Nine years ago, architect and industrial designer Massimo Buster Minale established Buster + Punch – the “lovechild” of architecture, custom motorbikes and London’s subculture.
Taking a “love of making things and metal” to functional fittings for the home, Massimo’s ever-growing product range is determinedly not boring. “We want to ruffle feathers and get people talking – whether they love or hate us,” he admits. “It’s really important that we are original and bring something new to the market every time we make a product.” This approach, coupled with a desire to change how people feel about design details in their homes – from light switches to cabinetry hardware – has underpinned the brand’s success.
While in Melbourne, we sat down with Massimo Buster Minale to rewind to where it all began, discuss fashion’s influence on Buster + Punch, and learn the biggest headlines for the brand in the year ahead.
Before we dive into your background in architecture and custom motorbike design, I’m interested in your childhood. How has your family and childhood influenced your creativity and drive for innovation?
Massimo Buster Minale: I came from a very design-centric family. I’ve always been surrounded by design and bizarrely, by motorbikes – my family’s always had an interest in motorbikes. My dad had a graphic design company that was huge in the ‘50s and ‘60s, working with fashion brands such as Gucci and Armani. My mum was also a graphic designer and my brothers followed in their footsteps – one a graphic designer and the other in branding. I broke rank to do architecture.
Buster + Punch reflects my love for making things and crafting metal – but this was something I didn’t really do growing up. I love products and making stuff. But I also love the brand, the content and how we market it just as much. It’s all one and the same for me – which I think is why Buster + Punch has been disruptive to a certain extent. It’s a cocktail of great brand, products, packaging and community; a blend of architecture, lifestyle and family legacy.
Now looking to your time as an architect and crafting custom motorbikes by night, how did you merge the two to come up with Buster + Punch?
Massimo Buster Minale: I was an architect at a time when there were no interior designers – or departments – in firms. When I was at architecture firm Richard Rogers, I took it upon myself to start making our own interior fittings because I found it particularly hard to find a brass door handle that matched the light switch and hook for example. It was a very hard process – which is something we wanted to tackle at Buster + Punch, as a fun, exciting and quicker way to specify these interior fittings.
I’ve always loved making things; I did it at architecture firms and I did it by night in my garage making custom motorbikes. Buster + Punch is ultimately the lovechild of architecture, custom motorbikes and London’s subculture.
We are original – we are trying to make a whole new category. My background in motorbikes and London’s subculture for example are the exciting things we pump into what is typically a very boring product type. Because we are new in the space, we are disruptive. That’s part of the fun. You’ve never had a fashion-conscious, 28-year-old be excited about light switches until Buster + Punch came along.
What has been one of your biggest learnings since establishing Buster + Punch nine years ago?
Massimo Buster Minale: Being a creative person, who loves making stuff, has led to Buster + Punch’s extensive product range. We are trying to tell a horizontal story, so you can shop between categories. Historically, the interior space has been characterised by vertical brands that just do one thing.
This leads to the biggest lesson; if you want to have a successful business, at some point, you need to turn off the machines and concentrate on the infrastructure side of the business which I did learn late. Part of our charm is that we do make lots of products, but part of our fault – the reason I’m not on a Lilo in the Bahamas – is that we are not as business savvy [laughs].
Metal is synonymous with Buster + Punch. Why do you love working with metal?
Massimo Buster Minale: When making custom motorbike parts, you have to use solid metal. The cross-knurl pattern that you see on a lot of our products is a hangover from making motorbike parts. In the early days, we just used the same machines; the same processes; the same solid metals.
This was all at a time when interior products were very lightweight – you could only find solid metal products in America. We wanted to be true to ourselves and saw a gap in the market for a more permanent product in the interior fitting space that also felt better underhand. It’s a lot harder to build with solid metals and it’s more expensive, so we try to make it good value for the consumer.
Part of our aesthetic is all around the making process. We were the first to bring cross-knurl into interiors twelve years ago. Craftsmanship is now a look and a texture; rather than how you put something together.
Buster + Punch currently encompasses cabinet and door hardware, electricity, lighting, furniture, lifestyle and now kitchens. How do you ensure the brand’s defining qualities are not lost as your range grows?
Massimo Buster Minale: When it comes to what products we will tackle, we have two main checkboxes. The first is, ‘has it been done before?’ We love to unearth forgotten things around the home and consider what hasn’t been tackled properly. We change the way it looks, and also try to change the way people emotionally connect with these traditionally boring things.
Secondly, we ask ourselves if someone else has done a nice version of a product, ‘is it the best value for the customer?’ That’s how we tackle products.
My main bugbear being in this space is designing for design’s sake – making waste, wasting energy and wasting people’s energy. If it’s been done well before, don’t do it.
It’s really important that we are original and bring something new to the market every time we make a product.
How you are changing people’s perception of certain interior products at Buster + Punch?
Massimo Buster Minale: Architects and designers have always loved the little details such as light switches and door handles. But for the general public, this stuff is an afterthought. People often don’t see the value in what are actually the most important parts of your home; you touch them all the time, and you only put them on the walls once.
To get people excited, you have to change the way they emotionally feel about something. Fashion brands have been doing it for years, through a beautiful retail experience, a beautiful box, and lifestyle content. We’ve tried to bring that to the light switch. That’s why we align ourselves with exciting talent and put them next to our product.
“We want to ruffle feathers and get people talking – whether they love or hate us. We do a lot of things outside of interiors because it rubs people up the wrong way, which we like.”
You’re an avid collaborator. Why is this important to Buster + Punch?
Massimo Buster Minale: From day one, we’ve had a great little community of fashion designers, street artists, tattooists, bike builders, friends and family that we have always worked with to make things.
We always tried to collaborate with people and brands outside of interiors, mainly from the fashion and music industry, to get all of those eyeballs and energy into interiors. Recently we collaborated with Travis Barker, which was odd to some people. We were featured in both Elle Decor and Vogue Living – and at the same time, glossy magazines like People and US Weekly. We want to ruffle feathers and get people talking – whether they love or hate us. We do a lot of things outside of interiors because it rubs people up the wrong way, which we like.
Would you attribute Buster + Punch’s success to your appreciation of the intersection between fashion, music and architecture?
Massimo Buster Minale: Yes. Traditionally interior brands have been set up to offend the least amount of people and sell as many products as possible. We try to split a room and create debate and emotion.
We’ve applied a fashion brand mindset; from the product to the unboxing, to the content, to the relationships. That’s the magic. We call ourselves a ‘home fashion’ brand because we do see ourselves at this intersection.
We want to bring new people into interiors and be as close as possible to popular culture. To do that, you need to have something exciting to talk about.
We were fortunate to feature your home last year which is essentially a “test bed” for Buster + Punch samples. What is the importance of crafting by hand and prototyping the Buster + Punch range in this way?
Massimo Buster Minale: You used the word testbed – I would probably use the word graveyard [laughs]. My house is full of products that never saw the light of day which is quite fun – we’ve made everything from staircases to baby gates. But we aren’t just ‘greasy guys’ in a garage. We are constantly innovating, particularly around LED technology. We want to be at the forefront of crafting through originality and innovation.
My house also includes lots of products and art from brands and friends I really admire. I try to surround myself with stuff that other people make because it’s inspiring.
You live in Stockholm with your family. How does this city, the connection to nature and Swedish culture, influence the way you design?
Massimo Buster Minale: I’ve lived in London for most of my life. It’s an amazing city – it has lots of energy and opportunity – but it can be quite hard to live in. The moment you leave, you soften up a little bit, which makes it hard to go back. But we deliberately put London in our logo – because it’s a constant inspiration for us.
The main things we take from Scandinavian design are; affordability and how well something can be made and cost so little. We try to tap into the fact that everyone in Scandinavia loves design. Scandinavia is a great testbed – if products work in Scandinavia, they’re going to work in the world. But we’re still unashamedly London and UK.
“We’ve applied a fashion brand mindset; from the product to the unboxing, to the content, to the relationships. That’s the magic.”
Massimo Buster Minale: Everything that sells well is typically what we’ve invented from scratch. Our light switch range, cabinet hardware and door hardware and our Buster bowl are all best sellers. This means our message is getting out there, and people are placing value on these small details around their home.
Massimo Buster Minale: We launched the kitchen in the UK and parts of Scandinavia six months ago. We are hoping to bring it to Australia and New Zealand soon.
It’s a freestanding, modular kitchen and works like loose furniture. We’ve got three modules: an island, a base unit, and a tool unit. Our website has a configurator that allows you to build and customise the kitchen yourself. We wanted the experience of a custom motorbike to translate into kitchens; so you’re part of the process and it’s personal. Because it’s freestanding it gets installed in a day – rather than the painful fitted kitchen. It has proven really popular at the moment.
We’ve also just launched ‘bits’ around the kitchen such as shelves, tapware, and solid cast iron pots and pans.
Outside of your modular kitchen launch, what have been some of the biggest headlines for Buster + Punch in 2022?
Massimo Buster Minale: This year we launched a whole new look. Like a fashion brand, we try to bring out a new look every three years. We had the cross-knurl pattern as our first look, linear knurl and now we have ‘Cast’. All of our new product ranges in the next few years will have this rough sand casting aesthetic.
We’re launching these new looks as part of a campaign called House of Buster + Punch that explores shopping by room. We finally have enough product to sell detailed kits for your bathroom, your kitchen, and your living room. The campaign puts celebrities, influencers, dancers and influencers in these rooms, next to our products.
The final important thing: a ‘smart’ offering. We’ve been working on this for the past four to five years, whereby you can now control all of your light switches and lighting through a ‘smart’ app on your phone that connects to Amazon.