Melbourne Now countdown – day 20

On the morning of Friday the 19th of October I arrived at designer Dale Hardiman’s studio in Coburg to lend a hand on the making of Polly Popper, an extra-large lampshade and LAB DE STU collaboration between Dale and André Hnatojko  for Melbourne Design Now. Dale made it clear to all of us who had gathered there to assist -‘we can only do this once’. Such was the ambitious task ahead.

LAB DE STU comprises of three Melbourne designers: André Hnatojko , Dale Hardiman and Adam Lynch. They came together in 2011 after meeting at RMIT where they were studying an associate degree in furniture design. Polly Popper is one of two collaborations within this Melbourne design collective. The other, Mr Dowel Jones, is a collaboration between Dale Hardiman and Adam Lynch – which is appearing in the presentation Design In Everyday Life, a giant ‘design wall’ on level 3 at NGV Australia for Melbourne Now, also curated by Simone LeAmon, who I have been assisting over these past months. Observing the activities of LAB DE STU in recent years, I sense the key to their success lies in their ability to work-together as both a creative and disciplined unit.


Polly Popper shares the design languages of both designers. An aluminium spinning in the shape of André’s notable ‘Popper’ light (2012) forms the mould upon which Dale’s creative material of choice, Polycaprolactone is shaped. A biodegradable plastic, Polycaprolactone melts in hot water and is commonly used in bio-medical products; Dale has been making his Polly bowls, plates and jewellery for some time. The Polly Popper lampshade is neither new, launched in early 2013 – but the supersized Polly Popper for the NGV is 800mm in radius – making it well and truly, enormous.

Back to the making. Standing in Dales studio – also his kitchen (Dale is currently completing a book on a series of designs capable of being constructed at home – he refers to the idea as ‘home manufacturing’) with 27 kilos of polycaprolactone and 40 litres of water boiling – we were all assigned specific jobs (there were three of us helping the Lab De Stu team) to make the fabrication process as easy as possible.

The first layer, consisting of 2.5 kilos of polycaprolactone with 40 palates of blue pigment, all was poured into 15 litres of hot water. After 5 minutes, the now bubble-gum-like material was stretched and worked much like kneading dough – Dale and our friend Seth looked like they were engaged in a tug-of-war, mixing the pigment through the material.

Polycaprolactone can cool down quickly and turn hard, so you need to keep your mould warm. Easy to do if working small, but we needed to use a heat gun to keep the Popper mould hot – enabling us to move the vast quantity of gooey material around the aluminium form.

This same method was employed for the following two colours. The 3-kilo yellow layer demanding even more helping hands. But it was the last layer, 4.5-kilos of pink polycaprolactone, that was the most problematic. The volume of polymer and heat of the water (100°C) made the extraction from the pot very difficult as no gloves can be worn for the polymer sticks to plastic. Fortunately, none of our hands were burnt, and the poly was soon in a tug of war between Dale and Seth.

With the last layer in the mould, it took merely 5 minutes to become rock solid. With the extraction of the shade from the mould proving to be the easiest part – André and Dale let out a big sigh – the supersized Polly Popper was a success!