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American Hardwood and the Lure of Creativity

Many dream of taking a more creative course in life. Ian Monty, David Norrie and Paul Nicholson from Sydney’s Splinter Workshop have turned that dream into reality.

American Hardwood and the Lure of Creativity

sedia sola by David Norrie. Shell made of CNC routed birch ply segments; veneered with hand cut American White Oak.


July 1st, 2013

Formed in 1996, The Splinter Workshop was an offshoot of the prestigious Sturt School for Wood. Based in the former Taubmans paint factory in Sydney’s St Peters, this co-operative has become a home for emerging designer-makers producing high quality bespoke wooden furniture.


Dog Bed by Ian Monty. Made from American hard maple

Each of these designers speak of being drawn to working with their hands and creating. Nicholson describes his year training at Sturt as “idyllic”.  Former trader and son of a high school woodwork teacher, Ian Monty spent his childhood restoring and reselling wooden furniture and says of his current calling “it must be genetic”.


American cherry desk by Paul Nicholson.

But what of their work? Each of these designer-makers has approached their new craft with respect. With greater life experience than many younger designers, these three creators are clear as to their influences and have a respect for the craft. Short cuts are not an option. Paul Nicholson uses hand made tools that he specially creates to suit his style. He has a traditional approach to construction and challenges his skills with detail including fine dovetails and secret compartments. He describes his work as “mid-twentieth century in style but I’m also influenced by designs from the neo-classical period”.


sedia dell’amore by David Norrie. Shell made of CNC routed birch ply segments; veneered with hand cut American White Oak. Image by George Mourtzakis.

Contrastingly, Norrie’s pieces are more organic in feel, with a contemporary take on classic furniture. He describes his ‘breakthrough pieces’ as being two ottomans made from CNC routed ply with handmade veneers based on a wrought iron garden love seat. His ‘club’ styled oval chart with an enclosing cascading back support, and large, low, kidney shaped ottoman with arched sub-frame demonstrate his continuing fascination with rhythm and movement in his work.


Hatbox by David Norrie. Made from tops birch ply veneered with American White Oak; sub frames solid stainless steel round. Image by David Norrie.

Each designer regularly works with wood from around the world and increasingly are experimenting with American hardwoods. American red oak is a hardwood that is already used in Australian interiors but less so in furniture design.  The American Hardwood Export Council provided each of these designers with an open brief to create a piece of their own design incorporating red oak donated by Sydney’s Specialty Timber Traders. Nicholson’s aim is to “make something with a presence that reflects the strength and resilience of American red oak but at the same time convey elegance and sophistication in the design. My approach will be to create a fine piece of furniture that demonstrates another side to oak, removed from the rustic furniture and heavy beams with which is often associated”. Norrie’s piece will be a quirky yet functional writing desk with a solid red oak top, red oak veneered skirt and solid red oak legs. It continues his design preference for using curves to render a more organic feel to his pieces.


Small dining table and bench seat by David Norrie. Image by Jenny Rix.

Of the design challenge, Roderick Wiles, AHEC Director for Oceania says “We have found the Splinter Workshop’s story to be fascinating. Here are talented creative individuals who have found their kindred spirits. They are all thoroughly passionate about design and pushing their skills as designers and craftsmen. We aim to support Australian designers with an interest in American hardwoods in exploring the capabilities of full range of US hardwood species that are available here. We are very excited to see what they create and will be showing some of the pieces at Sydney Indesign this August”.

American Hardwood Export Council


Splinter Workshop


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