Wood craftsmen moving away from mass production
The partnership of Sean Kelly and Billy Horn goes back to 2015. Both from Adelaide, they didn’t meet until they came to Melbourne – and quickly recognised a mutual interest in quality design.
Sean came to working wood through studying architecture. Having graduated and finding little work in Adelaide, he moved to Melbourne in 2012 and began to design furniture. He also worked with a manufacturer in Broadmeadows who owned a CNC machine, helping out with seasonal orders. Eventually, when the manufacturer retired, Sean purchased the equipment and took over the business.
Billy also originally came from a design background, but on moving to Melbourne he’d worked at a variety of jobs where enthusiastic creativity was needed. His stint creating gourmet pizzas has become a legend. When they first met – introduced by their girlfriends who already knew each other – Sean was looking for some seasonal labour, so Billy came on board.
The result was SEAN&HORN, a partnership offering a range of CNC and more traditional woodworking services to other businesses – furniture makers, industrial and other types of designers – and even hobbyists. It helps them turn their ideas and drawings into finished pieces through proto-typing, product design, manufacture and logistics. The company also produces a range of custom furniture and furnishing designs as well as creating retail merchandisers – such as stand-out Christmas designs for Happy Feet socks in Myer and David Jones – and fabrication for exhibition stands.
In early 2018 the newly formed company took space in the Space Tank Studio in North Coburg. Space Tank is an incubator for people in the creative industries, especially those ‘pushing the envelope’ with theories they want to turn into reality.
Founded by multi-disciplinarian Holger Dielenberg, the Studio is a ‘makerspace’ that provides product innovators with equipped physical spaces. In Holger’s philosophy, the makerspace is its people and, given half the chance, people make the most amazing things. It also relieves an expensive burden of overheads through the principles of sharing and collectivity – meeting other talented creatives, sharing inspiration and getting valuable feedback. Further, Holger believes that help with business development and commercialising their IP is essential to ensuring their own business success as well as the survival of Australian manufacturing.
SEAN&HORN have moved their Multicam 3-axis CNC milling machine into their space within the studio – but also have access to other machinery. The environment is conducive to creativity, with a wide selection of fellow workers in wood, metal, plastics, leather and other materials in adjacent spaces and a shared kitchen with relaxation area.
Sean says that people are moving away from mass-produced products. “They are now wanting fewer special objects. It’s now a long-standing positive trend for industrial design. They’re looking for quality and value over time – products that reflect ideas and culture. These are the clients we’re designing and manufacturing for.”
Billy believes that there’s a lot left to be improved. “Just looking around your home or office, there are a lot of things around which don’t do quite what they should. But, bit by bit, it’s improving. And with technology at your disposal, you can make things that would be unviable to achieve manually. But you have to really want to pursue it to go after it.”
It’s not about perfection, Sean says. “Perfection was an impediment – it creates a distance between you and others. Aim for ‘really good’, because aiming for perfect means you lose sight of what’s important. You need a broader sense; to feel the pull of the vibe of the thing you’re working on. To take a regular step back and ask, does this make sense? Is it becoming complicated? Because, if it is getting complicated, then you’re on the wrong track.”
Successful design comes from an iterative process, Sean adds. “Our CNC machine is great for that, because you can control the variables. Tools are precise, they don’t cause issues. If something is not working it’s because the machine got it right but the human didn’t.”
MAKING WITH AUSTRALIAN MANUFACTURERS
Both of Sean and Billy like that they’re using Australian manufacturers’ equipment and tools: the Multicam was manufactured in Newcastle, and they always use Carbitool Routers, Drills & Mills. Billy says that a reoccurring problem in their business is time.
“We’re usually under pressure to get a client job done on time and within budget. With Carbitool, we’re always able to get the bits we need from distributors within the next day, or even the same day.
“That means we don’t have to keep a large tool inventory,” Sean adds. “We haven’t got large stocks sitting idle, and that helps with our cash flow.”