Toby Gray stands proudly at a cutting desk in his Melbourne workroom.
Australia certainly has its fair share of iconic products, but there’s one local item we’re internationally renowned for that isn’t listed amongst Vegemite and Akubra hats. “Australian soft furnishings have more of a high-end feel about them,” says BQ Design’s Toby Gray. “Made in Australia is like clothing made in Italy, customers know it’s a high-end product.”
It’s a reputation BQ are proud to uphold, alongside loyal long-time partners like Lovelight. Of course, the parallels between the two companies don’t end there.
Both BQ and Lovelight have always been a family operation and since 2009, BQ, like Lovelight, has been helmed by two brothers. Toby and his brother Sam joined BQ eight years ago, when the two were looking for a business to buy.
A BQ staffer carries fresh material to the cutting desk.
“My brother and I weren’t in the industry,” Toby recounts. “We were each doing our own thing, but we wanted to run a business together and decided we would buy one and it was just a coincidence that our father knew the accountant here.”
As the newly minted directors of BQ Design, Lovelight were one of the duo’s first partners. There was instant rapport between Toby and Sam and Lovelight’s own brotherly duo—directors Jason and Ryan.
Some of BQ’s machinery has been customized for their workroom.
“Lovelight are a fantastic company to work with, they’re very easy to work with in the sense that they’re very practical people,” Toby says. “I think that works well because they can put a practical head on and know what works and what doesn’t work.”
“They’ve got good staff who are well trained and know the product and know what they want and what they need.” This is par for the course when you have three generations of window furnishings experience under one roof.
Spools of thread at the ready.
Remarking on his own staff, Toby explains that some of the workers you see manning the cutting desks and machinery on the BQ floor have been there for as long as 30 years. “We’re pretty lucky with the staff we employ,” says Toby, explaining how his staff are routinely tasked with creating solutions for the problems one can experience on an order.
Curtains made in Australia are like clothing made in Italy, Toby says.
“It’s things like using the correct fabric for the correct application,” Toby explains. “Say, using polyester viscose fabric for a bonded blind, which we know will shrink and cause problems six months down the line.” Like Lovelight, Toby and his team understand the importance of having a home that’s as functional as it is photogenic.
BQ and Lovelight are like siblings in their own way, united by a wealth of industry experience, a keen eye for quality, and a mind for practicality.
Some of BQ’s staff have been with the company for over 30 years.
“You’re talking to a manufacturer so it’s always a practicality thing,” Toby says with a laugh when asked what he looks for in a window furnishing. “Before choosing the fabrics and the design of the item, I’d first look at the room.”
As Toby explains, there are more considerations to take into account than just a pattern. “It’s also about what’s going to fit over the window, if you have anything in the way, where the tracks would go, how far off the ground they’d be and will they get dirty? How will that impact the look?”
A Roman blind taking shape.
This is where Lovelight comes in and where Lovelight and BQ hold to a defining maxim: there’s a solution to fit any window.
The key, Toby explains, is to deliver solutions and craft suggestions that guide a customer to the right decision for them, finding that perfect balance between the practical and the aesthetic. For Toby, much of that balance is influenced by culture and environment.
Several BQ projects have been featured in local design magazines.
Striking another parallel, Toby and his brother attend the same international window coverings conference as Jason and Ryan every three years. “We go to a window coverings expo in Germany every three years, r+t Stuttgart, and that’s probably the biggest of that type of event outside of the United States,” Toby explains.
The conference gives both Lovelight and BQ a chance to see how the surroundings of a home influence its core design, as well as a chance to compare how Australian-made furnishings stack up against international manufacturers. “In Europe, the windows are quite small, so the products they sell are quite small. You see more honeycomb blinds and things like that,” Toby says.
As for how Australian quality compares to that overseas, the difference is clear when looking at the results of BQ and Lovelight’s partnership – high-end, locally produced window furnishings that are renowned the world over.