Mast Furniture (formerly known as Maker Studio) is a Noosa Heads based furniture studio owned + operated by, local, Rory Morgan + his partner, USA expat, Kati Williams. They create beautifully simple pieces made from sustainably sourced materials.
As a small business owner myself, I'm always interested to find out how other small businesses do their thing. Luckily for me Rory has, very generously, answered a few of my questions.
What are your backgrounds - how + when did you discover you had a passion for furniture making + how did Mast Furniture evolve?
When we first met, I was working in architecture + Kati was finishing her last year of her marketing degree. After travelling + gaining work experience, we started our first small business, we sold product online, wholesale + had a little stall at the Eumundi Markets. I continued to work for architects + Kati worked in retail, where she gained a knowledge of merchandising + sales. We became more + more interested in the idea of locally made products. Having always had a passion for architecture + design in general I guess the passion for making furniture came from the desire to design something + make it exactly how I want it without anyone telling me what to change. Architecture can be a fairly restrictive form of creativity. There is always compromise between architect + client, council, codes etc. which isn't necessarily a bad thing - it's just part of the job.
From our previous business experience, we knew the Eumundi Markets were a fantastic platform for a small business, it was a (reasonably) steady income + you can't beat the honest feedback from market shoppers. It's a great place to display our furniture + get in front of a large amount of people for a small outlay. Kati developed a little 'market' product to complement the furniture + hopefully sell a few on the day to cover our costs, as selling more expensive pieces of furniture usually happens from people contacting us later on. She designs + makes typographic style quote boards which are carved into plywood which have proved really popular.
So fast forward a year + Kati is now making our quote boards as her full time job + helping me out with other bits + pieces. So we basically started with just a market stall + a shared workshop. From there we have started to develop our website, we get work through the markets, word of mouth + architects + designers. We moved into our own workshop space in February + have been slowly adding more tools + equipment since then. I've luckily met some amazing local craftsmen + furniture makers over the last few years who I've been able to work with to develop new skills + gain a real understanding of the materials we work with.
Given that you guys, between you, have a fairly diverse skill set have you found that you're able to tackle all the different tasks required to run the business yourselves or have you outsourced some of the key elements?
Starting this new venture, we really felt is was important to have absolutely zero debt (no loans, personal or business) which I think takes huge amounts of pressure off the business + also forces us to be creative in how we achieve necessary tasks. We pretty much do everything ourselves. The information + resources available online makes anything we aren't quite sure about a lot easier... Kati is in charge of styling for sure, she is a natural at it + always makes any styled shoots look great.
How much of an influence do you think the fact that you live and work in Noosa Heads has on the ethos + aesthetic output of the studio - would you be making the same things if you were inner-city dwellers?
I have grown up in Noosa but Kati grew up in the Northwest in the US. We both really enjoy travelling but love coming home to Noosa too (what's not to love?). Living in such a beautiful place gives us a real appreciation for the materials we use, where they are sourced, + how they impact the environment. In terms of design, the inspiration is drawn from so many sources including travel, mid century modern design + architecture to name a few. I don't know if we really have one 'style' of furniture by we both like clean lines with a classic feel. I love raw + honest materials. I have no desire to put a sheet of veneer over some MDF + pretend it's a solid piece of wood.
Can you give us a bit of an overview of your typical workflow when designing + manufacturing a new furniture piece?
I wouldn't say there is a specific way we design. Most of the time it is developing an idea we may have through sketches + working from that in our workshop. Sometimes we develop 3D computer models of pieces to get a slightly better understanding of how it will be built or if we need to machine something on the CNC. Other times I'll have some wood or steel lying around + just start creating something from an idea I've been thinking about. It can depend on the desired outcome of the piece as well. If we want to try + create a product to be included in a range that we can manufacture a number of, the design process is usually a bit different to something that is just a one off piece.
If all your dreams come true, where will Mast Furniture be in 5 years time?
We would really like to have a quality range of products that we manufacture locally. We hope to develop the online side of the business a lot more over the next few years. So yeah, I guess a good range of quality products as well as doing some one off furniture pieces.
Finally, which other creatives are inspiring you at the moment?
Too many to name, a lot of Australian + international architects, I really like what some of the furniture makers in the States are doing right now. I guess with people sharing so much of what they do online, we are able to see new + inspiring things everyday from a different designer/maker/artist etc!
I have to say a big thank you to Rory + Kati for turning this around in record time! Do take a minute to pop over to their website to check out their blog + online store.