Hugh McCarthy

This afternoon we meet Brunswick-based furniture designer Hugh McCarthy.

The resourceful and refreshingly real craftsman shares new seating designs from his H.R.McCarthy brand.

Elle Murrell

Furniture designer Hugh McCarthy in his Brunswick studio. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The Barton Chair No.1 in one of Hugh’s favourite materials: dark stained U.S. Oak. ‘It has interesting grain and it holds stains and colours in a nice way,’ tells the furniture maker, who’s a fan of rummaging the timber yard in search of the perfect combinations. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Pieces by Hugh, including Smith Bar Stools in U.S. Oak and Walnut (left), Barton Chair No.2 in natural U.S. Oak (Middle), Barton Chair No.1 in stained U.S. Oak (Right). Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘Furniture making and joinery takes hours of practice and requires you to manufacture without second guessing yourself, and the only way to become efficient with tools and machinery is to keep having a go at it,’ he explains. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘A chair should be comfortable and sturdy especially when you’re feeling a little fragile!’ says Hugh. His Millane Reading Chair in U.S. Oak and also featuring wool blend fabric (right). Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The Piper Side Table in U.S. Oak. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Hugh at work in his Brunswick studio. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

I didn’t study furniture making and design specifically, nor did it occur to me to make a career out of it until I was in the thick of it!’ recalls Hugh McCarthy. The young Melbournian graduated with a Bachelor of Design: Landscape Architecture and worked with several local firms, before joining an Italian-run furniture company in Prahran as a casual labourer in-between jobs.

He walked in thinking he would be standing around and sweeping, but his employers had other ideas. ‘My bosses Orio and Ottavio Randi put me to use right away – making sure the tools were sharp, the finish was top-notch, and that I was accurately cutting the timber… not my hands!’ he tells. ‘If you mastered these fundamental skills, you were going places!’

Evidently Hugh did, launching his brand, H.R.McCarthy in 2013. His most-recent range has been inspired by simple necessity – specifically, pieces he needed in his own home! These fine designs sport soft curves and gradual tapers. ‘I’m trying to make useful furniture that hopefully adds to the well-being of its user in some way,’ he explains.

According to Hugh, furniture design isn’t one of those industries you can Youtube your way into. ‘I’m very fortunate to have had insanely meticulous teachers and bosses before starting my own business,’ he tells, praising Lee Gratton, Peter Kruithof, Tomoyasu Kondoh – a dedicated Japanese cabinet maker that makes him want to lift his game! – as well as workshop buddies Scott McCormack and Ky Starcevich who he trusts for a second opinion. ‘Basically, I have always had a huge respect for anyone who makes things from scratch for a living, whether they be chefs, artists, carpenters…’ says Hugh. ‘I suppose after all this time, I’ve just wanted to be that kind of person!’

Hugh McCarthy has his sights set on opening a bricks-and-mortar store one day, but will continue crafting custom made products for clients until then. Find more on his website, here.

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