Furniture maker, sustainably sourced, creating shapes.
In a world of mass consumerism and cheap pricing, high quality craftsmanship has become the rarity instead of the norm. Fortunately for Josh Carmody, he has the eye and the innate skills to carry on this legacy.
Designer and maker of high-end, bespoke timber furniture through his business Josh Carmody Studio, Josh cut his teeth in the world of architecture, spending years at some of the world’s most prestigious firms.
His passion for hand-built craft began in high school woodworking class, where he realised very quickly that he not only enjoyed the process but was good at it too. And while he was pushed into the world of academia after graduation, the passion was always there in the background, ready to take focus.
Even to the untrained eye, you can see how his work exudes incredible quality and very clearly references his architecture roots. And it’s been noticed near and far, with Josh now commissioned for boardroom tables and office fit outs across the globe, as well as his own passion pieces for his consumer audience.
I had a wonderful chat with Josh about how his highly commended career evolved, how his hard work behind the scenes finally paid dividends, turning your hobby into your career, and the importance of sustainable practices.
Josh Carmody is…
Josh Carmody kind of is, probably sums it up. I just do what I do. I’m currently a furniture designer and maker, which takes up a big part of my life. It is my professional life. On the other side of that, I’m a father and a husband. Nothing really has its own focal point at the moment.
What do you do and when did you discover that this is what you wanted to do with your life?
I make high-end fine furniture, mainly boardroom tables and dining tables, and a few other small products that I’ve designed over the years that piqued my interest.
I worked out that I liked it in high school when I made a table in a woodworking class. And then I found that I also excelled at it. I’m not sure if I excelled at it because I was good at it, or I excelled at it cause I was really interested in it.
Probably a bit of both!
Yeah. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of thing. Woodwork was just always one of those things where I felt I knew what I was doing all along, whereas all the other subjects I had to work really hard at.
I’ve always had that creative side, I was always really into drawing and painting and my parents always supported that and took me to different creative classes.
Once I got to year 12 and you have to start making career decisions, the school I went to definitely pushed you towards tertiary education. So architecture seemed like a really good outlet for everything I wanted to do.
I kind of had a feeling I’d end up in furniture making though. So I picked the career path that had the most transferable skills if I chose to change to the other. So architecture won out.
Within the first six months, I realised I really liked architecture. I found it satisfied a technical part of my brain, and the creative side of things at university was also quite good. There was always one creative course, like your design studio course where you’re designing a building, but I still needed more of a creative outlet. So I started my own furniture business in that first year of university, mainly making pieces for family and friends.
So you were doing that on the side while you were studying?
Yeah. I was just in my parents’ garage and I bought a couple of small machines and just kind of went from there. I was having a ball doing it, much to the detest of some of the teachers wanting me to just focus on the architecture.
Did you finish your degree?
Yeah, I did the undergrad in Canberra. Then usually you take a year off and then you do your masters. In that year out you’re meant to go work or do something related to the field of architecture.
But I focused on the furniture making, and I was also a personal trainer. Then I moved to Melbourne to do the masters and was working in an architecture studio, Russell and George. It is a small, world class design studio, really pushing the boundaries of what was possible in their niches. It was great learning from them while I was at uni.
I finished the masters of architecture and then went and worked at Woods Bagot, which is a large global architecture studio. They do skyscrapers and towers, and work on projects all over the world, from their various studios located all over the world. So that was a really interesting learning curve going from the university side of things, to small scale architecture and retail, then into the towers. The project I went straight onto was working on seven towers in Qatar!
It was hundreds or thousands of drawings that needed to be managed. Aside from just the actual drawing/drafting work. You go from that creative side of things with university, executing what you want to do. Then go straight into a really professional setting where the flip side of that is, learning how to manage a project that large and complex. The contractual obligations of those sort of commercial buildings are intense. It was a steep learning curve to learn what that side of the creative world is like.
And the conclusion that I’d come to fairly quickly and was that side of the creative industry really doesn’t really drive my interests. But I persevered and I ended up registering as an architect, and worked for another few years.
But at that same time, everything was kind of coming to a head with my furniture business as well. Once I started working at the firm, I could afford rent in a workshop as well. I started rebuilding my portfolio and the business on the side of it. And then it all came to a head when the firm I was working at (Woods Bagot) ended up commissioning me to do all the meeting tables for the new office.
Wow. So they were ok with you doing your own thing on the side?
Yeah they were really supportive of it. It was one of those things where they like creativity – as it is the foundation of their studio too.
That’s really cool because I find that like some bigger businesses aren’t supportive of side projects. So that’s a pretty cool opportunity.
Yeah. I think big firms like that have got more things to worry about than some young guy getting on the tools on the weekend. They often got me to present different things and show people what I’m doing, and from there it kicked off. It was nice to have them interested in what I was doing.
I’d just returned from a trip to Europe and they asked if I wanted to make a table for the new office. And I was like, yeah, please. That’d be awesome. And then I came back a couple of days later, and they’re like, actually we need you to make 10 tables!
I knew I could do it, I just knew I couldn’t do it part-time. That’s a full-time job because there was a really tight deadline. I think there was about six weeks to do it. Everyone was really happy with how it all turned out. Probably no one more so than myself.
And from there it just went from zero to 100.
So how long did you stick around there, and to take the leap to doing your own thing?
I think from that point, it was about 12 months, where things were really starting to gather momentum for me and juggling architecture and the furniture was getting a bit much.
So I put in my notice then and I had a few commercial jobs to pay the bills for probably about 12 months. If I didn’t do it at that point, it was never going to happen.
Was it a difficult process to then set up your own business or was it already there and established?
It was already there because I’d been doing it for so long. If you do all those things in one go, it takes a lot of effort, and you’re probably going to need to outsource a lot of it and it’s going to be expensive.
But because I did it over seven years or so, the website was ready, the photography had already been done. I had drip fed myself a business, and it got to a point where all I really needed to do was focus on it full time.
Can you tell me about your designs and the style that is typical of your work? How did you hone that? Did you have any people or concepts that you were inspired or driven by?
I think architecture was probably a big driver in terms of inspiration, and having both sides of the creative process. Because you’re constantly looking at details in architecture and applying that back to furniture.
I found most of my inspiration comes during my downtime and that all my creative work is always done in my holidays, where I get comfortable and relax and draw for hours sitting on the couch or on a deck somewhere.
I like simple lines and some architectural points of interest. I find it almost boils down to designing the shapes, and then you’re trying to work out how to execute that shape. And refining things along the way to balance what you like – with what is possible or fit for purpose.
With timber, you’ve got certain parameters with which you can work within, and a few structural realities drive the proportions and the details. And then sometimes you’ve got to respond to a brief. For example, the tables I made for the Woods Bagot project featured curved legs, which was responding to their need to have power and data running through the tables.
A blend of form and function?
It also comes down to what proportionally looks good in your eye, which is different for everybody.
Have you found that your style has evolved over time?
Yeah, looking back it definitely has. I used to conceal all the joinery so no one knew how I did it. It was a tip of the hat to other furniture makers. But the further I got down the line, I realised that it was lost on the average person.
What I try to do now is expose the details a little bit more so people can understand a bit of the execution and how it’s made. And the labour of love that goes into something. So making those details a little bit more transparent achieves that.
It’s a risk taking something that you’d love to do as a hobby and turn it into a career. And you were saying before that your most creative moments come from the downtime. How does that then work when you do make it your career? Do you have that downtime to be creative?
I’m still working that balance out to be honest, downtime and toddlers don’t really co-exist! I’ve basically had to reconcile with the fact that downtime doesn’t exist anymore.
In the past I would draw every idea, almost daily. But now I’ve become comfortable with leaving ideas in my brain for a lot longer now before I put them on paper, because I find subconsciously I keep designing it. And then once I actually decide to do it, a lot of the drawing time required is reduced because it’s almost at a complete point where I just put it on paper, then put it in the computer to work out all the exact dimensions and then build it within one or two weeks.
As a business owner, you’ve got a lot of different hats on, and the creative one is unfortunately the one that often gets put on the hat rack while you’re putting out all the other spot fires and trying to get everything else going.
All the admin!
The admin and the reality of it is, once you’ve sold a piece of furniture or you’ve won the commercial project, you’ve got to build it. You don’t have time to be sitting around drawing and agonizing over some other projects that you’ve got in your brain. You’ve got to be on the tools and hitting the different milestones to make sure you’re going to get the project in on time.
Because it’s just you, isn’t it?
Pretty much. I’ve got a couple of people that I have at different times, to come in and help me out when I get really snowed under. I’ve never hired anyone per se; I’d usually outsource to other businesses to make up the shortcomings that came with me having a fulltime job at the same time as a side business.
When you are designing pieces that are timeless and have longevity, when it comes to the timber choice how much of a part does sustainability play?
That’s a big factor. It is a balancing act and it’s getting better and better in terms of sustainability. I tend to use a lot of American timbers, mainly because they’re very easy to track where they’ve come from and they’re very good at sustainable logging practices. And then the flip side of that is it’s also what all the interior designers and architects are specifying so they can get the different energy and sustainability ratings for an architecture project.
And then beyond that, it does come down to how long a piece is going to last. I don’t cut corners. I use time-tested joinery methods that people have been using for centuries. That way, you know that a piece is going to last for a long time.
This is a level of quality and detail that I strive for. And the price attached to that is not as bad as everyone would imagine.
But it is a direct reflection of that level of quality, isn’t it?
Yeah, and you know, a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to buy a thousand dollar table. I couldn’t have bought one of my own tables. So I understand that people need the table that meets their needs at the time.
It’s a case of every now and then, if you like the nicer piece by the local person, try and buy the nicer piece, cause it’s going to last you. It will be an investment that pays off down the line.
What’s coming up for you this year? Obviously you’ve got a baby on the way, but what else is in the pipeline?
I’ve got a few pretty big projects, but I’m not sure if I’m meant to be talking about them yet!
I’ve got a big board room table I’m about to start making for a head office. It’s going to be a big project and there’s also about six or seven other tables attached to that project as well. It’s going to be really hectic up until around mid June. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into that and feeling the pressure of constant work.
Then the baby’s arriving in August, so it’s going to be pretty crazy.
And my final question, how would you describe your perfect day?
I think I’m living the perfect days as they are the moment. We wake up in the morning, usually with Charlie (our 3 year old) sleeping sideways across both of our heads.
After breakfast, if we’re spending the day together, we’ll go and do something fun, go skating or go for a bush walk. Then go eat somewhere – it’s usually pizza or pasta. Then maybe watch a movie when Charlie needs some quiet time and then we’ll have dinner together. And that’s kinda it, just hanging out.
That’s awesome that your perfect day includes just your normal life.
Yeah, in a lot of ways I wouldn’t be doing anything different, maybe I’d just be doing it in Italy!
Visit Josh Carmody Studio here
Listen to Josh’s podcast episode here