Melbourne custom furniture tag team Kyle Smith & Jesse Thomas, of Smith + Thomas, describe themselves as spring chickens in the furniture making industry. Based on the work these guys have churned out already, we foresee many more seasons of success in their future.
Q: How did you get into woodwork?
Kyle: I’ve always been a tinkerer, creative type of person, constantly working on whatever project takes my fancy. My parents always encouraged my curiosity growing up; they have helped me to learn a heap of skills that are becoming really useful as Jesse and I build our business.
Jesse: I started Product Design straight after year 12 at R.M.I.T. It was a great course for learning a wide range of skills in prototyping and design, but I found it a little too broad for my liking. [After backpacking through Eastern Europe], I settled into four years at Jardan, where I learnt a wide range of skills and honed my eye for detail.
After attaining my qualification, I worked for a few smaller makers in Melbourne, working with recycled native timbers. Before too long Kyle and I got chatting about starting our own business, and 18 months later, here we are!
Q: What motivated you to turn your passion into a career? Have you faced any challenges?
Kyle: It was a pretty spontaneous decision for me I guess. Meeting Jesse was definitely the major catalyst. I considered studying furniture design when I was at uni and made a coffee table once, but it wasn’t something I’d always wanted to do. Now, I love it and wouldn’t really consider doing anything else.
Kyle: There have been a few challenges. Our first two workshops were demolished after 6 months, and I think the place we’re in now is being demolished this year, so that’s been slightly inconvenient. A few other things here and there, but nothing we can’t handle. ‘Bring on the challenges,’ I say.
Jesse: Going from a fully set up, modern workshop, to using very simple, old fashioned tools – like our tablesaw/buzzer combo which is from an old prison in Shepparton – has and will continue to be a learning process, but one we both enjoy.
We don’t have big machinery to do the work for us. We are always having to think outside the box. It keeps us fresh.
Q: What influences your designs?
Kyle: Jesse and I definitely know what we like, and we design within implicit guidelines. I guess we draw on a lot of mid-century modern stuff – it’s hard not to – and Scandinavian and Japanese furniture is pretty much always great.
Jesse: We get requests for all different styles [for one-off, custom pieces], but I personally gravitate towards mid-century, Danish inspired furniture. Kyle and I are currently working on our first range of furniture, which will include traditional joinery, modern features, and reclaimed Australian timber. Keep an eye out for that later this year!
Q: What’s your ‘furniture philosophy’?
Kyle: Simple and strong, but not too chunky, with least one cool detail… and it has to last forever. It’s better to own one well-made stool than a whole living room set from Ikea.
Q: Do you have a favourite timber? Which part of the creative process is your favourite?
Kyle: My favourite timber so far is spotted gum, but any timber with heaps of character I like. Unfortunately, this ‘character’ tends to make the timber a pain in the arse to work with. But, it’s totally worth it. I enjoy the whole creative process of course, but my favourite part would be designing the furniture. It’s great to see the hours spent agonising over the details of a design come to fruition in the finished product.
Jesse: I love working with American Walnut. It has such a smooth feel and always looks great. The reclaimed spotted gum we get is a winner also. There is something special about re-purposing an old wharf built 100 years ago into a feature dining table. The old features (bolt holes and wear) look amazing with a bit of care. The timber really does tell a story.
Q: How has your Handkrafted experience been so far?
Kyle: ‘Community’ is a good word for it. We met a few other Handkrafted makers at the Den Fair Expo and they were great guys. We never really realised how many other guys there were out there making beautiful furniture before seeing them on Handkrafted. It’s great.
Q: How have you found the Handkrafted commission process?
Kyle: We were surprised by how many jobs actually came through from it. The people we are put in touch with are good clients with an appreciation of quality work who don’t expect us to work for nothing.
Q: What do you hope this year holds for you professionally?
Kyle: Hopefully more opportunities to make more awesome furniture. A workshop that doesn’t get demolished would be nice as well.
Q: What do you hope to gain from your relationship with Handkrafted?
Kyle: It seems like there’s a lot to gain really. We’ve already met some great clients and have made contact with some awesome furniture related people.
I’m looking forward to the relationships that develop as a result of this website.
Q: Any advice for other furniture makers?
Jesse: Make what you love, meet other local makers, and network. There are so many great people in the Melbourne makers’ community. Everyone seems to be happy to share experiences and advice, and help each other out.
Workshop photos by the very talented Hilary Walker.
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.