with some great Australian talent. Both hailing from Fitzroy, this became a hyper-local project and added an extra invisible layer to the story and product. The fact that Warwick was also Northside just built on the narrative of endemic design and it has all come together over the last twelve months.

The Super-Graphic Collection focuses on three distinct stories: Game On, Space Invaders and Different Strokes, each featuring three patterns that play with scale and childhood references to the pop culture of the era. The patterns all have fun and self-referential names, such as ‘Show me a Sign’ (based on the winter solstice in 2023 from seen from Fitzroy), and ‘It’s Just a Phase’ (a series of hand-drawn moon phases), two of the patterns from Space Invaders.  The three stories are available in classic Melbourne black-and-white Monochrome, as well as the Double Trouble colour palette: Sunnyboy, Banana Split, After Dinner Mint, Double Denim and Hubba Bubba. Double Trouble speaks for itself, but also refers to the two-tone colours we’ve used.

All textiles are printed onto commercially graded fabrics from Warwick’s collection — suitable for a range of uses including upholstery, window furnishings and accessories. The collection will be available to our commercial clients and designers, and while we will have a small amount of stock for little things, the intention is to use it for high volume projects (i.e. 100 metres of fabric – that’s around 50 chairs or ten sofas to put it into context). We can also customise the Double Trouble colour palette on a project-by-project basis.

We have the flexibility to expand on the project beyond textiles, and have visions of custom carpet tiles, wallpaper, vinyl, and laminate – that can all work together to create a totally unique environment. The Room Mate Giulia Hotel in Millan by Patricia Urquiola features a single pattern in different colours throughout the FF&E – it’s subtle but impactful. I was there last year for the Furniture Fair, and it was probably a bit of a subconscious inspiration.

What was your path into design – what did you study?

I studied architecture at RMIT from 1992 until 1998.  The course was fantastic and a great foundation for a big life. It was multidisciplinary and expansive – and we were encouraged to explore contiguous fields that enhanced our learning across other departments and universities. Having to think critically, articulate your thoughts into both design and words, and stand in front of your peers, each week, to present your ideas was, in hindsight, foundational.  The course has produced many great thinkers and contributors to our culture, and not all of them are practising architects. It was a great education.

I didn’t initially get into architecture, so I started an Arts degree at Melbourne University before eventually transitioning to RMIT (I had already started going to some classes, but no one had noticed).  After high school, I took a gap year and travelled to Florence to learn Italian and had a fantasy about studying art restoration but fell in love with the architecture instead. I think that happens to everyone who travels to Florence. When I look back, a design-based life was inevitable. Actually, to be more specific, apartment and furniture layouts was inevitable. I have a book from when I was ten years old, full of extremely detailed house and room plans with endless lists of furniture.

How did Move-in come about?

Move-in was an accident! I had a client at Elenberg Fraser who wanted apartments furnished for an overseas investor. I said no, but one thing led to another, and 22 years later I am still doing it. In the early days we specialised in ‘complete apartment packages’ for investors and developers holding stock when the Docklands was in its infancy. However, things change, and we move with the market. Today, we specialise in high volume, multiroom turn-key fit outs for built-to-rent (BTR), hotels, serviced apartments and purpose-built Student Accommodation (PBSA).

There was no one doing design-based and commercially driven FF&E (Furniture, Fittings & Equipment) when Move-in started. It is a strange and often misunderstood profession that sits between design and logistics. It is often an afterthought but is integral to the successful outcome of any interior environment. It is the intangible thing you take away with you. I recently wrote an article called WTF is FF&E to explain the acronym – and put simply, when you turn a building upside down and shake it, everything that falls out is the FF&E and what we put in.

Despite massive growth, we are an intentionally boutique studio, and are selective in the projects we work on and the clients we work with. FF&E is a very detailed and project specific industry – and we like to respond to each brief in a unique way and give each project its own character and identity.

How do you balance running multiple projects at once?

I love being busy and I don’t really strive for balance; sometimes it’s there and sometimes it isn’t.  When you run your own business and raise kids, you don’t really have the luxury to categorise.

I like to think I have the capacity to hold many ideas in suspension at once and keep lots of things in simultaneous motion; my brain works kind of like an excel spreadsheet. However, I can only manage what I do because I have fantastic people around me who provide support professionally and personally, both at work and at home.

While I haven’t been involved with Elenberg Fraser for almost ten years, I still get to work alongside fantastic architects and designers through Move-in. Life moves in phases, and now that my children are more grown up and independent, I think have a different relationship with work and don’t feel so guilty around trying to find that illusive balance.  And with age comes wisdom, and I am getting better at editing out the things that don’t matter.

Do you consider yourself primarily a designer, director, businessperson, entrepreneur…?

I am definitely a mix of everything.  I get enjoyment out of all those disciplines and shapeshift between them. Maybe I am like a mullet, designer at the front and business at the back.

What’s planned next?

I always have a few things bubbling away – some get off the ground (like The Super-Graphic Collection and Clikclax), and some don’t (like the many half-written books and film scripts) and some are in incubation (like our next collaborative project and S.H.E – the Social Housing Enterprise, a female only housing program I have been working on).

Watch this space…


More from Behind the Brand with Alexandra Guglielmino

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