Connecting occupants with nature is currently a key focus of design, often through vertical gardens and greenery. However, furniture and lighting is another conduit – one which the talented Samuel Burns of Sabu Studio is harnessing to its utmost potential. Burns won in three categories at the 2021 VIVID Design Awards with pieces that encourage a thoughtful dialogue with the natural world.

Onu Pendant Light, Pinta Stools. Image: Sabu Studio

2021 VIVID Judges and Winners at Showroom by Bowens. Samuel Burns 5th from left. Onu Floor Light by Sabu Studio in the background. Image: Ray Rolla @rayrollaau

The VIVID Design Awards is a highlight of Decor + Design and the Australian International Furniture Fair, providing an important and highly-respected platform for emerging design talent. In 2021, the trade shows were postponed thanks to lockdowns. However, VIVID was held in November at a bustling satellite event at Showroom by Bowens in Port Melbourne. The 2022 event will be back at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre from 14 – 17 July, with 2022 entries closing on 14 April.

A Crucible for Emerging Design Talent

Growing up in Melbourne, Sam Burns was fascinated with design. After completing a Bachelor of Fine Art, he went on to study Industrial Design; a combination that has given him a diverse range of creative and conceptual skills.

Burns then began working for Melbourne furniture and lighting designer-maker Alex Earl, sharpening his craftsmanship skills before taking the plunge and renting a studio space in 2020. Sabu Studio was born, offering a collection of products, custom design, and fabrication.

Designing a Natural Symbiotic Relationship 

The designer-maker says he constantly draws inspiration from the natural environment in his work. “It’s not a conscious decision. However, it seems to inherently reveal itself in my work through material, form, and symbolism.”

“I’m drawn to the idea of introducing a sense of the natural world into interior spaces. I’m inspired by both Scandinavian and Japanese design aesthetics, and this reveals itself in my work through refined and elegant designs.”

Sustainability will be a focus of Decor + Design and the Australian International Furniture Fair (AIFF) in July, with a new Sustainability Hub hosted by Design Matters encouraging visitors to think about the circular economy and recycled materials. Burns says that he holistically incorporates sustainability, with products that consist predominantly of natural materials.

“I work with timber that is sourced from sustainably managed sources in Australia or overseas. The products are long-lasting and timeless designs that people can utilise and have in their homes for years to come. Every product is made to order which ensures that there is never any excess stock.”

Burns won the 2021 VIVID Lighting Award for Onu Floor Light and the Furniture Award and Authentic Design Alliance Award of Merit for Arc Bench. Both draw inspiration from the natural world.

“The Onu Floor Light demonstrates this through its form, a glimmer of light between the trees. I was interested in the idea of a single vertical length of timber spliced in half and opened up. Its internal core emits the light.”

Onu Floor Light by Samuel Burns, Sabu Studio. Image: Sabu Studio

“Arc Bench symbolically reflects upon the natural landscape through the notion of movement and flow. The work aims to stimulate interaction through both tactile and social engagement. A dialogue and sense of dynamism are defined between the shifting forms, encouraging physical engagement between its users.”

Arc Bench by Samuel Burns, Sabu Studio. Image: Sabu Studio


2021 was the first year that Burns has entered the VIVID Awards. He says he thoroughly enjoyed being involved and having the opportunity to meet other emerging designers.

“VIVID was a really good exhibition with an array of high calibre work. These platforms provide an opportunity to meet and build connections with other creatives and industry people, which is always beneficial to one’s practice and business.”

Sabu Studio promises to go from strength to strength, with Burns currently working on several residential lighting projects as well as his own range. He says that “custom projects can be both stressful and fun to develop and refine. I’m hoping for a bit of downtime soon as I have a few new products which I want to fabricate and release as part of the Sabu range. A long-term vision of mine is to establish a showroom/workshop space in the coming years, so I am slowly working towards that possibility.”

Providing a platform for emerging design talent is an important part of Decor + Design, Australia’s No.1 Interiors Trade Event. The 18th edition of the show will be held from 14 – 17 July at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, hosting the 19th edition of the VIVID Design Awards and other features including the highly-respected Decor + Design Seminar Series and a new Sustainability Hub, curated by Design Matters.

Entrance to the exhibition is free but limited to trade visitors. Register here to be informed when registration opens and tickets are released for the Decor + Design Seminar Series.