I think I may have a *thing* for furniture makers. I just can’t explain the awe I have for people who can make stuff with their hands. Woodworking, in particular, is a skill that can’t be fudged or photoshopped. Furniture making requires a fine balance of design ability and, importantly, the proper hands-on skills to prototype, refine and bring your ideas to life. And in the end, the piece has to work. It has to be functional. You can either make a chair or you can’t. Fred Ganim certainly can.
Fred didn’t originally undertake formal design training, but his background as a specialist props maker / sculptor in the film industry over many years has instilled in him an incredible framework of creative thinking and problem solving skills which now drive his own creative projects. Around five years ago, during a quiet period between jobs, he enrolled in the Melbourne Guild of Fine Furniture. He loved it.
Since completing this course, Fred has continued to work in the film industry intermittently, but he’s also been honing his woodworking skills with various custom furniture projects for friends and clients, and I have to say – his work is seriously impressive. He’s an intuitive designer and a skilled craftsman, with an incredible eye for detail. Though we’ve only managed to include a handful of images of his finished furniture pieces here, it’s well worth a browse through Fred’s website for a closer look at his creations. Seriously beautiful stuff!
For an even closer look at Fred’s latest work, you can also check out his furniture exhibition, which opened yesterday in Cremorne (Richmond) in Melbourne. The show brings together a brand new collection of eight pieces designed and made by Fred that are available buy in limited editions. Mentally I am already shopping.
Fred Ganim. A Furniture Exhibition.
68 Gwynne St, Cremorne
Until this Sunday 16th August, 9.30 – 5.00pm.
Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study, and what path led you to launching your business officially this month?
I have always made things for as long as I can remember. I have an interest in forms and materials, but have never had any formal study or training. I originally got a job in a sculpting department of the film industry, which is about the most informal training you can get!
This job was great in terms of learning and problem solving, working with a team of talented sculptors and using an array of mediums to build many things. I’d be creating shapes out of concrete or foam and fibre glass for a month or so at a time, and constantly thinking how this could translate to something else such as a prop for the set or a piece of furniture.
Being a tentative industry, there were often months with no film or theme park work. It was during these quieter period that I decided to enrol at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking. I did the course there intermittently for a few years with Alistair Boell, the Mr Miyagi of woodworking.
Alistair is a very generous teacher with a wealth of knowledge of traditional woodworking, but very open to new approaches and head spaces. I still work around Al today and it is great having him to tackle problems that arise when dealing with timber, so that I can make the forms that have been running around my head.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your distinctive aesthetic?
I’m not sure how to describe my style as it’s constantly changing. I’ll be fixed on a type of joinery for example, then see a small detail in architecture, like the way an edge of masonry is bull nosed, and that will set something else off. It’s about working through my ideas to achieve the best result.
The photo album on my phone is probably the best way to articulate my style. It is full of the details of small things I see through travel, walking around town and sculpting work. I take these and try to roll them into my furniture, which often presents problems as timber has its limitations, but that’s the fun of it.
How did you originally get into furniture design and production?
Good furniture has always been around me growing up. I have been lucky to be surrounded with quite an eclectic mix of traditional English, Alvar Aalto and so on, and in particular pieces by Pierre and Charlotte Julien. I have always been interested in clean lines and joinery, and through my early days working in the film industry my interest in developing my own furniture grew.
For years I have always been back and forth with jobs in the film industry, where I could be called to work on a shoot in the Gold Coast for a few weeks, then back to the workshop, then to Fiji for a job. It has kind of been a gypsy lifestyle. It is only in the last couple of years I have been able to focus more on furniture properly, hence the exhibition this weekend.
This weekend you are launching a limited edition collection of furniture. Could you let us know what we can expect from this pop-up furniture exhibition?
The Show is basically a collection of works I have put together over the past couple of years. The concept of the show is not a range per se, but an opportunity to make the pieces that have been running through my head and seeing if they work in their form and function.
The furniture on display is a collection of what I hope is fine furniture that is timeless but of its time, that nods to past movements while saluting 21st century Australian design. I have designed eight pieces that will be available in limited editions, including a chair, a television cabinet, a shelving unit, a dining table, a book-stand, a coffee table, a pin-board, and the piece that none of us knew we desperately needed or wanted – a ‘dump’-pole.
What’s one of your favourite pieces to make and design?
The Chair is a great parameter to work in, as it has to function as ‘a chair’. So you introduce an idea which has to be tackled with the underlying factors of comfort and structure. You ask yourself ‘Will this last 100 years?’, so your joinery informs the design.
The tricky thing is that you can apply certain measures and rules to the ergonomics, but you can’t really sit on it until it’s all glued up. Then you can assess small changes that need to be made, or sometimes start again!
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your business and creative process? How do you manage the day-to-day side of the business, while making all of your furniture and products in-house?
Basically it involves juggling each day, collecting components and being in the workshop. I often have a few projects on the go at the same time. It enables you to work on one project, while another is being glued and clamped, or a craftsman is working on a component for me, and is backing up. This also allows you to step back from a piece, and not put to much stress on it, while working on something else. This thinking space may then inform your next step on another project.
I spend a lot of time driving around talking to craftsmen (a Steely, Spinner and Turner, Fibre Glasser). I don’t really draw my concepts down on paper initially, as I like to talk to the varies craftsmen about the best approaches and how they would tackle an idea, then I go from there. Trades can often be resistant to change in their normal output, but once you get a dialogue going, and allow them to play around with a process, you see the best work.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I like to surf. On a good day, I will check the surf on my iPhone, and if it’s on, I’m up at 5.30am, grab a coffee, then I am out of the door.
After a few hours I’m in the car by 11am, and shoot back to town. Sometimes you can tee up a pick up or visit the timber yard on the way back through.
I’m back in the workshop around 1pm and get into it. I’ll unclamp something I’ve glued up over night work, or mill timber for another project. If I’m going through the work portal, I’ll stay out there till around 10pm. But usually I’m back in town for dinner with friends around 8pm.
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use?
I work with timber mostly, American Oak, Rock Maple or Euro Beech. Woodworking takes time, which is great as you have that time to think about the next step – what changes you are going to make to your original idea and so on. This is how I like to work. A base idea which is edited along the way. This can be problematic at times, but that’s half of it.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Benjamin Lichenstein, Artist – He has an amazing show on at Anna Pappas Gallery in Prahran at the moment. He manipulates his photography by hand in the darkroom, crossing collage with strong lines.
Pierre and Charlotte Julien – Pierre and Charlotte make beautiful furniture and objects, previously Melbourne based they are now located in Tasmania. They are now focussing on lighting, handles, hooks and vessels. Look out for the vessels, I had a perv at one last time I there.
Martin Bell, Artist – Marty’s line of inquiry and commitment to his practise is next level. He works across various mediums in particular his black line drawings.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
1.Books. I have never been to uni but have spent a lot of time in their libraries.
2. Film. I watch a lot of films and take a lot of screen grabs of lights, tables, buildings and colours from old films.
3. Walking around town. Melbourne has some amazing buildings, the city is an example. If you lean your head back above the awnings you will find some great details.
4. Carbatec Catalogue. A tool store in Melbourne’s full colour publication, I could stare at it for hours.
What would be your dream creative project?
I’d love to do the interior of 100ft yacht with a workshop on a bigger boat next to it. Unlimited budget and time frame, and work where the current waves are for a bit of surf.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I can’t pick one, I love them all.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
The Mexican steak tartare at Mesa Verde in Curtin House.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I’d most likely be at the Victoria Market, the workshop or going for a surfboard riding.