Handkrafted makers speak candidly about running furniture making businesses with life partners who double as business partners. How can a couple of craftspeople strike a work-life-love balance? Advice from experienced partners lies within…
At Handkrafted, we take pride in our ability to foster collaborations between people by facilitating the creation of pieces imbued with sentiment. But, our makers who run businesses with their significant others give the intimate art of collaboration a whole new meaning. In this piece, three Handkrafted makers each speak candidly about working with their partners – stories of trial and triumph in an effort to strike a work-life-love balance.
The Savage & Scott
Nik Kulas describes his fiancée and business partner, Olivia Prescott, as his muse… and the reason The Savage & Scott is what it is today.
Kulas, a carpenter by trade, and Prescott, a plastic surgeon’s nurse, had been together for only a year when they decided they wanted more from their relationship than just going out for dinner. Instead of getting a dog or having kids, they transformed their passion for re-inventing vintage furniture into starting their own furniture business.
“She was the precursor to all of this. She planted the seed and got the process started. She gave me that push and it was the best thing we’ve ever done together,” says Kulas.
He admits that leaving secure employment nine months ago to run the business full-time has been his greatest challenge yet. Prescott does all the bookwork and administration on top of her day job, and her creative input plays a big part in what The Savage & Scott produce.
“I pick her brains about design and colour schemes. I bounce ideas off her of her.” Kulas says. “She inspires me and helps out where help is needed.”
“It’s really important to have cohesiveness, especially in what we do,” he continues.There’s no manual or idiots guide to starting your own furniture business. It’s a lot of trial and error.”
Getting to the point they are at now – given neither of them had started a furniture business before – has been their greatest achievement both as a couple and as a business.
“We didn’t start with much. We literally started from scratch,” Kulas says. “Being able to navigate it, and for it to not fall apart and for us to not turn on each other – I see that as an accomplishment in itself.”.
“It’s one of those things that will either bring you closer together or drive you apart,” he concludes “It’s a good process to go through if you want to spend the rest of your life together.”
Sunny Wilder is one half of WilderCoyle: a venture that began 20+ years ago in Fitzroy as her husband, Nick Coyle’s, furniture business, The Timber Trip.
After the birth of their first child, the couple decided Sunny wouldn’t return to full time architectural work. Instead, she started helping run the workshop one day a week.
“Once both kids were at school I found myself in the workshop five days a week,” Sunny says. “I wanted to change the business name to WilderCoyle, as I was tired of the perception that I was the wife doing the books. I wanted a name that reflected both of us.”
Both Sunny and Nick are hands on. Sunny says Nick has incredible problem-solving skills, plus an innate knowledge of structure and materials. She describes her role as communications, client liaison, continual refining of the product, quality control and critique.
“We are a collaboration, and both love to design and create together. We are not the stereotype of the architect wife doing the designing, and Nick out in the workshop making. We will sit down together with pencils flying,” she says.
Sunny relishes in the perks of their partnership, including the freedom of being their own bosses and being available for the kids. But, juggling all of their responsibilities is still a challenge.
“We are just learning not to take on too much. We decided to move our operation to the far south coast of NSW in pursuit of the work-life balance, but have found the overheads of running a factory with staff is still a draining task, so we are still searching,” she says.
After all these years, it would be impossible to not have rubbed off on each other, and Sunny admits the two have merged and shaped each other over the years.
“Nick always used to say I designed furniture like an architect – meaning totally impractical and not understanding the elements of solid timber construction. I would be critical of Nick and say he would do things too bushman carpenter style. But, now I think our work has merged somewhere in between. Nick has an innate design sense and I feel I have helped him to develop a design process to his work,” she says.
Their greatest achievement since joining forces has been designing, building, and living in their House of Cupboards together.
“It is a true fusion of furniture and architecture. We had this idea to build a house where the cupboards were structural and just went ahead and did it. We love living in it. We feel that we have created a new housing typology,” she says.
Flitch & Rasp
Bianca Hayden, sculptor and furniture maker, and her partner, Mark Leacy, a sustainable gardener, run two creative businesses together, whilst raising a teenager and a toddler.
“It can be a really tight juggling act at times, especially with Mark doing so much for the business. He’s often still on the computer at twelve o’clock at night doing the finances. It can be pretty tough,” she says.
Flitch & Rasp has been a long time in the making for Hayden. After completing a fine arts degree and experiencing the joy of working with wood and metal, furniture making took a back seat to more pressing issues such as raising her kids and caring for her sick mother.
Today she gets to create beautiful furniture and artwork, while Leacy does all the organising and the “computer stuff” including marketing and finances. This support is not lost on her.
“I’m really lucky to be in that position. I don’t think many people get the opportunity to do that,” she says.
Both are involved in each other’s business, and when collaborating on a project, the couple apply a simple hierarchy principle to ensure their creative boundaries are clear.
“We really need to designate at the start who is head chef and we really need to stick to it. We’ve worked that down to a fine art now, but it was a nightmare up until we figured it out,” she says.
The roles, however, are interchangeable. Hayden says it works because they are in sync, and really understand each other’s minds, skillsets, weaknesses and strengths.
For Hayden and Leacy, work and life have become so intertwined, it’s unclear where to draw the line. They’ve struck a unique balance that works for them.
“The businesses that we’re running are both creative, and they’re both the core of who we are anyway, so you don’t ever really switch off,” she says.
By Catriona Montalvo
… and there’s plenty more where this came from! Other Handkrafted couples share anecdotes of how they cope balancing their two greatest loves – woodwork and each other – below…
Handkrafted is a community marketplace connecting people with passionate makers to commission custom goods. We have brought together hundreds of Australian independent, bespoke craftspeople and artisans who specialise in producing high quality, sustainably made 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.
Sign up for our newsletter to receive all of the latest updates… and a bit of fun.