Furniture entrepreneur Anton Assaad, who founded Melbourne retail store Great Dane Furniture twenty years ago, is a study in contradictions. His store is a testament to his love of Scandinavian furniture, lighting and design, but he hardly adheres to an aesthetic of pared-down minimalism.
Of course, he is always moved by the beauty of a Scandinavian piece, but his own home is filled with treasures that would not be considered restrained – such as two colourful artworks that mean the world to him. One is a mixed media piece that he created during a pandemic lockdown, combining an image of Qatar and a photo of a beloved forest in Sweden. “The Middle East [which is where Anton’s family originates from] and Scandinavia are two very influential parts of my life, and this reflects two parts of me.” The second is an abstract painting by his grandmother, who Anton says “taught me how to create the feeling of a home – with meaning and intent and a true sense of belonging that can only come from the deepest parts of one’s heart.”
His heart has helped build a brand that now celebrates two decades; Anton has utilised not just excellent business skills but also his instincts. When he initially sourced pieces in Denmark, he led with his passion. “I wasn’t really going, ‘Will this sell?’ I was going, ‘I really love it, so someone else will!’ It was about a deeper connection, and with each piece, I’d go down the rabbit hole: I’d want to find out everything about it. It was really interesting; it was a doctorate in Danish design.”
Even now, his heart illuminates the path forward, and he will utilise all of his senses to choose an acquisition, feeling the wood, smelling the oil, ascertaining whether this piece is “sublime.” “When I go to Scandinavia, one of the things I do is pull over on the side of the freeway so we can walk through the forest, smell it, feel the moss under our feet. It is a sensory experience.” A vital part of his team is his partner Megan Marshall, who works closely with him as Great Dane’s creative director. “Megan’s comes from her analytical thinking and an inherent understanding of design. We don’t come from the same space, but we’re on the same page regarding what we hold dear.”
And despite a pandemic, the business continues to grow in new directions. This year heralds the opening of a new Brisbane showroom, and Great Dane has collaborated with Edition Office for a new Melbourne home. Last year, they announced their collaboration with famed British designer Ilse Crawford on her Ilse sofa for the Australian market. And, of course, their dedication to Scandinavian makers remains unparalleled in this country.
It’s all a part of why Anton has customers who now come in because their adult children have grown up with the furniture and are buying it themselves. With three children of his own, he understands the importance that furniture has not only in houses but in families. “People are looking for things that mean something and have resonance. Now, more than ever, home is an important space, and people need to feel warm and happy, more and more.” His children love their Bear Chairs by Hans Wegner as their father does, and Anton hopes he has taught them well. “They think I’m a lunatic because I say, ‘Don’t push the [dining] chairs all the way under the table!’ I hope I teach them by osmosis.”