Meet David Trubridge

“I love to roam the wild, empty places on this planet.”

“Our daily lives are like floating on the surface of the water,” says award-winning artist and designer of lighting, David Trubridge.

“It’s all very ripply and beguiling and we get carried away thinking that’s it. But if you take a big breath, relax and exhale, you’ll sink into this space that I liken to our subconscious. Here, you are connected to something deeper, where the real creativity happens.”

David’s unconventional life and design journey are chronicled in his 2022 book, The Other Way, where he showcases his relationship with the earth and his adventures in some of its furthest reaches. “I have spent a lot of time wandering in wilderness. I’m drawn to the mountains, forests and oceans. You don’t just see a tree and think it would make a great light or piece of furniture. It’s like something subliminal is being conveyed by that experience that embeds itself in your psyche. The process of finding ideas is one of yielding; you can’t will creativity into being. You have to know how it happens, put yourself in the right place and wait.”

Michele Saee Teulo

Originally trained as a Naval Architect, David quickly realised that the engineering-heavy discipline was incompatible with his artistic aspirations. “I got bored with the engineering component of the work and went on to spend a large part of my life as a maker, an autodidact who taught myself first how to make furniture and then how to design it. Wood was my medium; for many years, I was designing and hand-making one-off pieces of custom art furniture. I got into lighting by chance; I just created something for the fun of it, which became a light and suddenly it took off. The beauty of lighting - compared to furniture which is big and heavy and hard to transport - is that it can be made in a kitset way and reduced down to small components in a box. The model now is that I can design and make stuff in New Zealand and export it around the world. For the last 20 years, that’s what we’ve done: kitset and decorative lighting, mostly made from bamboo plywood.”

The work being produced by David’s namesake studio in Hawke’s Bay is grounded in his passionate environmental advocacy, with designs informed by his belief that humans urgently need to restore a close and balanced relationship with the natural world around them. “During the very early days when I started making furniture, I also had a part-time job as a forester. I learned about trees as living things, not just as timber. From the very beginning, I’ve always been intuitively connected to the natural element of the material; it’s not just a thing that you manipulate. Because it’s so amazing and beautiful, you don’t want to waste it and you inevitably become conscious of its value. Embedded in that is a responsibility for the material and, as an extension of that, the environment.”

Michele Saee Teulo

Alongside the production and manufacture of kitset lighting, David’s design studio produces one-off commissions, public art and licensed designs. Their recent commission Horoeka won the Exterior Structure Design Award in last year’s Timber Design Awards. “That project is part of an ongoing relationship with Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua. The collaboration began with their desire to extend the user experience with hanging lights for a night walk. I immediately knew that the scale of the objects needed to be much larger than anything we had made before to complement the enormous scale of the giant redwoods. The result was 30 lantern-like lights of up to 2.5m tall hung amongst the 115-year-old redwoods. The director later came back to us and asked us to continue the work; the same concept, but even bigger. Horoeka is the result of those conversations: a walkthrough pod that visitors can experience from the inside. It’s since become one of my very favourite pieces.”

In the 1980s, David and his young family decided to leave their home in the UK and spent five years sailing and living on the ocean before eventually settling in Aotearoa. “That very deep experience of being a sailor and navigating by the stars was profoundly formative for all of us. It is embedded in me now and I still live with it. Coming to New Zealand, the whole Māori philosophy of connection to the environment and caring for it and the understanding that we need to live in balance with it, was absolutely the track that I was already on. We didn’t have that in the UK; we’d lost that level of intuitive bonding and relationship with the environment and I love the fact that coming to New Zealand reawakened that in me.”

Michele Saee Teulo

David has since become an outspoken advocate for indigenous-led design approaches that prioritise the natural environment. “I think that the Western design ethos is still very colonial without really realising it. It’s an imposition that spread out of Europe and dominated the world in the same way that colonialism killed off local, indigenous ways of making, languages and religions. With it came a capitalist, commodity culture. I really believe that the future lies in going back to honouring our local cultures. You won’t overuse a local resource because if it’s on your doorstep, you will suffer the consequences. Modernism has killed off our relationship with nature into a bland, utilitarian style that we see everywhere.”

The design studio has had a busy few months of commissions, David says, a trend he hopes will continue. “The beauty of commissions is that they take you to a place you wouldn’t have otherwise gone on your own. In particular, I enjoy collaborations and the opportunity to bring other people’s ideas to life. I’ve enjoyed working with local iwi on projects including our Tāwhaki-inspired installation at the Rotorua Library, and on a Melbourne-based project with TAFE and local Aborigines that features a series of 3 baskets each 3 metres tall.”

As David and his team look to the year ahead, the Redwoods Treewalk work is ongoing, with another walk-through tree pod in progress. On the production side, they are constantly improving the systems and materials used to make their kitset lighting. “The bamboo plywood we use is a totally renewable resource, but turning it into flat sheets of ply requires lots of machining and glueing and then shipping from China. It also can’t be easily recycled or composted at the end of its life. What we urgently need is a better material and one that is locally sourced and sustainable. We’re now working with a Master’s student from Victoria University to develop one. We’ve approached this with an anything-is-possible mentality, and we’re exploring a wide range of source materials including algae, seaweed and harakeke.”

Michele Saee Teulo

While a new material input could change some of the characteristics of David’s designs, he is committed to maintaining the natural patterning and texture that his studio is renowned for. “Some fascinating research has been done about this which proves that humans respond positively psychologically and even physiologically to patterning and texture in their surrounding environment. We are happiest when it is about the same sort of quality as in the forest. We need the depth of patterning of objects and artworks such as the lighting we make to actually make us feel better and add to our well-being. I think that’s really important.”

To learn more and connect with David, visit

Bex De Prospo
Bex De Prospo