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Maker Profile: Alby Johnston & Bayspoke Studio

March 02, 2018
Maker Profile: Alby Johnston & Bayspoke Studio

Alby Johnston & Bayspoke Studio

If you ever have the pleasure to speak with Alby Johnston, you are immediately struck by how much he cares about the world around him, and how the furniture he makes is really an expression of that interest in the connections between our happiness, our spaces and the things we fill them with.

Philosophy

Starting as an apprentice under Tony Kenway, a renowned furniture craftsman in the Byron Bay area, has really shaped Alby’s philosophy towards his craft, and more broadly life.

Alby really believes that our homes and the spaces we spend time in, have meaning and that this influences our emotions and ultimately our lives. Not surprisingly then, he believes that its important to be particular about what we bring into our spaces, that we should all be making informed choices about our furniture with an understanding of where its come from and who’s made it.

As an example, the Byron Bay area has a lot of food brands that celebrate the paddock to plate concept, really emphasizing the connection between where our food is grown and processed, for both health and environmental benefits.

Alby sees this as inspiration for a real direction shift for the furniture industry, where the story and provenance of a piece is celebrated, as much as the form and function.

Living and working in Byron bay, Alby is surrounded by other talented artists, makers and craftspeople and that is definitely influencing the direction that Alby’s furniture making is taking, with more collaborations and community based approaches to making coming through.

This is a big shift away from the work he has created under his own name, and to separate and acknowledge that difference in practice, Alby has created Bayspoke Studio.

Bayspoke Brand

Bayspoke is all about community and collaboration. Working with friends and neighbours who run similar or related businesses around the Byron area and drawing on their skills, influences and expertise to create beautiful pieces of furniture.

Bayspoke encompasses a broad array of work – repurposing, restoring and built to brief. In the future it may even create short runs of standardized furniture designs – watch this space.

One of my favourite pieces that has been created under Bayspoke Studio is a repurposed table from 1876. Originally a large dining table that had had a long and chequered history, the client recognized that the timber used in the table was beautiful and worth saving, but that the form of the table needed re-thinking.

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Taking the original table, it was re-imagined into a four piece table that could either be fitted together as a single large table, or used as four separate individual tables in different parts of the home. In designing this table Alby updated the table legs to a clean modern design on parts of the table, whilst still keeping two of the original turned legs. The result – a really interesting, flexible piece that the client loves, as he explains it “the table has been sent into orbit” with each of the clients’ children claiming a section of the family heirloom.

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Although quite different from furniture produced under the Alby Johnston moniker, the pieces from Bayspoke are still beautifully crafted, and importantly come with a story, a provenance and collectability.

Alby Johnston Brand

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Alby Johnston is best known for the timber pieces created under his own name. And while he has done a lot of commissioned pieces for customers, the pieces that stick in your memory are those that sit at an intersection somewhere between art, sculpture and furniture.

Take the Rainforest Rocker. Pieces like this take Alby somewhere between 300 and 500 hours to make. It was designed as a signature piece, on spec. It's been exhibited in art galleries, rather than furniture or woodwork galleries, and has ended up in Shanghai as a part of an art collection, after being shown at an AFA (Australasian Furniture Association) showcase.

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Alby is currently working on another major-spec. piece, this time a dining suite. This time it will feature bronze accents – bronze evoking the mystique of the art world, as well as exploring an interesting contrast between the coolness of the metal and the warmth of the timber. Channelling the styling of his awarded Lotus table into the dining suite, Alby admits his “art based practice is a bit self indulgent” but it gives him the space and time to really create a fully resolved design considering sensitive material choice, authenticity, and relevance.

Mentoring

Alby is someone who values his craft and also recognizes that he has a responsibility to share his knowledge. He’s taken up teaching a class once a week, and in his business is about to expand to take on an apprentice. “It’s important to give back” says Alby, “And I recognize how lucky I have been to have Tony Kenway as a mentor, so now it’s my turn to share the knowledge”.

After nearly 15 years making beautiful timber furniture, he feels he’s finally ready to call himself a master craftsman.

Alby Johnston and Bayspoke Studio are located in Byron Bay.


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