After moving to Copenhagen with his partner, Stephen Ziguras was offered the opportunity to take over a small workshop. We recently spoke to Stephen about where he started and the path that led him to where he is today.…
Having been designing and making furniture for over a decade, Stephen Ziguras knows his stuff. After moving to Copenhagen with his partner, Jenny, Stephen took over a small workshop, finally starting his woodworking career in earnest. That’s where Eco wood design flourished, and where Stephen’s journey as a full-time woodworker began.
Specialising in custom-designed furniture and using sustainably sourced new and recycled timber, Stephen creates eye-catching and elegant pieces that are designed to last. Inspired by the clean lines of the Arts & Crafts movement, the elegance of mid 20th Century Danish furniture, as well as the balance and restraint of Japanese artistry, Eco wood design lets the timber and design speak for itself. Each piece tells its own story and is created through a creative collaboration between maker and client.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to furniture making.
I’ve been a lifelong woodworker, and have been making furniture since 2000. I’ve always loved the beautiful grain, colours and textures of timber and I deeply admire the amazing skills that craftspeople bring to their work. When I started making furniture, I really enjoyed the process of starting with a general idea and then seeing it transform into reality – usually with a fair bit of modification along the way.
You have said that while you were designing and making furniture for more than a decade, your life as a woodworker started in earnest in 2010. Who or what inspired you to make the leap and start your own business?
In 2010, my partner Jenny and I moved to Denmark. While there, I started woodworking part-time at a small workshop run by another woodworker called Simon. The workshop was in a street called Teglgårdstræde (Tileyard Street) not too far from where we lived, and when Simon moved out to a bigger workshop a few months after I started there, he suggested I take over his workshop. It seemed like a great opportunity to start doing furniture-making full-time, so I set up a business to make custom-designed furniture. I got more work than I thought I would at the start, partly because I took on any work I could get, from designing, making bowls, furniture, installing kitchens, making windows, to renovating apartments. It was a pretty steep learning curve! After living in Copenhagen for a few years, Jenny and I moved back to Melbourne in 2013, where I decided to continue making homewares and bespoke furniture through my business Eco wood design.
Is sustainability important to you when making furniture? Why?
Sustainability is important for both the materials and the finished piece. I want to make things which will last so I use techniques which will ensure the piece is able to adapt to changing temperature and humidity. The sustainability of furniture timber is a vexed issue. Forestry managers will often have a 80-100 year rotation so that small areas of forest are left to regrow for 100 years before reharvesting. However, large scale felling even at this rotation can jeopardise some species of flora and fauna.
The Forestry Stewardship Council accreditation process is an attempt to provide certainty to end users about the sustainability of timber, but even though it’s widely accepted, some environment groups still argue that it’s inadequate or potentially open to mismanagement. In my own work, I try to use only local and imported timber from sustainable sources meaning that I won’t use timber from tropical areas of Latin American or South East Asia. I also like to use recycled timber but, of course, that is also a finite resource. In the long run, I hope that we’ll see the establishment of plantation forests for furniture production in the way that there’s now plantations for building timber (Radiata pine) and paper (mostly Bluegum).
What materials do you enjoy to use most?
I love solid timber, particularly the Australian timbers Red Gum and Blackwood. I’ve also started using veneers more often, as veneered work is better suited to some things such as curved doors and shapes.
What’s your furniture philosophy?
To start with, function determines to a large extent the size and shape of a piece of furniture, but from there it’s a matter of the customer’s preferences matched with my own approach. I like to use contrasts – between dark and light timbers, between colours, and between materials – as it provides visual interest. Balance and proportion are both important – the thickness of legs, for example, needs to complement the other elements of a table. And finally, simplicity. I like letting the timber and design speak for themselves rather than using lots of decoration. For that same reason, I’m a big fan of Japanese aesthetics.
How would you describe your aesthetic? Where do you draw inspiration from?
I love the simplicity and clean lines of the Arts and Crafts movement, the elegance of mid 20th Century Danish furniture, and the balance and restraint of Japanese artistry. I am also fascinated with mathematics and non-rectilinear geometry which I’ve used in work such as the Swirl coffee table and the Melbourne University reception table.
What do you consider to be the beauty of bespoke and handcrafted furniture?
For me, it’s creating something unique which meets the needs and dreams of my clients. I’m happy when I’m satisfied with what I’ve made and my clients are also pleased with the end result.
Has there been a particularly memorable project that you’ve worked on?
I just finished a desk made from American Walnut with polished brass highlights. It took quite a long time to resolve the design but I thought the end result was really satisfying, embodying a sculptural design and an almost avian lightness. My client was very happy with it, and I was thrilled that it was shortlisted in the Australian Wood Review Maker of the Year Awards for 2021. And the beautiful photography by Vivienne and Tiago was pretty great too!
Last year, I also made a curved sideboard which I was very pleased with. The pattern on the doors and drawers is made by cutting and joining veneers of Red Ironbark and Blackwood with matching curves which sweep down to the Blackwood legs. The body was solid Red Ironbark. Some complicated veneering was necessary to get everything lined up, but I got there in the end.
You’ve had an impressive career so far. What’s been one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned?
You never feel like you know enough, and you learn something new with every job. Accept that you’ll make mistakes, and that there will always be something new to learn. Don’t feel like a failure because there’s something you didn’t know how to do!
What advice would you give to any up and coming makers in the industry?
It’s a tough business to make a living from. Many people, especially those starting out, have other sources of income to complement their making, whether that’s teaching, workshop management, working for someone else, or working in an unrelated job. I’d certainly advise people new to the industry to look at generating income from a variety of sources and not putting all your eggs in one basket.
The other thing I’ve learnt is that you can’t do everything yourself. I tried to do my own photography and editing when I started out. I eventually realised that I just wasn’t skilled or interested enough to take photos of the quality I needed. Luckily two of my colleagues, Randal Kohn and Vivienne Wong and her husband Tiago Brissos (Northside Studio) are all excellent photographers and I’ve been very grateful to be able to work with them over the last few years.
You are President of the Victorian Woodworkers Association. Why did you get involved with them?
Like many of my colleagues, I joined the VWA both for the connection to other woodworkers and for its affordable public liability insurance. Being an designer/maker working mostly by yourself means you can sometimes feel a bit isolated or cut off from others and being part of the VWA is for me a wonderful way of interacting with other makers and being part of something bigger. That’s especially true of being on the committee of management, which I’ve now been on for the last six years. The VWA has also seen more young people and women getting involved as students, as Artists in Residence and on the committee of management, and it’s great to be involved in that process.
Visit Stephen’s Handkrafted profile to see more of his portfolio. We’d also recommend scrolling through Stephen’s Instagram as he beautifully documents the making of many of his pieces.
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