Mar 9, 2020
Jack Auld jokes that he has a love-hate relationship with timber.
He adores showcasing its unique contours and natural beauty in a lovingly crafted, durable and functional piece of furniture.
But it’s also fair to say he doesn’t always appreciate the challenges it can present.
For example, his small but specialised Auld Design team at his Moolap workshop near Geelong refer to his creative pride and joy – the Emily Chair – as “the beautiful nightmare” such is the complexity of build and time required to make it a reality.
But it’s soon apparent that any short-term frustration and hurdles are in time overcome with the immense satisfaction of a job well done and a legacy that he hopes his pieces will be “made to last – kept forever, handed down or sold”.
Much of this relates to his insistence on a quality build, which can often be tested by the sustainable, ethically-sourced Australian hardwood timbers – jarrah, blackbutt, Victorian ash, solid messmate, silvertop ash and solid stringybark among them – he uses.
It also includes signature design tweaks, such as recessed handles and finger pulls for ease of use.
“The main things that drive me are the materials and trying to make things the right way.
The design and aesthetics are important, but I won’t compromise on the quality of the build,” Jack said.
“Making sure that all the little details are perfect can be to the detriment of the bottom line, but overall it’s about letting the natural beauty of the materials do the talking.
“That old-school approach is how we like it. The industry has changed over the years, but (colleague) Marty and I were talking just the other day how we still use traditional saws and sanders as part of our nuts-and-bolts operations, and we use basic machinery that we have to oil now and then and keep the blades sharp.”
It’s that flexibility and back-to-basics approach for each step of the process – from simple concepts using hand drawings and Google Sketch to the countless collaborations on technique, products and design – that Jack finds most fulfilling.
This extends to tapping into his supply network for advice on how to get the best from every piece of timber he uses – “When it comes to timber, those guys are the real experts and know it inside and out,” he said.
He says his trade background and more than 20 years of experience has helped him deal with timber’s ever-changing nature, particularly to preserve its structural integrity as each piece gradually morphs from dream to reality.
“I do love (working with wood), but the most challenging part is it’s essentially living and never stops moving, so you have to use different techniques and rely on the expertise of those around you to allow for it.
“You can’t just do whatever you like with it because it will move or warp, so when designing you always have to look a few steps ahead to know how the material is going to perform and adapt.
“As jobs are taking shape, there’s often a lot of design considerations and details that need to be ironed out. Along the way we sketch and work things out as they’re evolving.
“It’s satisfying creatively - not as satisfying for the lead times - but it’s the only way we can do it.”
It’s that time-honoured process that has helped Auld Design evolve from a home workshop to premises in North Geelong, a “dusty” shed at Ocean Grove, and now to the Moolap workshop with a showroom to enhance the touch-and-feel experience for client.
And it’s why he instils in clients the importance of a maintenance mindset that adds to the emotional attachment and sense of ownership.
“If you’re going to make an investment, you’ll want to protect it,” he said.
Part of this can be as simple as placing this “hero” piece out of harm’s way – such as away from direct sunlight. But it’s also educational, sharing his knowledge for longevity. As a self-confessed “nerd” for hand-rubbed natural oils, Jack says the lack of artificial barriers increases durability and allows furniture to “breathe and behave and feel like timber is meant to”.
“With timber, it needs to be maintained, but it’s not going to be necessary every year (if you’re time-poor),” Jack said. “The beauty is in 10 years’ time you can rub it back and give it another application and it’ll come up as good as new again.
“If you’ve got little kids they may restrict you on doing too much, but you can always bring your dining table back to life once you’re in a better space.”
Jack says trends come and go, but practicality will always be in style.
Photographer: Nikole Ramsay