Local fine furniture specialists Chris and Kim Francis have been hand crafting solid timber furniture since 1982. What begun as timber boat restoration has blossomed into a family business of prestige and character and a labour of love. Chris discusses the unique character of Australian hardwood, its environmental sustainability and the challenges that come with creating such majestic furniture.
So Chris, how long have you been designing and hand crafting solid timber furniture?
Well, at Francis Furniture we have been hand crafting solid timber furniture since 1982, so we’ve been doing it for quite a while. I started doing furniture in my apprenticeship days building boats back in Sydney. Most of the boats we were building were solid timber boats for rowing clubs and things like that.
The rowing clubs used to slow down in winter time, and quite often if we couldn’t get ourselves bigger jobs like building a large sailboat, for instance, we began doing a bit of furniture work.
It has really grown since then?
It has evolved a lot from there. We had a nice little project back then, furniture as well as sailboats, but we really solidly started building furniture in 1982.
Tell us about the different types of environmentally friendly Australian hardwood that is used at Francis Furniture.
We use lots of different Australian hardwood. We do use quite a few overseas timbers as well, but we mostly use Australian hardwood – they are a beautiful timber and so nice to use. We use mostly Bluegum, Rosegum, Jarrah and Blackwood.
They would be the top four timbers we use. The Blackwood is mainly Tasmanian Blackwood and the Jarrah is from Western Australia, but the Bluegum and Rosegum come from around this area.
As far as being environmentally friendly and sustainable, the Australian timber industry really has been sustainable for hundreds of years. We’ve had some major difficulties along the way, particularly with the creation of a whole lot of new national parks, which essentially were created out of state forest reserves.
So when they’ve taken a lot of the reserves away, they have made it very difficult and put a lot of pressure on the state forests being sustainable. But they are pretty good; they know that we’ve got a reserve that is one of the best reserves in the world and a product that is one of the best products that you can possibly get for environmental friendliness.
Essentially, timber is sunlight locking up carbon, so there’s a bit of a fact for you. Actually, when you think about it, it is one of the few building products which is not only beautiful and people love to use to see and touch, but it’s also one of the few building products that is really totally renewable in just a few short years.
So from 20 to 100 years, it’s totally renewable. You can’t renew your iron ore or your concrete that quickly; sure, there are huge reserves for that, but you still need to renew it, you know. As far as timber is concerned, it really is renewable forever.
You create a broad range of pieces at Francis Furniture, anything from household furniture to boats. What custom designs are the most popular with customers at the moment?
Well, custom designs … generally it’s the entertainment units that we get most of the custom designing in. Because they are usually something that people want and they need to be specifically designed to suit the pieces that they’ve got already … you know the TV and the DVD and all that sort of stuff.
They are often designed to fit in a fairly difficult area of the room. They have to be designed for a particular size and style to suit the rest of the decor.
The tables and chairs we do are generally more standard lines, but there is a whole range of things when custom designing.
Sometimes you get a customer who wants an entire library full of bookcases or moving stairs or things like that. Those sort of jobs don’t come along all that often, but when they do it’s great, because the whole thing becomes a bit of a challenge for us.
You enjoy the challenge that the different projects present?
Every job that comes through, we handle such a wide variety of jobs, that it’s terrific. We’re never bored and always challenged with something different to do.
It must take a lot of time and skill to produce such quality timber pieces. What’s an important thing to remember when crafting solid hardwood?
The important thing to remember, particularly with solid hardwood, is that every individual piece of timber is unique. You’ve got to try and bring out the qualities of that individual piece of timber to suit the piece of furniture that you build.
You could use a slightly boring piece of timber in an area where it is really not going to be seen or noticed, but particularly at times you have to use the best piece of timber you can get and put the grain around the right way and treat the timber in such a way that really shows it off. That’s the most important thing.
Apart from recognising the fact that timber is a living product, that it continues to move and breathe, you have to kind of allow for that. Every individual piece of timber is different. Even from one end of the plank to another, you can even see it going from a hard curly piece of timber, down to something a lot smoother and easier to plane, shall we say.
Just appreciate the detail of the timber and focus on bringing that out.
What do you enjoy most about living and working in the region?
What’s not to enjoy? Look at the day; it’s beautiful and it’s mid winter! The entire area geographically is terrific, being situated reasonably close to Sydney, fairly close to Brisbane and close to nearly everywhere, really.
But also, the climate is brilliant, the people around the Port Macquarie area are just so marvellous as well. It’s a very nice area, and I couldn’t think of a better place to live, personally.
Thank you Chris.