In the nascent days of Angus McIntosh’s fledgling design-build business, he and his business partner Sean Ennis learned a valuable lesson: consider the elevator. They were working on joinery for a fashion retailer La Garconne’s showroom in New York and had built various components for the space in an off-site workshop.
“There was some structural stuff we had to do that involved about 20 or 30 sheets of plywood. We took it there, and they didn’t fit in the elevator,” McIntosh says. “It was the middle of summer. We spent the whole day dragging wood up from the first floor to about the sixth floor, around tight little stairwell corners.”
“Full schoolboy error. I will never, ever make that mistake again.”
McIntosh, a 28-year-old from Sydney, has lived in New York for about six years. He’s the co-owner of Ennis McIntosh, a firm that designs and builds commercial fit-outs for a roster of clients including huge international brands such as Nike and Converse, luxury fashion labels Acne and 3.1 Philip Lim, and a growing list of fashionable New York bars and eateries in both Manhattan and the exclusive summer Hamptons resort.
McIntosh and Ennis are curators and creators, designing chic and contemporary spaces that still feel warm. Their designs are anchored by wood – reclaimed and new – with accents in marble, stone, resin and a range of textiles. And they’re scrupulous about where their materials come from, often favouring local wood such as oak, cherry and cedar over more exotic timbers.
“I’ll use domestic wood over some fancy-ass thing because if it’s not coming from the right streams I don’t want to deal with it,” McIntosh says. He adds that he and Ennis are moving away from using salvaged wood, one of the hallmarks of their earlier rustic aesthetic, to focus instead on using inexpensive materials such as plywood in creative ways.
McIntosh grew up in Thornleigh in northwest Sydney and began work as an apprentice carpenter when he was 16. His grandfather was a master carpenter and a teenage McIntosh used to watch him building and refurbishing furniture with admiration. He loved not only the craftsmanship but also the utility of being able to build something with your own hands.
McIntosh studied construction management at university then worked as a carpenter and construction site foreman in Sydney before decamping to London, then Sweden and finally settling in New York. With no visa, he peddled tickets to comedy shows on the street.
Eventually he landed a job at Saturdays NYC, a downtown menswear and coffee hangout in New York’s Nolita neighbourhood. It was a fortuitous move. Through one of Saturdays’ co-owners McIntosh met Ennis, who was then working as a carpenter for Martha Stewart TV. The pair did some informal work together before officially establishing their eponymous firm in 2012.
“For our first job – and this also says a lot about New York and why we’re here – we did an upside-down skate ramp, which served as a pavilion at a Nike event,” McIntosh says. They knew someone who was organising press for the event and McIntosh attributes much of their early success to having the right network.
“There’s 500 dudes standing behind me who do the same thing as I do, it just so happens that I have the right contacts to make it happen,” he says. It’s a very humble – and self-deprecatingly Australian – version of events that’s betrayed by the boys’ finely honed woodwork and the calibre of clients with whom their young firm is working.
In person McIntosh is friendly and charming, and he vindicates the stereotype that all Australians are easygoing blondes who surf. Other outward signs of his homeland include a penchant for avocado on toast and a still-pristine Australian accent.
“I love going back to Australia. The lifestyle is awesome. Hanging out with the boys. Being around that ocean,” he says. “With every day that passes I think, oh, I’m ready to leave. But then something else comes up and you think, woah, I never would have had that opportunity if I wasn’t here.”
McIntosh is diplomatic when asked who his dream client would be but he easily summons his most memorable, pinch-yourself job.
Using Baltic birch, he and Ennis built a new worktable for the legendary artist Christo. Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude are known for a series of public art works using fabric, including a massive, two-and-a-half-kilometre installation along the Sydney coastline in 1969.
The firm recently moved its workshop from Chinatown to Gowanus, a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood in Brooklyn where McIntosh lives – though he’s not spending much time there at the moment. He’s criss-crossing America with Ennis for two weeks out of every month as a consultant for a television show, which he can’t name. When he and Ennis are back in the city they’re focused on designing and manufacturing their first furniture line.
My experience of Ennis McIntosh’s projects has been as a patron of the restaurants and bars they’ve worked on, from Dimes in the Lower East Side, to Moby Dick’s in Montauk (and it’s successor in East Hampton), to Gilligan’s bar at the Soho Grand. Each one melds serious personality with design flair.
“We consider our work to be successful when it stirs people emotionally,” McIntosh says. He was visibly thrilled, for example, when I said how much my friends and I had loved the fit-out of their latest restaurant project in the Hamptons – the epitome of casual, coastal chic.
“I love that. That’s why I like what I do,” McIntosh says, beaming. “It’s kind of amazing that someone you’ve never met before walks into a space you’ve built, and has that reaction.”