Have you ever wondered what goes into making a piece of handcrafted furniture? What it would be like to step inside the mind of a skilled craftsman and witness the creation of a beautiful custom piece?
We had the opportunity recently of meeting Dan Poole, the furniture maker, designer and creative behind the beautiful fresh Victorian furniture studio Timber Lab. An innovative rural based creator, turning heads in the industry with his custom made hard timber pieces, pieces which are beautifully crafted promising of no compromise on design or functions, which can only be achievable through experienced craftsmanship.
We spoke with Dan about being a custom furniture artisan, who is building his studio workshop from the ground up.
Dan, can you tell us more about where you started from?
I grew up in rural North West Victoria, surrounded by machinery. My father ran a business in the agricultural machinery sector so I spent a lot of time in the workshop helping him as a kid. Being surrounded by mechanical parts and huge machinery definitely influenced the way I think and design, it has given me an understanding of the mechanical side of designing. Growing up in the Mallee region, in rural Victoria, meant that I had to be practical and resourceful. You don’t have access to materials as much as you would if you lived in the city. I’ve always had a passion for design and creating and I guess that came from being exposed to engineering work.
How did you find yourself becoming a furniture designer and maker?
I was studying Industrial Design at RMIT in Melbourne, and one of the earliest projects in my degree was creating a concept chair based on the work by the husband and wife team: Charles and Ray Eames. I wanted to create something of the quality and standard that would match the work of Eames, but during the process of creating the project I felt limited by the resources available to me. There was no access to learning the types of joinery I wanted and needed to complete my concept.
It was the catalyst for my focus towards furniture design and making. It was then that I decided to commit solely to developing myself as a furniture craftsman and learning the skills that I didn’t have access to at University. In 2013 I started Timber Lab after completing an apprenticeship in Furniture Making. I am continually educating myself, I am committed to learning particular skills and techniques relevant to help advance my furniture making skills.
What do you find most challenging as a bespoke furniture maker?
The most challenging aspect of my work would have to be starting from scratch. I’ve just completed the start-up phase of my studio, which has taken quite a lot of time and energy. It’s a craft that requires investment into quite a lot of machinery, tools and materials. Building a studio from scratch has been difficult but also rewarding in its own way. It has taken some time to establish but in my eyes, furniture making is a craft that should also be a dedication and if you love what you do, you are prepared for the hard labour. I have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into Timber Lab, and I’m proud of how far it has come.
Tell us about Timber Lab, how did you develop your style as a maker?
The name Timber Lab suited the direction I felt I wanted to take as a craftsman, the style is a balance between minimalist form and technical joinery. I want each piece to look simple but upon closer inspection you see how intricate each element of the piece really is.
The idea of Timber Lab is a melding of my intentions. I was excited about designing and creating furniture that explores the scientific possibilities of using timber as a material. The scientific reference with Lab and the Timber being a reference to my most prominently used material. I want Timber Lab to continuously evolve and develop new ideas, pushing the boundaries of traditional furniture making. It’s a challenge to develop what I consider good design and craft it in a refined and well thought out process. I am continuously merging between designer and maker at every stage.
I wish to create furniture of its own time, to produce quality pieces that are for the ‘now’. I do not wish to revive existing furniture styles or replicate mid-century pieces. It is my belief that furniture should reflect the needs of the time.
Can you describe your design process as a bespoke maker?
I am both the designer and maker. I design with the understanding of the time and effort it takes to create a bespoke piece. I weigh up the possibilities and the restrictions of the material I am using as well as the design. It is a deeply personal process, designing first then crafting my initial idea into existence. I try to steer away from technical sketches and CAD drawings with Timber Lab designs, as I feel it can distract me from the personality of the piece I am trying to produce. I aim to produce my work meticulously, piece by piece, carefully checking the relationship between scale and proportion against the natural elements of the timber I use. I witness my work come to life between my hands, and they are usually better at the end than what I imagine them to be.
What inspires you to create beautiful pieces like the Harvest Table?
It’s a combination of things, I guess. I have really enjoyed being a start-up business and I am proud that I have endured all the highs and lows of starting out on my own. It was a difficult decision to make, one that I can look back on now and appreciate. I believe that’s why my pieces have been so successful, clients can see that the process of making a custom product is deeply personal to me. My clients recognise the authenticity of each product I produce.
I am also inspired by necessity, I believe that every piece has a specific purpose for its creation. I also am inspired by research, by the books and magazines I read.
What advice could you give to someone who is contemplating on having a bespoke piece of furniture made?
My advice would be to really consider what purpose your furniture is going to serve. My mentality is to buy furniture that will last a lifetime, it’s easy to purchase cheap furniture on an impulse but they usually don’t last that long. Furniture is supposed to be built to last and I would prefer to have fewer items of quality than plenty of thing that I don’t enjoy as much. It also makes complete sense in my mind, to have furniture built for the home. I believe in furniture being built to suit the architecture of a house and the home being built around the furniture. It all goes together, the home and furniture, you need to consider it all as one.
What pieces do you love creating the most?
I favour designing and building cabinets and tables the most, pieces like the Number Two Table and the Kami Cabinet. I really enjoy designing each piece that I make, but each piece is also made to order so they are all different. My clients all have different needs and requirements from their individual pieces and they support me and allow me creative freedom to build what they need. The relationship I have with each of my clients is different and rewarding in its own way, just as their bespoke piece.
You have a unique approach to creating furniture from timber, how do you source your material?
I obtain timber that is either locally made or imported through distributors. I try to snag as much timber as I can which is felled locally; I really enjoy the process of drying and preserving it to be used in my work.
What can we expect from Timber Lab in the coming future?
I expect that I will always be designing and making something new. It’s very much a full time occupation. I will always be the apprentice, designer, administrator and maker and I believe I will always be making furniture.
Artisan and skilled craftsman, Dan puts his all into every piece he makes, which gives his products such a high level of quality. Dan is a maker who dedicates himself and his business to being authentic in quality design, craftsmanship and service and as you touch his bespoke pieces, you can feel it in the grain.
The House of Home team would like to thank Dan for his time and sharing with us his beautiful custom made Timber Lab pieces