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  • Current Conversation | A father and daughter team of fine furniture makers

Current Conversation | A father and daughter team of fine furniture makers

Current Conversation | A father and daughter team of fine furniture makers
 “In each period a different demand evolves but you take concepts… from another period and reinterpret it according to the needs of the current day… Actually, creating something, seeing something you’ve drawn up turn into reality is intensely satisfying.”
From a father-son partnership to a father and daughter team, this highly respected Melbourne furniture business is built on legacy, family and the love of creating pieces that last lifetimes.
The workshop for the family furniture and upholstery business Alexander J Cook sits in a peaceful nook of Pascoe Vale, amidst cottages and old rambling industrial warehouses that epitomize Melbourne’s north. From the street front you can hear the buzz of drills, sporadic taps of a hammer and the low murmur of someone telling a story, which is received with enthusiastic chuckles. For many years father and daughter team Ian and Lucinda Rogers have made Southwood’s beautiful beds, bedsides, tables and chairs.

The business began in the post-war 1940s when James Cook began a small upholstery business in Brunswick. The business quickly grew with a reputation for the very finest in traditional upholstery - with Georges of Collins Street as the principal client.

The business’ roots, however, reach back to the 19th century, when the Andrewartha brothers established themselves as highly regarded specialist cabinetmakers, supplying furniture and joinery for Melbourne’s finest homes. In 1961, when the brothers were into their 70’s, a fire tore through their furniture workshop. The Andrewarthas were too old to rebuild the business, but a loyal customer organised and paid for moving the workshop and within three days the doors were open again!

In 1969, a young Ian Cook happily returned from his eight months of national service in Vietnam and went back to doing what he loved most - making upholstered furniture with his father,  James Cook. The father and son pair then took over the furniture business begun by the Andrewartha brothers and expanded their workshop.
Today, Ian continues to make beautiful pieces of furniture with his daughter Lucinda and their team of makers. The AJC team have some of the most skilled upholsterers and makers in all of Australia.
I sat down with Ian over a cup of tea and chatted about his process, the past and what he envisages for the future.
You grew up watching your father make furniture and actually worked in upholstery before the Vietnam war. When you were in the army did you know you wanted to come back and make furniture?

‘Yes, absolutely. I was invited to stay in the army… and not a chance, I was almost non-combatant - the army wasn’t a life that suited my view of the world. My ballot came up when I was 18. At the time of my conscription I had done upholstery but I was also a qualified accountant so as a very junior officer I ran the Canteen system within the army task force base at Nui Dat - it wasn’t a direct line combat role; I would not have done that. I was responsible, within a ten-thousand-man task force, for all the beer, cigarettes, soft drinks, the Seiko watches…When I returned to Australia, I was back at work with my father within the week.’

You were very important for keeping army morale up then! So, your father retired in 1987 and you began to run the business yourself...

Yes, these days the role I take is looking over management - in particular, the cabinet making side of the business, but I’m not far off retiring myself so I’m leaving my daughter Lucinda to be the front of the business.
You have a strong team of makers, many of whom are women. Some have actually trained and finished their apprenticeships under the guidance of both yourself and Lucinda. After chairing the Industry Training Board for the furnishing industry for ten years, it must be satisfying to see makers grow and develop through AJC?

Oh definitely! They love it. It’s unusual to see women as professional cabinet makers – they have some advantages over guys…they tend to be a little more particular about their detailing than guys.
What is your favourite aspect of getting a new design prototype?

Some just fall off the paper, others need to be translated from the environment they came from to the environment of the project…How do you take an idea and interpret it into today’s world as a piece of furniture?
What would be an example of that?

Well, take 1960’s Scandinavian furniture with the turned legs and the like -  if you look at the profile of a lot of that furniture  and then look at pieces from Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture from the 17th/18th century with square tapered legs, you’ll discover the profile is identical – the thicknesses, the overall look and dimensions - they’re just interpreted differently. In each period a different demand evolves but you take concepts from another period and reinterpret it according to the needs of the current day. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you don’t have to interpret and adapt a piece at all, but the most interesting bits are where a readaptation has been needed.   
That reminds me of that quote “acquiring knowledge is a form of imitation.” Do you have a favourite timber?

Blackwood. Always has been. I don’t know if there’s any other timber that has such high reflectivity than Blackwood does…light bounces back out of it. I’ve got a loungeroom that I’ve panelled in Blackwood, the room is never dark because of the light reflection. It’s a wonderful timber!
Your daughter Lucinda trained as a youth worker and then joined AJC full time 18 years ago. What was it like to see her become an integral part of the business?

(laughing) In a family setting…that’s not always a joyful transition, it’s a transition driven by push and pull. The evolution comes out of life rather than a planned direction. It’s nice to see there’s a collaborative future (for AJC) led by Lucinda with the team. She has a five-year-old and balances the pull between work and her little girl very well. I’m proud of her. I think it’s important to have different worlds - a balance.

It seems like AJC gives you great satisfaction…

If I look back over what I’ve done since I was 16, I would absolutely do it all again. Shit happens, sometimes stuff goes wrong, but in the big picture the overall rewards of it far outweigh the downsides…it’s a very satisfying path. Furniture makers die happy. Actually, creating something, seeing something you’ve drawn up turn into reality is intensely satisfying.

…and you create something that lasts through generations…

Yes! We did chairs for Parliament House and I know they will still be there in 50 or so years time. Whenever the Queen comes to Australia, she is sitting on one of the chairs we did…you see the chairs lined up with the Australian emblem and think yeah! We did that. There’s a funny advertisement on at the moment where a guy says ‘a lot of me went into that!’ Well yeah, it’s a bit like that.

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.”
― Leo Tolstoy
There is a lot of joy to be had in sitting and observing the change of a season. Congratulations to Josie, the winner of our spring Combes Wine collaboration, who will be doing just that in her Lapuan robe, slippers and Combes Rose! 

In this journal, we draw inspiration from colourful prints, sleek lined timber pieces and nature. Now is a great time to open the doors, throw some colourful textiles around and add more leaves to your living space. We have some beautiful planters if you have been stuck with the original plastic pot on your ferns and fiddles! 

The Southwood  Makers of Melbourne will be happening on the eve of 24th of October! Join us to hear the inside working worlds of renowned and celebrated Australian creatives stylist Beck Simon, photographer Marija Ivkovic and textile designer Bianca Vallentine (her design is featured above). An inspiring trio of speakers, wine, cheese, great conversation and 10% off storewide all night - sounds pretty good right?  Grab your free tickets HERE!

Remember - if you have ideas for changes you want to make to your space but can't quite crystallise them into a plan, we'll help you. Our Design Service means we come to your door and make your ideas happen. Give us a call to book in and we'll see you at yours! 

Enjoy this spring weather. We hope this journal inspires you toward colour and adventure. 
From us at Southwood X
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Catherine Martin 
Catherine Martin and Rakumba fabrics and wallpapers 
Catherine Martin is a powerhouse. She's a film, stage and interior designer with 4 Oscars, 5 BAFTAs and a Tony Award among many other awards. She was named one of Glamour Magazine’s 2013 Women of the Year for her production, set and costume designs and was inducted into Rodeo Drive “Walk of Style” for her work on “The Great Gatsby”. In partnership with fabric house Mokum, she has recently released the most beautiful wallpaper and fabric range that alludes to LA balmy nights and just the right amount of old school glamour. The fabrics were designed on the premise of "optimistic design" in both function, form and touch and to that we say, mission accomplished. You can't help but feel happy when you look at these beautiful prints. Come into our store to see Catherine's latest range. Why not find a print you love and make an ottoman or cushions?
Millgram Form Light 
Available at Southwood

Not so long ago Milligram Studio collaborated with One Design Office. What birthed from this partnership was a great new lighting range, including the Form lights. Playing with shape and an excellent array of pastel colours, these lights are simple, fun and practical (the pearl bulb has a beautiful warm and bright glow). We absolutely love them! 

Arc Table 
Designed by Southwood 

With gentle curves, tapered and slightly turned in legs, the Arc table sits elegantly and effortlessly as a dining room or kitchen table. The curved edges allow for extra stools to be added to the table when there are additional dinner guests. We love the light aesthetic of this table. It's so versatile and fantastic for small homes.