“Less and less people truly know what timber does,” John Foley says.
The ex-Londoner says furniture production is a dying trade in Australia. But since 2001, Profile has been sharing traditional production knowledge with younger generations of tradespeople, teaching them the skills and methods to make fine custom furniture.
Led by founder Rob Young, the current team of 15 includes wood machinists, cabinetmakers, assemblers and polishers – each person a specialist in their share of the intricate process. “The knowledge base here is strong. We’ve got guys that have worked in this trade since they were kids,” says Foley, the Collingwood studio’s general sales manager.
Broadsheet approached Profile midway through last year to build a series of office pieces, including a large meeting table, on which Profile collaborated with design studio, Projects of Imagination.
“We like working with Profile. Their service model is exceptional and in particular John Foley, who brings a true passion to each project. They are committed to remaining local, so for us that’s worth supporting,” says POI co-director Dion Hall.
Part of what makes Profile different is the balance it strikes between a hand-finished aesthetic and the use of machinery in the manufacturing process. It means the studio can produce pieces and facilitate projects on a larger scale and within timeframes and budgets that are viable and sustainable. It’s about hitting the sweet spot between beauty, strength and function.
“It’s about asking, ‘How can we make something that we know has longevity, but still has an element of uniqueness about it?’” Foley says.
Before the industrial revolution, every element of a table was crafted by hand – the joinery, the edging, the support and the finish. Today, computer-aided machines can be fed information to push design parameters further than their mid-century counterparts ever could.
When Profile took over its current factory space five years ago, it inherited both vintage and new digitally driven machinery. This created the opportunity to grow and be playful in its processes.
“The design industry is constantly challenging us as makers. There are limitations to what you can actually do on traditional machines. The computer-aided machines are becoming more adept at achieving certain details, but they’re a lot of money and there are still limitations to what you can actually do with those,” Foley says.
While using machinery is key to its output, Profile’s work is not without a human touch. “There’s someone handling every part of the process, so that attention to the detail, the idea of it being loved, is still there.”
So what does it take to make a table in 2016?
Foley explains the brief was a challenging one. It required executing a large sloping tabletop that maintains strength and balance from the centre out to the refined edge.
The legs are then turned and tapered. It’s a process still done by hand. Profile’s head wood machinist marks out the various stages of the machine work and measures at each point.
“It’s very laborious, but that’s how you achieve that beautiful form,” Foley says. “Every part of the table has a soft element to it. There’s no hard edge. It’s very tactile.”
They also engaged a local specialist company, Timber Revival, to source reclaimed timber for the table. It’s made with the wood salvaged from an old munitions factory that was built more than 100 years ago.
Foley says that reclaimed timber is easier to use than young growth. It’s not only beneficial from an environmental perspective, but is also gentler on the machines (Foley says it slices through “like butter”) and minimises some of the guesswork that goes with this natural resource.
“We’re taking this raw material that would have just been chopped up and burned, and we’re going to turn it into some really beautiful tables.”
Profile has supplied furniture for Broadsheet’s office. Broadsheet is a proud supporter of this Melbourne-based maker and its work.