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Greg Stirling

Studio Visit

As someone who established their furniture business back in 1977, you’d expect Greg Stirling to have an insightful perspective of the industry’s evolution, as well as a riveting tale of how he’s navigated it for the past four decades and this knowledgeable craftsman certainly doesn’t disappoint!

We caught up with the master of traditional British-style furniture for a studio visit, at his home just outside Castlemaine in Victoria.

29th August, 2017

Master craftsman Greg Stirling outside his home studio, near Castlemaine in Victoria. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Greg’s Bow Back Elbow chair, ‘West Country-style’ in oak and ash. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Many of my techniques I use now, were employed in the 19th Century,’ tells Greg. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Greg creates timeless furniture and takes on custom commissions. Left to right: Milking Stool here in oak, Child’s Chair in elm and ash, and Tall Stool in oak. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘I needed to turn my hand to making numerous pieces to sustain myself and my family – inadvertently I developed a vernacular style, that sits beautifully in modern, traditional and rustic homes,’ says the craftsman. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Planing a cricket table leg with a Jack Plane. ‘Each time you push the form it reveals possibilities and you begin to appreciate the extraordinary diversity,’ says Greg. ‘There’s great joy in finding a sense of play within the form, and I still derive great pleasure from the process.’ Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Early on, Greg favoured native Australian timbers, but as his work developed he turned to exotics, like local elm when it is available and oak and ash, or imported plantation woods. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Comb Back Settee in elm and ash. ‘As a form, it’s a progression from the Welsh style stick chair. I also see the iconic Australian wool shed in its form – an expression that emerges from need; unadorned, rustic and skeletal,’ explains Greg. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘It always takes a few attempts before you nail it and somehow make it yours,’ tells Greg, who appreciates the invaluable road-testing of his pieces by his partner Julia. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Photography – Caitlin Mills.

Elle Murrell
Tuesday 29th August 2017

In the 1970s Greg Stirling’s ‘jobbing and wandering’ around the country saw him cross paths with Dickie Blackman, a prodigious craftsman also living on a craft community in Alice Springs. ‘Raised as a Quaker on a farm in the English Midlands, his disciplines were wide-ranging – woodwork, blacksmithing, leatherwork and other skills related to the maintenance of a 19th century farm. He was my mentor for 15 years, and has been the single-most influence on my work,’ tells Greg fondly.

In his early 20s, Greg was stirred to spend a year in Britain and Ireland. ‘I was especially inspired by my time in the South West of Ireland, where I lived in a small farming community, where their language, music and poetry was considered as vital as the food they ate for life’s nourishment,’ reminisces the Yarraville-raised creative. ‘That experience consolidated my desire to follow a career in craft, and on my return to Australia, I set up my own workshop and started making a range of small, simple pieces.’

Simple, though utterly beautiful, is his stable of traditional English and Welsh-style furniture: chairs, tables, benches, stools and other exquisitely crafted pieces. A cornerstone of his output, the bow back Windsor chair first enchanted Greg more than 30 years ago. ‘Utilising “how-to books” written by three different chair makers (an American, an Englishman and a Welshman!) I managed to teach myself how to make one… but that was only possible because I’d already had 10 years of experience developing slat-back Windsors, ladder backs, dressers, cottage chairs and tables,’ he explains.

Books are evidently a cherished resource of Greg’s – he’s currently reading Scottish Vernacular Furniture by Bernard D Cotton – and he maintains a keen interest in social history. Understanding how craft was integral to the survival of communities, how it evolved, and how it is still relevant today, all underpins the deep connection Greg feels for his work.

In his process, he restricts the use of machinery, favouring the ‘human factor’ of finish and expression. ‘I work each piece to the best of my ability rather than being a perfectionist; I find small imperfections endearing, it gives a piece of work grace,’ Greg explains.

As he goes about handcrafting in a small country workshop, located on his property outside Castlemaine, Greg often contemplates Australia’s colonial history, and how migrants came to terms with such a foreign, harsh environment. ‘Each time I make something rustic, I feel more connected to my Australian roots,’ he tells, pointing out a hint of the iconic Australian wool shed in the form of his comb back settee.

Over the past 40 years, the craftsman has witnessed great changes in the way people do business. Initially he sold his pieces through galleries, antique shops and, at art and craft festivals. Later it was through interior designers and direct commissions, and today, thanks to the advent of the internet, clients can commission Greg directly via his website, as well as follow his process and interact on Instagram. ‘People still want to connect with makers; they want to know their product is made with love and humanity,’ he justifies.

‘Applying a 19th century skill to the 21st century has been fraught with challenges,’ begins Greg when asked what comes next. ‘Somehow, I’ve managed – I attribute that to the people who want to purchase goods that express integrity and care!’ he tells. ‘Being part of this extraordinary experience of life, even in a modest way, has been everything I could ask for… Now back to the bench!’

Furniture by Greg Stirling can be purchased and commissioned by contacting him through his website, here.

‘..rather than being a perfectionist, I find small imperfections endearing, it gives a piece of work grace.’ – Greg Stirling.

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