Furniture craftsman’s creative space

Christopher Scott Duncombe, a highly skilled, creative cabinet maker with a passion for quality, has recently moved from a North Melbourne suburb to Drouin in West Gippsland where he uses traditional methods to produce the finest hand-crafted modern furniture that will be used by generations of families and individuals.

“Moving to Drouin has been wonderful,” he said. “It has allowed us to have more space to build onto the business. It’s such a beautiful town and it seems to have a lively arts community.”

To supplement his passion for furniture making, Christopher also commutes to Melbourne to do shop fittings, which he also enjoys.

The talented craftsman grew up in Albury and after finishing school, he completed a cabinet-making apprenticeship with his father working with antique restorations. “I was lucky,” he said. “I was able to learn my trade the way it was learnt 50 – 100 years ago using traditional techniques. I was able to see what worked and what didn’t and I learnt the workings of a small family business.”

After completing his apprenticeship, like most country kids he moved to Melbourne where he worked for a few furniture makers before working for a company that built custom elevators. During the six years he worked there, he built the elevators, and the chandeliers in the elevators for Melbourne’s Crown Casino and learnt many new skills that were more current than what he’d learnt in the antique business. He then worked for Leeda Projects, a large shop-fitting company that fitted out many bars and restaurants using a lot of high-end joinery, and his skills again progressed.

He has worked on projects where everything is hand-cut and traditionally produced to using modern computerised machinery, which has given him a great grasp on the different ways things can be produced. He now applies his extensive knowledge and skills to his shop-fitting business and his furniture making.

Christopher left Melbourne in 2009 with his wife Lauren when she was pregnant with their daughter Emily and bought a house in Craigieburn where in 2012, they established the family furniture business in a small two-car garage.

Emily who is now four years old loves to help in the workshop. “She’s a very decorative trade assistant,” he said. “She draws on the off-cuts and uses them for building blocks.”

In his workshop is a beautiful handcrafted refractory table with a side drawer made from Australian red cedar. The table is owned by Peter Birch from Longwarry who has brought it in so Christopher can touch up any little knocks and re-wax it ready for a special family occasion.

“Peter commissioned the table about five years ago,” he said. “He and his wife Deb wanted a family piece that could be passed down through generations. Refractory tables like this one are usually built from English or French oak and I have seen quite a few built from ash but the red cedar has a really nice warm glow.”

The table has a long overhanging top with turned legs and a stretcher base. He said they have been around for a long time and have always been very popular. “They are a type of table that fits into any home.”

The side drawer has been made using traditional methods with long hand-made dovetails for strength and it works on traditional timber runners, but it has been designed so it can be fully extended without falling out so they can get right to the back of it.

“Everything I make is made with the strength to be used every day. Admittedly chairs and some heavily used items of furniture will always need to be re-glued at some stage no matter how well they are built, but using techniques like Mortise and Tenon and dovetails increases the life expectancy to generations. I still hand cut all my dovetails because there isn’t a machine that makes them look right but the more I do, the faster I become at it.”

He finishes the pieces using traditional French polishing but he uses a modern lacquer on the top of the tables. He said the shellac used in the French polishing won’t take any heat, water or alcohol whereas the lacquers are heat resistant and the table can be wiped down and used without any stress. He French polishes the base so it has a nice warm lustre and said the two marry together very well.

“I’m a very tactile person so it’s important to me that the furniture doesn’t just look good but feels good. French polishing is really warm and lovely to touch. It’s like picking up something that is well-worn that someone has loved for years and there are no sharp edges.”

When he is contacted by a new or existing client, he discusses ideas with them and what they want for their home. “I can produce furniture that I like but my clients are the ones that have to live with it, use it and love it.  I have a lot of designs that I have created myself and love, which I am happy to show and talk about but the wonderful thing about not being a mass producer is everything is customised and anything can be done. “

He said tables are always the biggest seller for furniture makers because when people come into other people’s homes they sit at the table and it becomes part of the conversation. Another popular item is desks. For a lot of people, particularly office workers and executives, they are an item they can use as a tax deduction. There are also people close to retirement that will often decide to get a desk made the way they’ve always wanted it.

Floating Television units are also popular. They have an internal support, no brackets and they float off the wall leaving a large space underneath.  Christopher has designed one that has antique brass mesh in each of the doors so all the AV equipment can be set inside the unit and all the remote equipment can be used through the doors, and a flat panel screen can be mounted above it. “It’s a clean design that is modern, functional and has a nice warm feel about it.”

In 2012, Christopher exhibited some of his designs in Melbourne’s ‘Design:Made:Trade Show’ which was held in the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton. The annual event showcases product designers and product makers from a diverse range of design disciplines from Australia and around the world. “I exhibited in the show to get my designs out there and to see what the response was, and it was wonderful. We saw nearly 5000 people in four days and it was great to meet other designers and not just furniture designers.

“We live in a throwaway society but there does seem to be a real resurgence of people wanting to buy products that have been hand crafted, and made in Australia is important to a lot of people as well.”

The work Christopher receives is through word of mouth and his website, which is managed by Lauren.

“Lauren is a wonderful support,” he said. “To live with an artist constantly designing ideas and working on projects can be testing at times and when it’s exceptionally busy, it’s all hands on deck. Our families are also supportive and without them it wouldn’t be possible.”   or phone: 0404 084 001

words by Wendy Morriss

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