Geoff Carney – Bago Woodworks

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The winner of the 2005 Australian Design Awards for Dining room furniture was local business Bago Woodworks. Their pieces are hand crafted from Australian Hardwoods, which are rarely used in fine furniture but give their designs a beautifully unique and resilient finish. We catch up with owner and designer Geoff Carney after winning the award.

> Tell us a little about Bago Woodworks.

The seed for the creation of Bago Woodworks was developed in New Zealand in the early 1990s when after travelling I worked for a business called ‘Wooden Workshop’ in Mt Eden, Auckland. The guys at ‘Wooden Workshop’ (3 partners) primarily created unique timber furniture from reclaimed timbers including Kauri and Remu.These were sourced from the demolition of woolsheds and redevelopment sites around Auckland.

Although these guys where a little ‘left field’, their capabilities where admirable. What they lacked in business acumen they made up for in enthusiasm, and maintained a solid manufacturing business.

On completion of my stint at the ‘Wooden Workshop’ I imported a container of their products to Australia, mainly to observe the reaction and saleability of quality wooden furniture in a primarily “pine board and pine“ local market.

So, some nine years later a suitable site was identified to develop a unique restaurant/showroom/workshop complex to create/ display and eventually retail the products from. We felt at this stage that people were looking for a better product in their furniture than imports, stained pine and pine board. Something that was a little unique, Australian made of local timbers and representing quality that could be passed down through their family.

In 1999 construction was completed on the site opposite Timbertown in Wauchope; there Bago Woodworks and Carney Design were born in a 200m workshop – with two staff, a bag of enthusiasm and a road map of where we wanted to take it.

Two years ago I was fortunate enough to come across two special people – Dean Lovell and his partner Anneke Hurenkamp, who had just completed a five year sailing adventure from Holland to Australia.

Anneke was an intensive care nurse and Dean a manufacturer from New Zealand.Dean’s former company was responsible for the development and manufacture of the majority of bicycle helmets, seen on Australian shelves and around the world, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of helmets each year.

Last year Dean and Anneke took on a partnership with us and today they provide a huge part of a small team of boutique furniture makers known as Bago Woodworks.

Furniture by Bago Woodworks

Furniture by Bago Woodworks

> You won the 2005 Australian design Award for Dining Room Furniture. A huge achievement. Tell us about the award.

What about the hangover? Yes, design recognition for a small “boutique“ team of furniture makers is huge.

The FIAA (Furniture Industry Association of Australia) conducts the International Furniture Fair in Darling Harbour each year as a platform for new product releases on a world market; unfortunately Australian made furniture is becoming such a small percentage.At the culmination of this fair is industry recognition in the shape of the Australian Design Awards. These were presented at a gala function held at ‘Dockside’ Darling Harbour; this is the FIAA ‘night of nights’.

From three finalists Australia wide, Bago Woodworks had the honour of winning one of the four awards presented; The 2005 Australian Design Award for Dining Room Furniture.

As a result Bago Woodworks will receive considerable exposure in ‘House and Garden Magazine’ (House & Garden are a major sponsor of the awards) and ‘House & Garden Home Show’ at Darling Harbour later this year. The FIAA will take our range to Perth in November for further exposure to both western and international markets.

> What is your  favourite piece that you’ve created over the years?

Isn’t it funny how there’s always a soft spot for something you created and just don’t want to get rid of?. In my case it is a two draw buffet, contemporary in design and was created in the early days of Bago. This piece has been to more furniture shows than any other and still holds pride of place in my environment. It was named ‘The Queen’ by a close friend, claiming it has been photographed more than The Queen herself.

Geoff Carney

Geoff Carney

Design is all about balance and this piece is just that – a combination of recycled blackbutt from the Newcastle wool sheds (demolished around 2000 to allow for redevelopment of the Newcastle Foreshore.) We were lucky enough to secure a reasonable amount of this recycled timber and have since made some great pieces out of this beautiful wood.

It is full of character and history; imagine the life story of timber like this, reformed into furniture for the next chapter of its existence.

> What influences do you draw on for your work?

I think coming from a background of building and architecture (especially commercial/ industrial architecture,) has had a significant influence – our style of furniture is definitely contemporary styled. The simplistic yet functional side of commercial design is evident in our products, right down to the custom orb iron (profile machined to the top of a recent cabinet). The use of different species of timber, different mediums like stainless steel and glass; coupled with soft finishes like ostrich leather provide a creative playground to work in.

The recent introduction of ostrich leather to our dining chairs has been great. At a furniture show in Sydney some time ago we were approached by an Australian producer of ostrich products to try and introduce the leather into soft furnishings, until then it has been primarily exported overseas to the shoe and hand bag markets.

Although not as price appealing as traditional leather, the uniqueness and individuality is fantastic. The other area of influence is marine design which creates some left field ideas based on curves and laminates.

> What is the most unusual piece that you have been  commissioned to do?

When doing an exhibition or furniture show, I always try to produce a piece a little ‘left field’ or outside the box‘ to provide an example of uniqueness in contemporary furniture.

We have been so fortunate over the years to have worked with some great clients – who are totally committed to creating and achieving that something special in furnishing their environment.

This creation will be part of their family for decades and allows Bago Woodworks to be part of the process.

> What is your  favorite timber to work with?

Wood is a great medium to work with. It enables you to express your design, but it never gives up its own individuality. Primarily the majority of furniture in Australia has been of softwoods like the cedars, rosewoods and pine.

At Bago Woodworks we committed ourselves very early to Australian hardwoods, like blue gum, flooded gum, blackbutt and spotted gum. These are primarily used as construction and structural timbers but rarely in fine furniture. Things like access to quality timbers, difficulty in gluing, stability and finishing have made it easy for furniture makers to overlook it.

Australian hardwoods are some of the most beautiful and resilient timbers in the world; this was highlighted recently when we exhibited in Toronto Canada to some 35,000 retailers and interior designers, the response to our local hardwood timbers was overwhelming.

Unfortunately nowadays we have let our beautiful timbers be exported in a raw and log form, to countries that mass produce products for the Australian markets rather than value adding here.

> What other projects have you been working on lately?

You shouldn’t have started me, my passion is sailing followed by sailing then sailing, after some two years we completed a full restoration of a beautiful 37 ft yacht; originally designed and built by George Griffin in Sydney Harbour in 1937. JULNAR has an amazing history courtesy of Middle Harbor Yacht Club and its use for training in the war years. It is now back in Sydney enjoying the recognition she deserves.

So to feed the passion we currently have a 42 ft traditional sloop under construction, based on 1950’s design but constructed of foam sandwich laminate – coupled with some creative timberwork as you would expect. Yet to be named (suggestions please) the sloop is approx 85% complete and we expect to launch her later in the year in Port Macquarie.

> What does the future hold for bago woodworks?

In 2003 we saw a major expansion of Bago Woodworks; from a 200m workshop to some 1000m floor area. This move came from the conclusion that in commercial furniture manufacturing in Australia we not only have to be creative designers but also ensure we maintain control of the raw product; the introduction of value adding became obvious.

Today Bago Woodworks sources timber including blackbutt, blue gum, flooded gum, brush box to name a few from tree loppers, private property clearing and residential tree removal. It is then milled on site, air-dried and then placed through a solar kiln to provide a quality raw product of suitable size and moisture content. The consolidation of the past few years along with the introduction of computer aided machining facilities has provided a platform for the future of Bago Woodworks.

Not to mention the introduction of a range of Australian hardwood homewares including contemporary cheese and pâté boards and a range of joinery products including entry doors for the building industry. Towards 2007 the most exciting development will be our rollout of bago retail, a unique retail model featuring fine Australian furniture and contemporary home and giftware.

Since our success, Bago Woodworks and Carney Design have been working closely with the FIAA on several projects. One being project design and manufacture concepts. This introduces young designers and makers into a working environment that allows them to determine and fine tune processes and assess commercial viability for production of our products into Australian export markets.

To expect the destination to be as rewarding as the journey may be asking too much!

> Thanks for your time Geoff

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