Creativity has always been a part of Craig Sargeant’s life, having had a successful career in landscaping before progressing to furniture design. We catch up with Craig to find out more about the ins and outs of woodworking and his business, CS Furniture Design.
Craig, you started your career in woodcraft quite late compared to most people. Tell us about your background and how you came to be in furniture design.
Landscaping is one of those skills you can travel with and get a job pretty much anywhere. At 30, I had a young family to support and we were new to the area – there is no time for thinking about what you might do with your life if things were different. But a back injury changed all that; landscaping wasn’t an option anymore.
When you are in that situation, you can dream a little bit, and my wife encouraged me to stop focusing on paying the bills and think about what I would really like to do.
What do you enjoy most about creating pieces from start to finish?
The anticipation that builds from when you get that first piece of wood, figuring out how to incorporate it into the design and maximise the use of the timber for the greatest effect. Working with natural materials is always exciting, because there is an uncertainty; you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and no two pieces can ever be the same.
But once you get through that uncertainty, the reward is putting that final coat of oil on to see the secrets hidden in the grain fully revealed. My designs are quite minimalistic; the timber is the focal point.
Do you find that you draw upon your horticulture and landscape design skills at all when designing and creating furniture?
Absolutely. In my previous career, you had to read the landscape, whether you were designing a home garden or a large commercial layout, to get the best use of the space. My landscape designs were always curved and flowing, like many of my pieces now. Working with timber is similar, because you have to get a feel for the space the piece will fit into, choose materials that will give the best end result and with both careers, you need to take into consideration the client’s specific needs – that can’t be underestimated.
What timbers do you use, and where are they sourced?
We have some of the best native timbers in Australia on the Mid North Coast, and by living here I have built a relationship with several private mill owners and landholders. This gives me access to a wide variety of salvaged and sustainably harvested wood, such as Red Cedar, Rosewood, Coachwood, Red Mahogany and Blackbutt, just to name a few.
Different timbers have different qualities, but my personal favourites are Blackwood, Silky Oak and Blue Gum.
You have a big focus on sustainability. Why is that important to you?
Like a lot of people, we spend a lot of time living on a very low income. It forces you to look at what’s important – beyond the basics like food and shelter. For us it’s the area we live in, clean water and lots of trees – being close to the coast and world heritage rainforest and being able to visit those areas for free.
Those things are what bring a lot of people to the area, and they need to be preserved. My wife is halfway through a Bachelor of Ecology; we grow a few vegies and keep chickens in our backyard – it keeps you in touch with the seasons and our place in the world.
Sustainability is not a word to us; it’s our way of life. We’re consumers, so we’ll always try to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.
You work closely with your clients to create pieces that are just right for their homes. Talk us through the process.
Following an initial consultation, rough hand drawn sketches are transferred into a 3D image with computer modelling software. This allows our clients to see how the piece will look when it is finished prior to production, make any adjustments, or just be certain that what they envision is really what they want. In our technological age, this can all be done over the phone or via email, but clients are welcome to view progress on their pieces at our workshop by appointment.
What custom designs are the most popular with customers at the moment?
That’s the thing about custom designs – each piece is a little bit different in the same way that two trees are and are tailored to the individual. I must say, though, everyone who sees it falls in love with the Rosewood and Red Mahogany sideboard.
It was inspired by the sideboards of old, which are wonderful but often a bit dark and heavy for modern living. Whenever it is exhibited, people can’t keep their hands off it – it has such a lovely, smooth finish, it just begs you to touch it!
What have been some of the standout projects you have undertaken so far?
The Blue Gum wine rack and Red Cedar flow coffee table pushed the boundaries and were very fulfilling. Bending timber into organic, free flowing shapes is something I enjoy the challenge of, but it can be incredibly frustrating! I can’t really explain the custom design of the Silky Oak and Red Cedar jewellery box I made earlier this year, but I was given total creative freedom with that one, and it was definitely a standout.
It must take a lot of time and skill to produce such quality timber pieces. What’s an important thing to remember when crafting solid hardwood?
That I don’t get paid by the hour! I enjoy what I do, and any craftsman will tell you that you can’t really charge for all of the time you put into it. But seriously, patience – you can’t rush the process; shortcuts equal stuffups.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2012? Any big projects in store?
Two of my pieces have been chosen for display in the NSW Woodworkers Association exhibition, which is being held at Chifley Towers, Sydney, in August. The Blue Gum wine rack is one piece, and I am currently building a Blackwood display cabinet, which was originally submitted to the exhibition as a 3D CAD image. I’ll also have my first solo exhibition at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre early in 2013 so will be busy creating pieces for that around our custom design service. Thanks Craig.