In an age when three-legged tables and evicted TV units litter our streets come council pick-up day, many people are opting out of "disposable decor" by choosing locally handmade furniture instead.
Trend forecasters such as The Future Laboratory predicted this growing demand for "eternal products", with an emotional connection and more tactility, was an attempt to counter a fast, digital world.
Even IKEA is taking a handcrafted direction. A recent collection, based on traditional Indonesian and Vietnamese crafts, had IKEA's design team learning basket-weaving and bamboo-bending before reinterpreting them for mass production.
Buying genuine handmade furniture in Australia, without the cost-cuts of offshore manufacturing, appears financially inaccessible to most, but former property developer Clare Gilligan is on a mission to convince consumers otherwise. She is the brains behind Makers Lane, a digital marketplace where a customer's design idea is presented online to a large community of small and medium makers who can tender for the business.
"You have to look at lifetime value," Gilligan says. "It's actually cheaper to buy well and buy local than this constant commoditisation and replacing.
"You could buy the eight-seater dining table from the big homewares store for $1800, and be prepared to replace it six or seven years later, or you can have it handmade in Australian hardwoods for $2900. And you know that a skilled craftsperson has spent a week or more of their life making your table."
Makers Lane is a digital marketplace where a customer's design idea is presented online to a large community of small and medium makers who can tender for the business. Photo: Makers Lane
It would be eye-opening for many households, particularly those with an interest in interiors, to record their average annual spend on decor and furniture that has subsequently felt the blow of an eviction. It might still not compare with, say, $8000 for a Myles Gostelow dining table, destined to become a heirloom for future generations, but it's food for thought.
Gostelow is a fine furniture maker based in Tharwa, ACT. Being commission-only, his prices are higher than some on Makers Lane but he is never short of work. "It can take up to four months from commission," he says, "and during that time you can build up a rapport with the client, educate them so they know the story behind the piece and its true value, and they can pass that down to their children."
Gostelow believes customers need this education in the wake of offshore supply chains that have warped all concepts of what time, skill and materials actually cost. Once you get down to the nitty-gritty of cost reduction overseas, the unsustainable social and environmental impact can't be ignored.
Fine furniture maker, Myles Gostelow, believes customers need to be educated in the true value of handcrafted furniture.
Gilligan's model of supporting makers and customers through procurement and beyond, helps to bridge the gap between shop-floor convenience and real-time bespoke. "People are used to walking around shops, touching products and comparing prices," says Gilligan. "We've set up a process that provides transparency and comfort for those new to custom."
On top of genuinely assured quality is the promise of ongoing maintenance; forget your limited warranties and the worry of planned obsolescence, just ask your maker to re-sand your timber table once the children have stopped scribbling on it.
A long lead time and design collaboration can also inspire an emotional connection with the piece, and that grows deeper if there's a personal provenance to the design or material. Gostelow is frequently presented with a specific tree, for instance, which he air-dries over a year and mills himself before collaborating with the client on its reincarnation.
Myles Gostelow can even help reincarnate a specific tree or piece of timber at the client's request.
Gilligan at Maker's Lane describes a silky oak tree that was cut down in a client's garden. It had held the children's swings, their cubby house, and hosted many a climb; now it's the family's dining table.
Skilled makers are easier to directly source in the era of Instagram, especially those just starting out who might come with a discount. There are many established woodwork and crafts schools across Australia, including Richard Crosland's in Alexandria, NSW, and Sturt Gallery in Mittagong, and student exhibitions are a good place to start. Find out about the best craft markets, potter societies or regional craft precincts and stalk your favourite makers before their demand and prices go up.
On top of genuinely assured quality, Makers Lane promises ongoing maintenance in lieu of limited warranties. Photo: Makers Lane
If furniture prices still daunt, kitchenware is a great way to break the ice. You too can own a little piece of Gostelow if you spend $100-200 on a chopping board; it can be made from a favourite felled tree if you're willing to wait, or a slab of timber your grandpa stored away. He has his own burned brand or you can have a special message engraved by hand.
"I have a view that in this modern consumerist age everybody now actually has enough stuff," says Gilligan, "and in actual fact what people are seeking is less stuff??? and one or two things that just bring them joy."
The story The former property developer taking on disposable decor industry first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.