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Maker Profile: Smith + Thomas

June 01, 2015
Maker Profile: Smith + Thomas

Kyle Smith and Jesse Thomas are two very talented young men.

“We make top quality timber furniture by hand using traditional joinery techniques. We like to work closely with customers to design and build furniture that is exactly what they want and, that will pretty much last forever,” explains Kyle.

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But before we find out more about their furniture company Smith + Thomas, we wanted to learn more about them.

“We met a couple of years ago when I first moved to Melbourne from Hobart. I’d moved into a room in a share house in Carlton and Jesse would visit other housemates there most weekends. Since then we’ve been going to the same parties and hanging out with the same people and have become friends,” expresses Kyle.

So, how do two friends decide to go into business together?

“I think we first talked about the idea in the supermarket one day when we were buying sausages. Kyle had just moved into a new place with some mutual friends in Coburg just around the corner from my place. This house had a massive garage and Kyle wanted to use it for something profitable. I’d just finished my furniture makers apprenticeship at Jardan and was looking for the next thing to do. We’d briefly mentioned the idea over a few beers once or twice before but I think the official decision to work together happened at the supermarket. We pretty much dove straight in from there, got a credit card and bought some more tools. We didn’t want to get stuck in a monotonous 9-5 job. We needed a new adventure!” exclaims Jesse.

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So, what are Kyle and Jesse's backgrounds.

“I studied Philosophy in Hobart, which was great," states Kyle. "But I found out after graduating that there are no job prospects from philosophy really, so when I first moved to Melbourne I enrolled in a business degree at La Trobe to try and get rich. I guess I got impatient with studies though after Jesse and I started to work together because I never ended up finishing that degree. I figured starting an actual business would be just as good a way to learn,” remarks Kyle.

“I studied Product Design at RMIT after finishing school, but found it to be it too broad and wanted to specialise. I wasn't sure how. So I went overseas for 18 months, backpacking and working my way around Europe (mainly eastern). During my travels I started to think about what I wanted to do, and design and make furniture was it. On my return I started an apprenticeship with Jardan, which was an amazing place to learn the craftsman skills I needed to get to my goal. Towards the end of my apprenticeship I met Kyle and we got chatting, and the rest is history,” states Jesse.

More or less, Smith + Thomas is now a full time gig for this talented duo.

“We’ve only just recently been able to live off the furniture we build and that’s a pretty good place to be I reckon,” says Kyle proudly.

Given they are both full time, we wanted to find out what a typical day involves for them.

“A short answer would be that my typical day involves making furniture. But realistically I don’t spend as much time doing that as I’d like to. I spend way too much time looking for the tool I had in my hand a second ago! Our workshop is pretty small and we don’t have any big machinery, so a lot of time is spent trying to figure out how to do a task with what we’ve got, and making a lot of jigs, the old fashioned way! As well I spend a fair bit of time at the timber yard; we pick all the timber for each piece of furniture individually so that can take a bit out of your week. I enjoy the timber yard though. It’s always a shame I can’t buy more. There’s so much amazing timber, especially the native stuff,” comments Jesse.

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“My day’s really depend on what work we’ve got going on. Most of the time we’re very busy. I’m in the shed helping Jesse for some part of the day, but I’ve got other stuff I have to get done as well. I’ll usually do the customer service stuff; there can be a bit of work figuring out designs with customers. We’ll go visit customers to measure up their rooms and go through timber samples and chat about different design options. I always like doing that. Or I’ll be on the phone figuring stuff out with suppliers or customers, or doing those mundane business things like administration and accounting. And then there’s the social media and websites to maintain. Or, sometimes I’ll be on the computer designing a piece of furniture before Jesse starts prototyping it. Whatever needs doing really!” says Kyle.

Given Smith + Thomas custom make all their furniture, it’s rare that they would make the same piece twice.

“We get so many different requests. I do like to make a nice table with some nice heavily featured timber. Spotted gum is always a favourite. There are so many fantastic colours and patterns in that species. American walnut is a great timber to work with; you can’t help but love it,” says Jesse.

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All the timber used by Smith + Thomas is sourced locally in Melbourne.

“There’s a few timber yards around Melbourne that we usually use. Most of the reclaimed timber we use is from old factories or houses here in Melbourne. I The spotted gum we use comes from northern NSW and Queensland. Some timber is from Tassie too. Hopefully one day we’ll get to use more Tasmanian timber. It’s beautiful stuff but it’s so expensive,” says Kyle.

What’s some of the more interesting customer requests they’ve had then?

“At the moment we’re making a Wu-Tang Clan coffee table from American walnut. It is going to be great! This particular customer wanted to surprise her boyfriend for his birthday. He’s a big fan of Wu-Tang Clan, a group of rappers from New York. They have this cool graphic logo and we’re using that as the shape,” says Kyle.

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Just goes to show how talented these guys are at taking a client brief and turning it into a treasured keepsake. But, it’s the next custom job that really got our attention.

“We once made 30 miniature coffins,” states Kyle.

Now, that’s something we weren’t expecting.

“The coffins were actually small bookcases we made for some friends who run an online store here in Melbourne, Dead Ringer Homewares, specialising in the macabre. They were our first customers, so our first couple of months in business were not what we expected! We also made a whole bunch of crucifixes for these guys as well; with these scattered around our workshop, it was looking pretty creepy for a while there!” remembers Kyle.

What about inspiration. We wondered what gets Jesse and Kyle’s creative thoughts flowing.

“A lot of our inspiration comes from Pinterest actually. I love that site. Jesse and I do have a common aesthetic we both like to design to though; it’s mainly based on Danish modern design and Japanese design. That’s the best kind,” answers Kyle.

“There are also a whole bunch of great smaller furniture makers around Melbourne as well, who are doing amazing things. Melbourne is a great place to live and learn with some of the best creatives out there,” adds Jesse.

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So, when it comes to people ordering custom made furniture, what advice would they give to a potential client?

“Just have a look around at what type of furniture you like. A lot of people come to us with photos they’ve taken or found on the internet of furniture styles they like, or of the room they want to put the furniture in. That kind of thing will give us a starting point to design something that the customer will like. It’s hard to start completely from scratch because it’s a bit hit and miss when we just pitch ideas at people with no ideas as to what they might like. Of course the most important piece of advice though would be to give us a call! We’re always happy to chat with people about everything and anything to do with furniture,” Kyle adds.

As Jesse commented, there are a lot of furniture makers out there doing amazing work. So how do Smith + Thomas set themselves apart from their competitors?

“It’s definitely the attention to detail and the personal commitment we have to each piece. We’ve both spent hours focusing on each piece of furniture and we maintain a very high standard when it comes to the quality of the finished product. I don’t think you can get this from other bigger manufacturers,” says Kyle proudly.

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So given Smith + Thomas specialise in custom made designs, who would be their ultimate client and what would they make for them?

Kyle answers immediately. “It would have to be Andre the Giant. He was great in The Princess Bride and he’s so huge that it would be an achievement to make a chair strong enough to support his ample frame. Also, I need to make my mum a new dining table.” “Frank Zappa” says Jesse. “It would be great to come up with something totally out of this world for him… like his kids names.”

We very much get the impression these guys love what they do. But, we couldn’t resist asking what would they be doing if they weren’t making their beautiful furniture?

“Probably making something else and trying to sell it. It’s a fun thing to do. I’ve always wanted to paint and become famous as an artist, so maybe I’d do that,” says Kyle.

“I have no idea, but it would have to be something hands on and artistic. I’d love one day to make some musical instruments...” remarks Jesse.

We get the feeling that we are going to be hearing more and more about Smith + Thomas and their amazing furniture in the not too distant future. And, we can’t wait.

The Team at House of Home would like to thank both Kyle and Jesse from Smith + Thomas for their time and sharing their amazing business story with us.

We hope you found this article helpful. If you’d like to take a look at all the custom makers and the projects they are creating then be sure to check out our custom makers section.

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Image Credits: Matt Tierney from FIMA Photography