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The Designer Who Put Kmart Homewares On The Map Says This Is What’s Next

By Laura Anderson

As the woman behind Kmart’s homewares success story in Australia, Kate Hopwood is now driving a new interior motive at Freedom Furniture.

She says it’s the season for comfort living, where optimistic art adorns our walls, rustic dinnerware is king, wall dividers are back and a nod to the past is evident in furniture design but with a modern twist. 

When I joined Kmart the strategy was clear, everyday low prices for families,” says Hopwood, who moved to Australia from the UK 12 years ago.

“We had to make the product look good for the price, and it was a time when everyone wanted cheap and cheerful and it really worked.”

But the Sydney-based designer says consumers are rethinking about how they spend and prefer to invest in something better rather than riff on a quick trend. 

“Over time we’ve learnt it’s better for homewares to be better quality and last longer. That really resonates with me,” Hopwood says.

During her time at Kmart, Hopwood gave homemakers reasons to smile on a budget taking Scandi knock-off style to the masses, introducing its functional curve into our Aussie homes – where shelving, furniture and decor gave minimalism a reason to put a smile on its face.

But Hopwood says we’ve shifted from the copying mentality to one that’s keen to source artisan pieces.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Hopwood would spend her time travelling, taking inspiration from boutique retail fit-outs to observe colour and trends.

“I’d see the colour coming through these high-end retail stores in Europe and the UK, but the timing wasn’t quite right for our market in Australia, but it’s one of the first places I look and the catwalk too,” Hopwood says.

“I look at macro trends and ask myself, why is yellow important? It links to optimism. Why is pink important? It links to the political landscape and the backlash that is going on around the world. All these things subliminally go into our thought processes and help develop collections.”

At Freedom Furniture, she’s all about keeping the design-led process in Australia and sourcing from local manufacturers too.

“Everybody is trying to keep the jobs local and the work in Australia as much as possible,” Hopwood says.

So what does 2021 hold in store for furniture design?

According to Hopwood, there’s a revival for heritage with a nod to 1950s, ’70s and ’80s eras – but it’s less about copycat and more a reimagined past made for our times.

Lamps will be huge – think stretched shades that are oversized for a ’70s reference. And when it comes to sofas, curves are back.

“We’ve seen a shift in furniture to become more tactile and rounded – there’s a resurgence in comfort,” Hopwood says.

“With our homes being multi-purpose right now as we work more from home, they’re doubling up as smart spaces and places we hang around more.

“It means people are buying things they want to be proud of, it’s less throwaway and more affordable investment.”

And for a brand that turns 40 next year, Hopwood says she’s all about reconnecting with local artisans and making cool collaborations happen at Freedom.

“I always dreamed of living in Australia and making people’s lives better when I first moved here and still do,” Hopwood says.

“I always ask myself what can we do better in furniture design and how can Australians relate to it. It comes down to understanding your culture.”


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