Christopher Blank is the love child of husband and wife duo Luke (Christopher) Atkins and Veronica (Blank) Paiva. Their Melbourne-based, custom design studio is dedicated to creating functional, well-made furniture and homewares from sustainable timber. James hopped on the phone with the creative couple to hear their story and discuss why bespoke craftsmanship makes them, and workshop hounds Betty and Barberella, happy.
When I spoke with Luke and Veronica, I couldn’t help but feel liberated by their vibrant personalities and passion towards the delicate art of the furniture trade. Having stalked their Instagram account, which is filled with images of their stunning products and a sprinkle of clips that capture their weird and wonderful workshop antics, I was fully prepared for a dose of inspiring conversation.
Veronica was first to pick up the phone. ‘Luke’s just putting a coat on a piece, so I’m sitting in the car park of the factory like a lizard trying get some sun in the Melbourne weather,’ she began. ‘There’s never a dull moment around here.’
Since the age of sixteen Veronica has worked in visual merchandising. ‘I’ve been doing VM for a very long time, like too long, so it makes me sound really old and I’m not,’ the now thirty-two year old told me. ‘My career has seen me dabble in all sorts of jobs but I currently work in the beauty sector as the national VM manager for Mecca Cosmetica. We have over sixty luxury brands across Australia and New Zealand and I look after thirty six stores,’ Veronica explained. ‘It’s been a really interesting venture for me and there’s no doubt it has had a profound impact on my eye for design.’
Faced with the challenge of juggling two jobs, Veronica works until whatever hour she has to at the office to ensure that she is fully focused on Christopher Blank when she gets home. ‘I try to keep the two separate as much as possible but it is really difficult,’ she shared. ‘It’s not only challenging from a business perspective but also on our relationship. We argue over the silliest little things but it’s actually brought us much closer together. We bounce off each other with ideas and have a really good laugh. It’s seven days a week but for some reason we just don’t care. We’re just so happy.’
‘When you find something that you really love you have an infinite amount of energy for it.’
‘For a long time I have had an affinity for design and the processes involved in shaping something into an object that people can cherish forever. As much as I love visual merchandising, I’ve definitely found something else in myself through Christopher Blank,’ Veronica emoted. ‘I have rediscovered my artistic roots since forming the business. I even took up a technical drawing course to translate our ideas onto paper without having to use computer generated practices. Technology takes the life out of things.’
For Luke, a love for the qualities of wood has run in his blood from a young age. ‘Not long after finishing school, Luke started a carpentry apprenticeship,’ Veronica went on. ‘He had this crazy boss who used to make him do the most ridiculous jobs and he’d just do them. I am pretty sure he wasn’t qualified a lot of the time but Luke would just get on with the job and really began to develop some skills most builders probably wouldn’t have. He’d do anything from mansions in Camberwell to heritage homes and pools, so he’s kind of like a jack-of-all trades.’
Frustrated by seeing bad architecture and poorly made homes, Luke then started to dabble around in furniture-making. Two knee reconstructions later he was essentially forced into putting down the carpentry tools and it’s been a blessing in disguise. ‘He is not trained in making furniture but things come naturally to him and he’s very meticulous. He won’t let anything out of the door until it’s absolutely 150% perfect,’ Veronica described. ‘Soon enough we caught the bug and were furniture obsessed. We thought to ourselves; Look we’ve been married for a couple of years, we don’t have a mortgage and we don’t have any kids. Why don’t we just give it a crack?’
Cue the birth of Christopher Blank over a couple of beers.
At this point Luke joined the conversation and I could almost see his smile from my end of the phone line. Not only is the man fiercely talented but he has one of those “high-on-life”, hard yakka kind of attitudes that is rare to come by in the creative industries.
So I noticed in your Handkrafted profile you mentioned that you like to maintain the integrity of the materials you use, Are you able to expand on this sort of philosophy? I prompted.
‘We love the smell of timber and the way it looks, so we try to preserve the original form of our materials as much as possible throughout the production process.’
Lately we have been getting into powder coating but we’ve been careful to make sure these sections are secondary to respect the character of the individual planks of wood,’ Luke responded. ‘A lot of what we use is recycled stuff from housing demolitions which is good because it gives you a surprise pack of materials. Every now and then, I get a text message from a builder I know from my time as a chippy, and I go on a bit of a road trip to pick it all up. I always pack too much into my car so I’m surprised my roof hasn’t fallen in yet!’ he joked. ‘But not everyone wants that sort of timber so Britton Timbers and Shiver Me Timbers are my other big sources.’
The dynamic duo are also not afraid to collaborate with craftspeople outside of their Carrum Downs based factory. ‘We’ve started to experiment with metalworkers and maintain a close relationship with our talented friends at Weekdays Creative in Carlton,’ Veronica expressed. ‘To be honest it all starts with a blank page and the inspiration really comes from the client’s brief. We get down pretty granular with them and try to take them on a journey with us, even if this means enlisting the help of artisans more suited to certain tasks.’
‘We are influenced by everything and anything; we love to surf, we love our jobs and the rest sort of just happens organically.’
‘Often we get sent jobs with an image of a Mark Tuckey product, for example, asking us to replicate his work. But that’s just not Christopher Blank and we’ll do whatever it takes to retain an original aesthetic throughout our furniture portfolio. I think one thing that’s beginning to shine through in our pieces is proportion. It wasn’t deliberate but we’re pretty stoked that it’s becoming our trademark.’
‘It’s funny we were speaking to a good friend of ours who is in the arts scene the other day and she noticed that a lot of furniture makers like to get in their little “cocoon” and get really into the zone in their workshops,’ Veronica picked up. ‘That’s cool but we firmly believe that 80% of it is being really personable and fun to be around. We want to be different in the way we service our customers.’
‘The final thing we would suggest is networking and supporting your local pool of likeminded professionals. Handkrafted has done just that and more for us and we are extremely grateful for that,’ she concluded. ‘The amount of furniture makers we have met through Handkrafted is unbelievable and the support we give eachother keeps a smile on our dial.’
Christopher Blank joined the Handkrafted community in June 2014. ‘We were drawn to what Fred is doing because we think it’s quite a unique proposition.’
‘We have a lot of respect for the Handkrafted philosophy as we’re attracted to the notion of celebrating traditional furniture methods. It’s a dying craft and the emergence of mass producing manufacturers, like IKEA, and new technology has made it difficult to come across something that is originally yours and built to last.’
‘My mum and dad come from Argentina and have passed down this little kitchen table. It’s a shitty table but underneath it is a series of drawings my sister drew when we were toddlers. We’ve had it forever and I refuse to let go of it. Furniture should be something that can be cherished forever and passed down through the generations. For this reason we take a lot of care to work closely with our clients to design and create timeless items that is of sentimental value. Regardless of how many screw ups we make, it is humbling to sit back and think we have made a difference to people’s lives.’
Luke and Veronica recently completed their third commissioned work for Handkrafted. 20 coffees, 79 emails, 10 phone calls and 4 texts later they are proud to add another happy customer to their list. ‘Christopher Blank is a learning curve and we are thoroughly enjoying the ride while it lasts.’
What’s next for Christopher Blank? ‘Going Ga-lobal,’ Luke chuckled. ‘We would like to construct some smaller home range items to put up on our website. We have a bunch of rad ideas down on paper so we are just waiting for some spare time to make them. But no, we aren’t aspiring for global domination, at the end of the day we just want this to be full time for us. It’s all we care about, so we will do what ever it takes to get us there.’
Photos By Weekdays Creative.
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