We recently spent some time with Ross to learn more about his background, his work, and what path led him to where he is today.
Made local by locals. When it comes to Lee Sinclair Design Co, Ross Williamson combines his eclectic life and professional experiences to produce impressive creations that are both aesthetically pleasing and meticulously executed. Based in Queensland, Ross’ childhood love of getting hands-on and finding out how things were made followed him into adulthood, where he found himself being led back towards his passion for craftsmanship and uncovering the natural beauty of wood in the process.
Environmentally conscious and ever-evolving, Ross creates custom-made and bespoke furniture that always strives to leave his clients breathless.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background
My background is a tad eclectic, but as my mother would tell you I’ve always been trying to work out how things were made. When I was 3 or 4 years old, my mother found me trying to take apart the veranda of the local school, and when I was 12 I was already wielding. Though I took woodworking classes at school and loved it, I never thought I could make a living from it so when I graduated I chose to study Mechanical Engineering at Uni. The degree wasn’t what I wanted and I soon lost interest, but when I realised Industrial Design would’ve been a better fit for me and tried to pursue it, my Uni disagreed so I dropped out. The next few years were filled with travel. I worked on a farm in England, explored Europe, and spent some time seeing how other people lived around the world.
Once I returned to Sydney, I studied Business and Marketing, talked my way into a Junior Graphic Design job, and then started freelancing in hospitality. On the odd weekend when I wasn’t working crazy hours, I’d travel up to the Hunter Valley to see one of my older brothers which is where I noticed a large pile of timber fence rails just sitting on his property. I took some of them away with me and began stripping the thick black tar off each board to reveal the stunning reds and greys underneath. That’s when I remembered just how good it felt to get hands-on and allow a material to show off its natural beauty. On a later trip visiting my brother, I met Katelee, my now fiance and business partner.
Within 18 months of us meeting, the idea for Lee Sinclair (Katelee & Ross Sinclair) was born. I spent 2 years in a workshop slowly building up my skills, and one year I was given a short course with Roy Schack in Brisbane as a birthday present from my mother, leading me further down the path towards becoming a full-time furniture designer. Between there and now is a bit of a blur, a lot has happened in 3 years: Katelee and I moved our lives and workshop to Brisbane, exhibited across the country, created and delivered furniture to clients up and down the eastern seaboard. To this day, I still love training and developing my skills with other makers, and try to make the time to study under the tutelage of some of the great furniture makers we have access to in Australia every year.
Has design and woodworking always been a passion of yours?
Yes, design always. I loved woodworking at school, but it was never presented to me as a career path. At school, I was referred to as a “high potential” student so I was pushed towards University. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best pathway for me but I wouldn’t be who I am today without the mistakes I’ve made.
How would you describe your furniture philosophy?
Made to live. I love furniture that becomes part of your life, those are the pieces that have a lifetime of use. I’m not super show-y asI don’t particularly care for high gloss. For me, the beauty is in simple lines and great execution.
Who or what influences your style? How would you describe your aesthetic?
That’s a tough one, especially as we still do quite a bit of custom work and that I’ll happily work outside of my comfort zone with it. Custom work helps me develop skills that I may not push myself towards within my own aesthetic. That said, I’m not 100% sure that I’ve actually nailed down my style just yet. I guess it’s something that will be constantly developing as I progress in my career. Right now, our aesthetic is quite simple, there’s definitely some Danish influence in there, and some Shaker. In fact, one of our pieces was recently described as “definitely Australian”…
Your work is ‘made local by locals’. What is the importance of creating furniture locally?
Apart from keeping the local economy healthy, I personally believe it’s becoming more and more important to empower industries that allow people to work with their hands. While we live in a digital moment in time where the majority of jobs are done behind a screen, people like myself just aren’t cut out for it. I’m seeing a lot of CV’s from engineers and designers wanting to get out of the office.
Why is locally sourcing your materials important to you?
I know where the materials come from and that I can trust their quality. I have a great relationship with my local Brittons Timbers, and even though I’m not their biggest client I’m always looked after as if I am.
What materials do you tend to use? Why?
I try to use Australian timbers when possible, but it’s a balancing act. American timbers like Oak and Walnut are popular so clients will often ask for them, and when they’ve already got furniture made from those materials in their homes it’s a hard task to sell them something slightly different. That said, we’ve got some absolutely stunning native timbers. Tasmanian Blackwood is a personal favourite, as well as Black Bean. They’re both darker timbers. In terms of veneers or hardwood, I’m not precious about using either as they each have their place. When a piece is designed well and the joinery is done with care, both materials can last a lifetime. Plus, I quite like the contrast between metal and timber.
Is sustainability an important part of your design process?
Very much so. From the quality of the joinery in use to ensure the piece lasts a lifetime, to the choosing material from selected boards. We’re always trying to make sure that the maximum amount of material from a board is used to minimise wastage. Smaller products are developed around offcuts, the leftovers of the leftovers are offered to the local Men’s Shed to be made into another sort of product. In the future, we’d love to have no waste leaving the workshop. Finishes are another battleground when it comes to sustainability. We try to use as much natural finish as possible in our products, for both our own health as well as everyone else’s.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from past furniture makers?
Possibly overused, but I like Ray & Charles Eames position on furniture where you try and achieve a level of high quality without taking the final piece out of reach from the majority of households. I think we’re living in a time where makers are reaching levels of quality in workmanship that are outstanding. The work that’s currently on show is, at times, flawless. It’s a great time to come into the industry, as we’ve got so many talented makers who are willing to open their workshops to teach, and who all want to see our industry improved for future generations.
What’s been the most memorable project you’ve completed so far?
All of the projects I’ve worked on have been pretty memorable so far. That said, ‘Betty’ the Tasmanian Blackwood Cabinet on Stand that I made for Wood Review’s’ Studio Furniture’ Exhibition in 2018 comes to mind. It was the first exhibition quality piece I’d made without direction in our very own workshop, and was a huge boost for my confidence in my skills.
Visit Ross’ Handkrafted profile to see more from his portfolio or to get in touch.
Handkrafted is a community marketplace connecting people with passionate makers to commission bespoke furniture and lighting. We have brought together hundreds of Australian independent, bespoke craftspeople and artisans who specialise in producing high quality, sustainably made, custom pieces.
Our makers can help you realise your own idea or collaborate with you on a new design. Many also feature a range of original designs that can be made to order or customised to suit your specific needs. Whichever option you choose, we’re here to help make it happen.
Support local makers and kick-start your own project today.