Christmas Rewind 5, August Post – Furniture Maker, Michael Hayes
I met furniture maker Michael Hayes on social media (as you do!) I love connecting with him in particular on Instagram and seeing his latest pieces. I asked him to tell me his story, what is behind his beautifully crafted furniture and a bit about his history and he was kind enough to share it with us.
Michael is an old style furniture maker and an all round lovely guy. He says that his family came here as “boat people” on the first fleet (convicts) and his family name is scattered throughout Australian history, one most notably being a great, great, great (etc) uncle, Jim Hayes that was tried of treason at the Eureka Stockade.
Micheal says he is a third generation joiner, was born around timber and joinery and has been involved in this craft his entire life. It shows in his work. He started his working life with his father, undertaking many building jobs, mainly houses. He actually failed woodwork in high school, but says this was mainly because he was bored and already knew all the joinery from his dad!
Family is clearly very important to Michael. He says he never meet his grandfather because he passed away in the war when his father was 8 years old. His mother is an artist, and he has watched her create paintings and other work for many years. Her work has been in many galleries throughout the world: LA, Sweden, New York and many places in Australia. Her work can be seen on Instagram @avalynd “It’s been a hard way for her to make a living, so I’ve supported her the best I can, when I can”. This includes buying 3 of her paintings over the years as a part of that support. He says ” I wish her all the success she could want. I love them both dearly.”
While Michael worked with his father, building, he would find himself being finer with the details, “sometimes a little too fine, getting me in trouble a couple of times!” Only a couple of years into that work, the hard times of the early 90’s hit and work slowed in building. He ended up working at Visy Board for a short time in the area of die forms, still timber work but a lot finer again to what he was doing in building. “This is what really set me up for inlay and shaping work later” he says.
This was also where Michael first started to “play in furniture”, making a bookcase, or small TV unit (ply from visy board) and a clothes horse from a pallet he found on the side of the road which was his first recycled piece. But even at this point, he was looking for more.”That’s when I found Ancient Modes (now Mark Tuckey) and that’s when the world of furniture really opened up for me”.
Micheal had the joinery knowledge and here was a place to learn how to use it. “I quietly started my days there, first pulling out nails in recycled timber, sweeping floors and what ever odd things they had. Over the next 8 years I worked there, I moved through all aspects of furniture making, up to head cabinet maker, then to managing the workshop”.
And still at this point, he wanted to learn more! He undertook making a Japanese style cabinet (above) that had no nails, or screws holding it together. It was based on Japanese joinery, with all parts interlocking together. This cabinet was made for himself to keep his son out of the video player, as he would watch the postman putting letters in the mailbox and post cd’s into the video player! ( I remember my kids doing that but never had a solution as beautiful as Michael’s cabinet!).
At this point Michael says he “felt I had gone as far as I could at Ancient Modes and so it led me to my own business, and after 13 years in my own business, I still haven’t stopped learning.” These words from his grandfather , “an amazing engineer, my mum’s dad”, still ring in his ears – ” if you want to do well in life, do your best“.
And that is the basis of Michael’s ethics about life and his work.
When I asked Michael the thing he loves most about furniture, his reply was that of a true creative ” being lost in the ideas, lost in the shapes. Nothing gives me more joy, than to look at a piece of timber, and let it take it’s own shape, and I just help bring it’s form out. In these moments, I could easily lose time, and spend many hours not wanting to stop!!!!!!”
And his proudest piece? There are four.
1; The gorgeous Japanese style cabinet
2; Japanese joinery and inlay desk
3; The amazing Redgum coffee table
4; His curlew TV unit
In relation to being sustainable in his work, this began for Michael when he worked at Ancient Modes, as most of the work there was recycled, but he says, “I don’t think I’d like to have worked anywhere else, I grew up in the country, loved the bush” and to this day he still believes that we as humans NEED to live in balance with the earth, much like the Native American Indians did. “If you cut down a tree to build a house, you plant another one” kind of balance.
Michael does not believe the planet can take much more of the “rape” we are doing to her. This is the other part of his ethics, sustainability. “I can still make furniture and support the earth that supports us”. This leads him to his next ethic and why he works using older style joinery. “Once upon a time we made things that lasted, or could be fixed, and could be handed down through generation, to generation. This type of work doesn’t add to landfill. We have become a generation that throws things away when they don’t work anymore, and I strongly DON’T want to be a part of that.”
Me either Micheal.
Having worked now for 13 years making for other companies and not pushing enough of his own styles and designs, he is sadly hardly known, yet many people will have his furniture in their homes. He has had the hardest year he has seen in 20 years this year and due to that, has had less work from companies. Ironically this has been a blessing, as it’s given him lots of time to create his own designs, and a real chance to stand out as a designer/maker, which is a dream.
In terms of dreams, Michael would love to be able to stand in the same arena as the iconic greats of the 50’s, or even the designers of the Art Deco era. “These designs/designers are who inspire me, which I think you’ll see in my Curlew unit”. It’s been a slow road, but thanks to Instagram, he is being seen far more and due to that, has had the chance to be in the Sunday Age and the current issue of Real Living. “To be seen by these people without Instagram would cost far more money than I’ve had, so in the past it wouldn’t have happened.”
Michael mainly works alone, but would love to have creative people working with him. He is inspired by many designs in timber, but can’t say there’s just one person who inspires him, “I just take in everything I see and then hope I haven’t copied someone :-)”
He sees his work cutting across a range of designs and styles and that timber is a wonderful way to bring warmth to a home. “I see so many different designs in homes, and they all work. I’d love to have a home that had a different theme in every room, vintage, deco, modern, rustic and Asian.” I love that idea! He has many new ideas and says “my head swims with them daily.” His workshop space has timber everywhere. The machines are simple,”you can make many things with a simple machine, you just need to know how to use it” and jigs are wonderful (and I don’t mean the dancing jigs, although that has been known to happen!)
Where can you get your hands on his work?
It is all from the workshop, but via Instagram, Facebook or the website. “I do encourage people to come to the workshop, many are wowed by it, but it gives people a sense of an old style workshop, and to see that things are made by hand, we are humans doing it.” This is also the beauty of buying Australian made, at any point the customer can come down and have a look, even to see if they’re happy with the timber, etc.. I think I will definitely be popping in there when I am next in Melbourne!