You’re never too young to find success in furniture making and design, if the experience of Angus Bennett is anything to go by.
“I grew up in the countryside and was always out in the woods building things. I used to tell people when I was in primary school that I wanted to be a carpenter. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and now I’m living that dream,” says Angus.
His journey from skilled amateur to professional started when he set up a small workshop at home, and submitted some pictures of his work to the renowned woodworking business, Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd. So impressed were they that, after a trial, Angus landed a full-time job.
Robert Thompson was, of course, better known as “The Mouseman” – carving a small mouse onto most of his furniture, and which became his signature. Although he died in 1955, his furniture making business still has an international reputation – an ideal place for Angus to start learning his craft.
After two years, Angus decided it was time to further develop his skills and enrolled at the Chippendale International School of Furniture, for its intensive 30-week course. “Although I already knew a lot about woodworking, the course taught me such a lot – including furniture design, and specific skills such as veneering, marquetry and inlays,” he says.
Nor was it just acquiring furniture design skills. There is also the business side to woodworking that many students, without marketing or business experience, can find daunting.
However, the Chippendale school takes a holistic approach to its curriculum, building in modules to help students get to grips with setting up in business, and then marketing their businesses to local customers.
“Anselm Fraser, the principal of the school, was a great help and believes that, to be successful in furniture design, you have to have business skills and the confidence to go out and sell yourself. There are also incubation units at the school, where I’m currently based, and which provide a nurturing environment for new woodworking businesses,” he says.
Angus’ journey is far from over, although he has already secured some lucrative commissions. In the New Year, he intends to learn local practices and customs from workshops in India and south-east Asia, and perhaps also hone his boat-building skills. (He’s already worked in New Zealand, helping to build a rowing skiff made from red cedar and other indigenous species).
Angus’ taste for adventure is reflected in the eclectic and creative pieces he produced while at the Chippendale school – including designing an oak and yew cabinet for an old gramophone, and a roll-top desk, with separate tambour slides, and a central marquetry image of a Chinese junk with rock formations coming out of the water.
Angus only has one piece of advice for anyone thinking of learning furniture design. “Just go for it! If you can make nice things, people will buy them!” Straightforward advice from a young man who has already proved that youth is no barrier to success.