How a Melbourne furniture maker made a hit

How a Melbourne furniture maker made a hit

Jul 14, 2020

James Belias

 

I first saw the fantastic record storage cabinets made by custom Melbourne furniture maker Kithe in an Instagram ad. It was one of those ads that just magically appear at the right time. You know the feeling. You suspect that your phone is eavesdropping on your every conversation and you simultaneously marvel at the technology as well as cursing it.

My wife and I had just moved to a new house and we were discussing where things will go and where we could invest to make the best use from our new space. When I mentioned that I’d need more space for my record collection, she showed me a screenshot of one of Kithe’s custom made record cabinets: The Lucy.

I was blown away we’d both seen the same ad and that we’d both felt compelled to screenshot it too. The Lucy unit looks simply perfect for record collectors that want something more considered than an IKEA Kallax unit (basically the industry standard). I reached out to Chris Booth, Kithe’s Managing Director, to find out more.

Why bespoke? Because it can be a reflection of yourself

“With bespoke furniture, my clients have got the opportunity to be more creative and contribute their own preferences for certain colours, shapes or timbers that might complement their home better,” Chris tells me. “It’s a chance to have a piece in your home that’s a reflection of yourself and not something you’re going to see anywhere else.”

It’s this appeal for something handmade and lovingly crafted that is the difference between mass-produced flat-pack units and a bespoke piece. No visitor to my house has ever commented on my Kallax units.

I’ve been buying records for 30 years and one thing I can tell you is this: They’re not that easy to store. Sure they’re mostly uniform in size, but records can weigh a lot and collectors tend to want to keep them in the best possible condition. And so Kithe use strong timbers like American Oak for these particular units. It’s something that Chris knows is important.

“The security of these valued pieces is crucial. Clients spend years curating collections so I need to guarantee that the units are safe as houses. Timber on its own is a fantastically strong material, so we need to marry that with rigid and lasting joinery. Suffice it to say; we don’t offer loose adjustable shelves in a vinyl storage piece!”

Custom solutions for infinite variations

Record collectors will no doubt agree that there are infinite variations of set-ups, and this is a challenge that a custom furniture builder will enjoy. From a simple one turntable, amplifier and speaker set-up (and then of course the records), to more complex set-ups involving perhaps two turntables, a mixer (in a traditional DJ set-up) and sometimes other pieces of equipment. There’s no cookie-cutter approach.

“This is the whole ethos of being a custom builder and it’s the fun part of the process,” says Chris. “Our image cache and past projects serve as a jumping off point with a client. From there we inventory the pieces and collection they need stored, and get an understanding of the way they’d like them displayed. For DJs we can actually build in provisions to rotate turntables for battle-mode configurations. We almost never build the same thing twice!

“There’s so many different record player and speaker combinations that it’s important to work with the client to make sure that the record cabinets are a functional showcase, suitable for their needs and not just a standardised model. The record cabinets are designed to recreate the atmosphere that records deserve; it’s an experience, it’s not just playing music through an iPhone. They’re also memories, it pays respect to the work that goes into a record.  A house filled with music always feels warm.” 

Attention to detail is important whether you’re a hobbyist or a seasoned collector. Things like ‘cable-management’ are not left to chance as explained on Kithe’s website (kithe.com.au). Chris is a music lover and a record buyer so he gets it.

“Music is an integral part of my life. I can evoke so many strong memories by listening to the right song. I’ve been collecting records for years and although our small home only allows for a modest-ish collection, I love playing vinyl with the kids. Vinyl and turntable furniture is also such a great niche, there are so many beautiful options in the design and they always look good once stocked with a turntable, amp and a few LPs.”

Spreading the digital word

If you’ve seen Kithe’s ads on Instagram, or you’ve been to the website, you’ve probably seen the Lucy unit. It’s a chart-topper! It has an instantly classic mid-century feel with a rich look and rounded edges. Chris shares my enthusiasm.

“Lucy is definitely a favourite. It was actually a collaboration project between me and Lucy Glade-Wright from Hunting for George. She renovated her living room at home and wanted a stylish and timeless place to house her collection. So we adapted our beloved large rounded corners with American Oak and made a piece that fit the room perfectly. She loved it and the entire project was featured in one of her famed room reveals.

And back to Instagram. The ability to communicate with countless people at any time and build a community has no doubt drummed up additional business for Kithe, but also increased the appreciation of custom made, bespoke pieces. Word of mouth is always important and today’s digital natives are tagging friends, taking screenshots and spreading the word. It helps businesses like Kithe.

“It’s how business is done these days,” says Chris. “If you don’t have a digital presence you don’t exist. Even if it's not using these social channels as e-commerce platforms, it’s about building a community of interest for your brand and voice. Demonstrating the values of your company and showcasing the depth of your brand beyond its products. Word of mouth is still enormously powerful and I encourage all my clients to tell their friends if they are happy with their pieces.” 

How the family Kris Kringle inspired a new career

From a career in building, Chris’s foray into the world of custom furniture was undoubtedly influenced by his father, an engineer by trade who Chris says, “crafted beautiful wooden pieces,” such as tables and cupboards. And the hobby had the family paying attention.

“We used to do a family Kris Kringle and everyone would always hope they got him because he’d make these really elaborate jewelry boxes with secret drawers and brass fixtures. Building is a really rewarding and important profession, but I felt there was an opportunity for me to let out more of my creativity by moving into furniture. It gives me the opportunity to be more artistic in my approach. Also, climbing all over a house frame is definitely a young man's game!”

It was a natural progression, moving from custom tables to other kinds of timber furniture. 

“The more tables I made and delivered, the more I got to see of how people had set their houses up and what kinds of furniture they already owned that they were looking to complement by adding a bespoke table.”

But variation in furniture types and styles is just one part of it. Chris says that the material itself always adds variety to projects.

“We work with a large variety of sustainably sourced and certified local and imported timbers. There’s definitely timbers that are best suited to certain projects. Recycled messmate is an awesome option for a large family table; tons of rustic detail and patina and a beautiful golden hue. Blackwood is my favourite for a detailed cabinet with its flared red/yellow colour and cathedral grain; it also goes great with brass and metal details.” 

Focusing on Sustainability

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly regular part of the conversation, just as selecting timber or finessing details on the finish. Chris explains that this is something his company is interested in and aware of.

“In the last several years there’s been a huge societal change and focus towards sustainability. People are making direct changes; keep cups, composting, sustainably made clothes and moving away from fast fashion, driving less and buying things with less plastic that lasts longer.

“Whenever I meet with clients at our workshop there’s always part of the discussion devoted to the sustainability of the materials. Personally I’ve always been acutely aware of the lasting benefit for our environment. More recently I’ve learned about carbon offsets and storage and I try to impart this insight to my clients (who may not be aware). It's great that they come to me already wanting to use either recycled or sustainably sourced timber. It’s even better that they can walk away with a lasting piece for their home and the knowledge that they’re doing more than just buying a piece of timber furniture. I guess it's all about having the conversation. About educating people as they come to me so they’re aware of the positive impact they're having. 

“I feel that these days people want a tangible outcome for the efforts they make towards our environment. Whether it’s planting a seed, placing a piece of furniture in their home or tracking their donation through the Thank You brand products available now.”