Interview

Mark Tuckey

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 11th October 2013

Mark Tuckey’s beautiful store in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.

Mark Tuckey’s Newport showroom. Styling – Louella Tuckey, Photo – Jason Busch.

From the new MARKTUCKEYnow range, the ‘Biscuit Bed’. Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.

From the new MARKTUCKEYnow range, kids single Biscuit Beds. Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.

From the new MARKTUCKEYnow range, the Slab End Dining table. Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.

Mark Tuckey with his wife and business partner Louella, in their Newport showroom. Photo – Jason Busch.

You really have to hand it to Mark Tuckey.  In collaboration with his super talented wife and business partner Louella Tuckey, Mark (or ‘Tuckey’ as everyone, including his wife, seems to call him!) has created a renowned, distinctly Australian design brand in just 7 years.  Well, that’s not strictly true… he’s been in business a lot longer than that… let’s start at the start!

Mark Tuckey didn’t study design, and he didn’t start out in furniture originally.  Having received his only tertiary education at what he calls ‘The University of Life'(!), Mark originally got into the furniture game somewhat inadvertently, through a friend called Geoff Hardy, who at the time was running a furniture business called Country Form.  Mark learnt all aspects of the business through working closely with Geoff at Country Form for 20 years.  But in 1990, the time came for Mark to do his own thing.

He’d already started his own business, a clothing design and wholesale business called ‘Ancient Modes’, in 1986.  After leaving Country Form, Mark restructured Ancient Modes, turning it into a furniture business.  Though the aesthetic was quite different to what he’s doing now, the business grew and became successful.

But the real magic happened in 2006, when Tuckey re-branded the business under his own name (with a little help from designer and long time friend Rachel Castle!).  The distinctive bold lettering and cheery yellow highlights gave MARK TUCKEY ‘the brand’ a new presence, and with new partner Louella’s input, MARK TUCKEY was re-imagined as a beachy, relaxed and quintessentially Australian interiors brand.  Solid Australian timber in blonde, sunbleached tones was Tuckey’s hallmark, and shapes were chunky and robust.  Louella, a stylist who had previously worked for Terence Conran in the UK, lended a much-needed softness to the brand by sourcing soft furnishings, artwork and accessories to complement the furniture range.  Manufacturing in Melbourne, and with beautiful warehouse-style showrooms in both Melbourne and Sydney, MARK TUCKEY quickly established a strong reputation for their quality, locally made furniture and fresh, contemporary aesthetic.

These days, MARK TUCKEY is a 45-strong team headed up by Mark and Louella, who live in Sydney’s northern beaches, not far from the Newport store.  Despite its incredible growth since 2006, Tuckey’s goal today is as simple and resolute as it was on day one – ‘We design furniture to last’ he says.  ‘Our aim is to create furniture that has integrity, simplicity and strength’.

This month marks an important addition to the MARK TUCKEY brand.  After many years creating premium furniture, custom made to order, Mark and Louella have just launched MARKTUCKEYnow – a contained, more affordable furniture range with much shorter lead times (it will soon be available to purchase directly off the shop floor!).  As with all MARK TUCKEY pieces, this new range is also manufactured locally, in the Tuckey’s busy Thornbury factory.  It’s in store now!

HUGE THANKS to Mark for his generous interview responses, and to Louella for facilitating SO MANY photoshoots to accompany this post!  What a team!

Tell us a little bit about yourself – what did you study and what path led you to furniture design originally and to launching Mark Tuckey in 2007?

I have studied the University of Life around Australia and the world, that’s it.  After HSC it was all travel, surfing, skiing, partying and generally trying to get lost so I could have adventures. I have a disparate range of experience under my belt. All sorts of jobs, all mentionable but too many to list. Some of which were creative pursuits. Until my late twenties when I suddenly realised I needed to figure out a career path. I had a few years in the rag business and that was NOT my path!

Having grown up on the beaches of Sydney, as a teenager I had been around lots of creative and environmentally conscious people. You had to do something to help the environment in your life, or you did not matter! And having been involved in some creative endeavours (organic dyes, ceramic sculptures and clothing design), I realised that the creative process was a passion on top of my list.

I knew a guy socially who had a successful and reasonably sizable business designing, producing and retailing furniture. He was using recycled timber so the whole thing was a perfect fit for me and I was good for him, as I had owned my own business before, so I had a good grip on what priorities a business owner has. His name was Geoff Hardy of Country Form. Geoff gave me the job of being his PA and that was my university of furniture. I learnt all aspects of the business from interviewing prospective staff to restoring other people’s junk into beautiful objects, and a whole lot more. That job took me to Melbourne to conduct some interviews for the shop we had down there, one thing led to another and there I stayed for 20 years. In 1990 I left Country Form and started my own business again.

How has Mark Tuckey changed since the early days?

The brand has changed radically to an outsider, but to me it has been a pretty natural  evolution from me, $200 and an F100 to what it is today. A very big change was rebranding to Mark Tuckey (done by our good friend, the very talented and incredibly sexy Rachel Castle).

That rebrand was subsequent to an even more profoundly big step forward, that was meeting my wife Louella. When we got together the business took a big leap forward in all sorts of ways. Not only a partner to brainstorm with, but a partner who had studied furniture design and was a sought after interiors stylist. It went from being a room full of great tables to a room full of great tables beautifully arranged and merchandised. And of course as time went by the furniture range has evolved a lot.

Mark Tuckey’s Newport showroom. Styling – Louella Tuckey, Photo – Jason Busch.
How would you describe the MT design aesthetic?

Our design aesthetic stems from us making things we would have in our own home. It’s minimal in its complexity, focussed on quality, form and function. We like solid timber. Solid timber is in a league of its own as you can always sand it back and refinish any damage.

MARKTUCKEYhome new ‘Locator’ table in light lime with white legs, and eggcup stools in radiata pine.  Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.
Mark Tuckey specialises in contemporary furniture that is designed and manufactured in Australia – why is this element of your business important to you and what challenges do you face maintaining this commitment?

It’s important to us because we like to be involved in the whole creative process. Also we don’t want to have to spend our life travelling to foreign countries on work trips. The challenges are numerous but usually they turn into triumphs! Clearly the biggest challenge by a long way is the high labour cost we have to factor into local production.

MARK TUCKEY factory in Thornbury, Melbourne.  Photo – Lucas Allen.
Very recently you launched your brand new furniture range MARKTUCKEYnow, which includes more affordable products aimed at a younger market. Can you give us a little info about the new range? How long has it been in development for and what is your vision for it?

The product is the result of a design brief we wrote for ourselves. The thrust of that is to maintain absolutely the quality we like to produce, but to make it affordable to more people. It’s easier to make, transport and warehouse (due to a lot of knockdown items) than our usual range.

It’s been in development for a couple of months from the initial idea, to one of everything sitting on the floor in our Fitzroy shop. The guys at our factory have pulled a rabbit out of a hat there to do that, ably guided by Dave!

From the new MARKTUCKEYnow range, the Slim Jim Dining table and benches.  Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Mark Tuckey – how is your studio and factory structured, how many people do you employ and in what roles? AND what secrets do you have for working successfully as a husband and wife team with Louella!?

These days Louella and I work mainly from our home office on Pittwater. We have a shop in Fitzroy and one in Newport. Soon we hope to be opening in Sydney CBD.

Part of the magic trick doing bespoke furniture is effective communication between the shops and the workshop. It’s a work in progress after 23 years! Our workshop is in Thornbury, Melbourne.

Across the business we have 45 staff. They work in admin, sales, making, marketing, etc. Our culture is pretty organic, we all pitch in and if we see something that needs attention we do it or make sure it gets done. There is no real hierarchy, it’s flat, we all work together. We actually like the idea that its one big happy family. Ask Judy in our Sydney shop!

Louella and I both get up every day and engage in work that we are passionate about. It’s pretty full on, as we are the design department and a whole lot of other things. I guess that is a flying start to being able to work together. Living and working together is amazingly smooth for us. We rarely disagree about work things but often bounce ideas off one another and get a great outcome. I think we listen to each other really well and have mutual respect. We keep the communication flowing about big and little things and are constantly helping each other wherever we can. I think we have developed a great understanding of the other’s strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to defer to the other for guidance.

Sometimes one of us will tell the other to stop talking about work and relax, but not often. I think loving what we do gives us a great balance between work and family. And as we are both TOTALLY in love with our two daughters, we both have a shared focus there as well.

Mark Tuckey’s Newport showroom. Styling – Louella Tuckey, Photo – Jason Busch.

Mark Tuckey’s Newport showroom. Styling – Louella Tuckey, Photo – Jason Busch.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

It varies a lot. My normal day involves walking the dogs in the morning, sneaking in some emails while feeling fresh, helping get the girls ready for school, more emails and phone calls, admin work at my desk, maybe a small amount of time doing hard labour in the garden, more emails and phone calls, going to our shop, having a daily coffee that sometimes doubles as a social chat somewhere, more emails and phone calls. There are a lot of things to do always from design and marketing to leases and talking to our fantastic co-workers. The list is long and varied. I am very hands on really, even when not physically at work, I like it that way, it’s my baby.

Which other local designers and creative people are you loving at the moment?

There are so many talents doing creative stuff in this country. I love Rachel Castle, just as much for her ‘interesting’ sense of humour as her fantastic creative work.

Also David Bromley who is a friend, mentor and incredibly diverse talent. He does a lot more than most people know about in a range of mediums. Every time I talk to him I feel like I can conquer the world.

I saw some traditional Koori baskets the other day that knocked me over with their organic colour and the obvious love that had gone into making them.

My daughters Chilli and Indigo are also prodigious!

Mark Tuckey store Fitzroy, Melbourne. Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.
What would be your dream creative project?

At the moment my dream creative project would be to be to design, build (myself), furnish (myself) an extension to our home that did not have to be a metre above the ground to comply with regs (there are regulations about how far above sea level new builds must be)!

What are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to going for a swim with the girls when I finish writing this! Also many other things like taking Louella on a holiday and many more years of a life engaged in a creative venture. Oh going to Melbourne regularly is great too.

Two classic MARKTUCKEYhome pieces – the Slab bed in sandblasted oregon, and an eggcup stool with white top.  Styling – Louella Tuckey, photo – Lucas Allen.

SYDNEY QUESTIONS

Your favourite Sydney neighbourhood and why?

Where we live on the northern beaches. Not much ‘kulcha’ but we live in nature paradise.

Where do you shop in Sydney for the tools of your trade?

Auctions and any tool shop really. I love a tool shop!

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Sydney?

At home on our front balcony looking at the water, standing in front of an open fire pit with some good friends. Not sure what we ate, did not matter.

After Sydney Contemporary the other day we went to Longrain. Once again it was about good friends, not sure what we ate but I do remember it was awesome food! We also had a fantastic paella at Josh Yeldham’s birthday the other weekend.

Sydney’s best kept secret?

Can’t say or I would have to kill myself! Palm Beach lighthouse walk is unknown to almost everyone I know in Melbourne. Amazingly. I hope it regenerates quickly after the fire on the weekend knocked a big part of it for a six.

MARK TUCKEY Fitzroy store.  Photo – Lucas Allen.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 11th October 2013

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