In a time when many people buy cheap, plastic, imported furniture, I think it’s really important to highlight the dying crafts of local furniture makers like Michael Hayes.
You know my blog is not about being snobby or saying you can or can’t buy whatever you like at whatever price, and I realise many readers can’t afford to invest in a handmade timber dining table, for example. But one day, when you can, I’d love you to think about saving up for something that will last you generations.
I was thinking recently how my dad has things in his home passed down from his parents and grandparents, and one day, they might be passed down to me. There isn’t much in my apartment worthy of being passed on to my future kids yet, but I hope by the time I have them, I’ll have invested in a few more pieces-for-life. Ironically, my favourite piece of furniture in my home is a vintage marble-topped coffee table I bought on eBay! Anyway, back to Michael!
He’s a third generation joiner, who grew up around timber, and his mother’s an artist. He custom makes furniture to many styles and sizes from his Melbourne workshop, working only with hardwoods, and mostly with Australian timbers. “We work with recycled, reclaimed, salvaged and renewable timbers, and eco plys and, if needed, non-toxic oil finishes,” he says.
Most of the pieces are hand built using older style joinery, for longer lasting furniture. “This is also our way of minimising landfill as my furniture comes with a 20-year guarantee, and if great care is taken with it, it could be passed down through generations. I’m very passionate about the environment, doing as much as I can at the workshop to minimise waste and the use of fossil fuels, at the same time supporting the local community.”
Michael, who shares his space with a guitar and staircase maker and another furniture maker, offers wood chips to locals that get used “for chooks and gardens”. He’s been given cakes, eggs and cookies in return! “Sometimes, if we’re lucky, beer! We also put out offcuts for locals to take as fire wood and in doing this we’ve dropped our rubbish collection to a third of a normal furniture workshop.”
Being environmentally conscious is a real passion for Michael, who has strong opinions on a lot of modern furniture making. “Most modern furniture stores, and you would be surprised who, are now paying to have our timber shipped to China and elsewhere, where it’s cut, dried, milled and then turned into furniture and shipped back at minimal cost to the outlet to maximise profit. Then in turn, the money is sent back overseas, as not a lot of Australians own the larger furniture stores.”
His dream is to open a showroom one day and run it as a co-op. “I have many friends that are artists in their own ways, 4 of whom are furniture makers, who have nowhere to show or sell their work as most furniture outlets will put a 100% mark-up on it. With the co-op, it wouldn’t be more than 30%, or less if they worked in the shop with me.”
Of course, the environment isn’t his only passion. The other is design. “I’m happiest when I can look at a piece of timber and allow it to take its own shape. I’ve really only just touched on the designs I’ve got swimming around in my head. They’re holding strong for the day I can bring them into form. This is my craft and my passion.”
Photography by Ram Naidu.