Re-generation: How Snelling Studio emerged from the ashes of a factory fire and a personal reckoning

Photography: Holly Burgess
Photography: Holly Burgess
Bec Snelling’s new design studio builds on the acclaimed work she and her father created at Douglas and Bec, while returning to her fine art origins.

It’s been over a year since design house Douglas and Bec was reborn as Snelling Studio, a solo venture by the latter half of the duo. Having collaborated with her father for many years, a series of unfortunate events prompted Bec Snelling to strike out on her own. “This is the beginning. We are super excited to see what evolves next for Snelling,” says Bec, who is relishing the creative centredness that comes with being Snelling Studio’s head designer/art practitioner. “We are grateful that we have been able to rebuild and have the confidence to bring this vision to life.”

Bec talks to STYLE about the circumstances that led to the launch of her multidisciplinary design studio, and the lessons and considerations that come with designing her innovative lighting, furniture and objects.

Snelling Studio was born out of a tumultuous period. How did the studio come to be despite (or thanks to) these challenges?

Yes indeed, tumultuous to say the least …

I do, however, see this as a gift. Serendipitously, both myself personally and Douglas and Bec burnt to the ground in 2019. The factory burnt to the ground when I was 30 days sober and in a treatment facility. Instead of thinking this was a sign to give up, I saw it as an opportunity to rebuild.

We had already lost ourselves – and my creative voice – completely, in a world and industry where we never intended nor wanted to be.

So this was a ‘let’s start again and let’s go back to basics’. Take all the learnings, all the successes and failures, and take this right back to what I started doing. I am not an industrial designer, I am fine arts-trained and I work in collections like a fashion designer. Bringing my fine arts practice into the light, I started the studio over.

Snelling needed to be a complete rebirth, and as dad departed into retirement – although he still helps with research and development – I wanted to use our surname to continue his legacy. After all, we brought a lot of the Douglas and Bec work over to Snelling. We carefully went through and audited each product, considering who we are and what pieces reflect our Snelling vision.

We now have a clear path we don’t veer from, where pieces are created in the way we design best: genuinely, authentically and intuitively.

Layered and refined shapes inform the sculptural works of Snelling Studio’s Lens collection, including the Lens Pendant Minor Major and Lens Wall Sconce Major.
What are some of the most valuable lessons from Douglas and Bec that you have taken into Snelling Studio?

Creative practice is mastery not a destination. Having had the privilege and the gift of starting again, everything and anything is possible – the show will always go on. Lessons in perseverance and consistency. Unlearning and relearning. I believe that when something is of a genuine, authentic nature, it speaks and will work out. I see failure as not failure, but a platform for growth.

The studio is constantly researching and developing new ideas and materials. What are some of your latest explorations?

We are always experimenting with combining different materials, pushing the boundaries of material capabilities beyond the usual constraints. I am constantly curious, always asking questions and exploring new materials and processes. We’re exploring with LED strips, acrylic and wool. In the Lens collection we discovered Cibatool, a mould-making material. It’s fun, and stumbling upon things is where the magic happens, I think … it’s what I thrive on as an artist.

As we create and hand-make our pieces locally here in Auckland, we aren’t restrained by anything other than the functionality of a design, allowing us to trial new materials as we find them.

You have working relationships with a number of local art makers. Why are these so beneficial to Snelling Studio?

We have special relationships with finishers, makers and technicians in a wide variety of areas. They are the best at what they do. Although they sometimes find what we are asking of them a bit extreme, we usually find they are willing. When they are willing, we are on to winners. We are a curious breed and finding these relationships is super important when we are conceptualising work. We can lean on sources to bring our ideas to life.

Tell me about your ethos of ‘necessity’ and why this is important to you.

When dad and I started making things, we started with no funds. We had a $10,000 credit card [limit]. This limitation pushes you to think – especially with a fine arts background, making silk purses out of sows’ ears. Combining an art student with a hugely resourceful, experienced, practical farmer is quite an unstoppable problem- solving combination, thinking back on it. We were both at a previous turning point in our lives, dad and I. We had nothing to lose. It was cool too as we were really naive and had beginners’ brains – that’s when magic happens. We are still super curious.


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