Creating and delivering lifetime designs by hand

21 June 2021

Nicole Bittar

A passion for the craft, pride in workmanship and hand delivery in its home state of every piece of customised furniture have collectively carved a solid niche for established designer and director of Davis Furniture, David Baumann.

His 35-year design and business background, including a Reginald Muir scholarship and eight-year traineeship worldwide in 1996 from the Furniture Industry Association of Australia to study leading lights in international design, has garnered a swag of accolades.

David’s extensive portfolio of work, such as the Kew house, for which he handcrafted all the furniture, joinery and fittings, has also appeared in countless design magazines. But industry recognition is no substitute for client reaction. David says when he and his Bayswater North design team deliver their handcrafted timber furniture to its Victorian buyers, the expression of sheer elation is hard to describe. The term “exceeding expectations” comes close to reflecting the personal rewards and spirit of achievement.

“I get a trophy every time I deliver a piece of furniture, and I’m not spruiking it. The quality of the wood speaks for itself,” David says.

“There’s no way to describe the professional satisfaction it brings. We’ve even received hugs, kisses and tears of joy.”

Davis Furniture team portrait

David and his team of six, including his son, Tom, 23, trade teachers and apprentices (who are on the move to larger premises), might represent a far cry from the halcyon days, circa 1990s, when Davis Furniture was a 60-strong enterprise supplying Australia’s largest retailers.

He attributes two factors to adversely affecting the furniture industry. One is the low cost of imports (including buyer naivete) and the second is the undercutting of exports, whereby timber sold in bolsters is offered for a proportion of its value.

“Once China and other markets got our timber in their hands, our main point of difference was gone,” David rues. “It was as big an impact as the (poorly manufactured) imports coming back at half the price.”

Timber bedside table by Davis Furniture

The year 2020 was a further testing ground for the sole or small-business practitioner. However, the financial pressures of the global pandemic — in which David says “the state government locked us down and the federal government came to the rescue with incentives” — served to broaden work scope. This included rising to design challenges that might otherwise have been rejected.

David says large-scale projects, including hand-carved American-style Oak bedroom furniture and pedestals on a 3.6-metre dining table, crafted from a 250-metre-square piece of timber, which, albeit not to his taste, were taken on and successfully completed — despite their grandiose nature and production obstacles.

But his long-term vision for sustainable timber is more simplistic and straightforward. “My goal as far as timber goes is for it to not only be there while my business is operational, but to also be there for many, many, many years to come,” David says.

Timber kitchen table by Davis Furniture

How does he endeavour to fulfil long-term industry aims? “Whatever we as manufacturers have to do to support that as an outcome, I will vigorously pursue and do.”

As such, the handful of dedicated staff at Davis Furniture remain passionate advocates for handcrafting timber furniture designs and promoting the longevity of sustainable timber.

Their team spirit, work quality and sustainable business practices speak for itself. David nurtures the lifeblood of the raw material and industry livelihood of sustainable timber as the ‘ultimate renewable’. He does so by sourcing only responsibly sourced and reclaimed timber (from FSC-certified suppliers Britton Timbers and reclaimed timber specialist Timberzoo).

“The timber I use, Victorian ash, Tasmanian oak, Tasmanian blackwood, Queensland spotted gum and blackbutt, is all regrowth,” David says. “They’re all high quality Australian hardwood and take up to 60 years to grow.”

Timber bed frame in bedroom by Davis Furniture

He says the life cycle of sustainable timber warrants a shared responsibility for growers, suppliers and practitioners.

“As long as for every tree that’s harvested, there’s a plan in place to replant it and let it grow and be environmentally effective, which I know that Britton and my other suppliers do (their FSC certification proves it!), the future of sustainable timber is in good hands.” Like the raw material, this cause is strengthened if the aspirations, advocacy and business practices of David and co. are to be replicated.

“I am very passionate about my business and the industry, you can probably hear that,” he remarks. “And that comes through to my customers. So, 95 per cent of what we make is custom made. I do use board and solid timber, and that’s to support the yield and prolong the longevity of the timbers. Plus, I use pine internally in my drawer boxes, where you don’t really need a hardwood to do the job.”

The creative process also helps to fuel David’s passion for sustainable timber as the ‘ultimate renewable’.

“It’s a very rewarding experience to work with a client in producing their bespoke piece of custom-made furniture to suit their requirements.”

Home office interior with timber furniture by Davis Furniture