DINZ Partner Interview - The Value of Listening

Crestline - a 30 year plus family business.

At the age of 13, Jon Renton was restoring solid timber desks in the back shed at his father, Owen Renton’s commercial furniture business in the Waikato. It was a dusty, yet fitting entry-level role before moving onto deliveries when he graduated at age 16.

Fast forward to 2021 and Jon, now co-director of the family Crestline, joins us on a video chat where we spoke about the past, future and values behind the well known brand.

Jon is excited about the move to their new showroom in the heart of the design community in Parnell and a freshly announced, major partnership between the family business his father founded in 1987 — and Città Design.

“For us, it is about supporting New Zealand design,” he says, and it is fitting: Crestline has a track record of working with and supporting local product designers such as Blender Design, MW Design StudioPLN GroupAtelier Jones among others. Crestline has some more great collaborations to announce later in the year, “exciting times” he says, “so watch this space!”

Throughout our chat there is one word that he keeps coming back to and that is: ‘values’.

From Owen’s early business days, came a very clear set of those which have and continue to help define how the company behaves, including to their staff and in their many philanthropic interests; how it selects the designers they collaborate with; and it is a foundation to how they approach their clients.

One of those anchoring values, he explains, is that of listening

The story he uses to illustrate this goes a little like this: In the 80s, Renton senior was asked into the local Council offices. “They said ‘look, this is our problem; how can you solve it?’ And he listened to each of the staff members,” according to Jon, “and asked them how they would individually go about solving it.

He then effectively put all their ideas together and came back with what was probably a sketch on a piece of paper and…  They were stoked!” he continues. “That's what we do today, we listen and come back with a solution and then work through that with more listening and collaboration”.

This open process and early consensus-making has also allowed the Rentons to be adaptable, to react quickly and get down to the frontline of their operations if and when the circumstances require it.“I've seen a lot of changes in the workplace over time,” he continues, “and we're seeing another monumental shift in the whole workplace design toward a post-COVID world.”

Any predictions?

Yeah, there are a lot of catchphrases at the moment: one being ‘Hybrid Working’,'' says Jon, who has been actively engaging designers and seeking potential gaps in the current and future market. “Workplace footprints may not reduce, but I think the makeup of it will definitely change.

More collaborative spaces [will be needed] because when people go to the office, they will be wanting to collaborate, to meet with the teams, to go through projects or whatever they're working on.” He talks of more innovations in the pipeline to cater for such scenarios. 

One thing Jon is certain will not be changing, however, is their increased focus on sustainability. In a way, he says, commissioning new designers with more stringent environmental and end-of-cycle criteria, “surprisingly simplifies the process,” he confesses, “we have some clear guidelines of what we want the product to achieve and that cuts out a lot of options.

 “We give them clear values we want to achieve: we want it to be sustainable, it needs to be easily transportable, it needs to be unique to us, and at the end of its life, can it be broken down, can be reused, can it be reconfigured?”.

Then, in Jon’s mantra — they listen, action, tweak and repeat the process until their client’s expectations are fully met.

In closing, Jon says, “the past 34 years has been an exciting  journey but we are more excited about the next 30 years working with NZ product designers and partnering with the A&D community to create engaging spaces and furniture where people look forward to coming to work on Monday mornings”

DINZ Interviews

When the opportunity arises, DINZ interviews leading designers from here and overseas. These interviews seek to dig beneath the surface to address the common and uncommon challenges, problems and opportunities the design community faces.