When he wasn’t playing with Lego, a young Thomas Lentini was kitted out in Hard Yakka overalls and tool belt, trying to be like his carpenter father! This aspiring tradie fell in love at six years of age, when his dad came home with a wooden sailing boat, that he’d been building over two years at night school. ‘I still have a pretty romantic memory of walking into the garage and being totally blown away by the warmth of the timber, the beautiful curves and copper nails…’ recalls the 27-year-old.
That fateful eve really made an impact, and throughout school, Thomas was drawn to the workshop, where he was fascinated by the ‘freedom of being able to spend weeks drawing something, then, being able to try and produce whatever was in your head’. ‘Once I figured out you’re only limited by your ability, I knew I wanted to pursue learning further,’ he tells.
It wasn’t until two years ago, though, that he was empowered to produce his own custom designs, under Studio Thomas Lentini. Seeing Patrizia Moroso of the eponymous and highly-famed furniture house give a presentation at NGV was the match that rekindled the spark. ‘At the time I had almost completed four years as a maker in a pretty specialised workshop, which had followed three years of Furniture Design and Technology at RMIT,’ explains Thom. ‘I realised I’d lost touch with my original ambition, and got really detached from everything I loved and got excited about at uni; hearing Patrizia totally realigned me with all of that.’
A month later, he set himself on a challenge: two years to ‘try and gather some momentum to see if people dug what I wanted to communicate through my work’. As we write this, Thom is full-time between his Coburg North shared workshop on the tools, and his Fitzroy studio where all the designing and admin takes place!
Over the years, business demands haven’t made him forget what he was originally drawn to about craftsmanship. Thom’s designs typically result from several weeks of drawings, planning and site visits. ‘As a model, I thought I’d have to certainly have a set range of 10 or so designs that I made to order,’ he says. ‘But as things progressed I realised everyone I dealt with wanted a completely unique piece. So, I went with it.’
That said, the pieces still bear hallmark features – soft profiles and tactile edges. The meticulous maker also has a penchant for the ‘old romance and beauty’ of American White Oak and American Black Walnut timbers, visiting the timber yard as each commission comes in, rather than having stock on hand. Getting his ‘creative kicks’ from architecture (notably the likes of Andrea Palladio and Achille Castiglioni), Thom is also inspired by trips down to The Otways in his little Defender, where he and partner Eliza can take in the giant Mountain Ash trees and the good air!
The sole trader is spurred on by the creative freedom he is given by his many happy customers – including our own art director Annie Portelli, who commissioned a warm, tactile dining table that she plans on having for life! ‘Having that sort of trust from clients, along with the ability to experiment and explore new things is something that I really treasure as a designer and maker. I think it’s a real privilege to be doing what I love for a living at my age.’ I totally echo that sentiment, so thanks to Thom and all the other wonderful local makers who are creating things worth writing about!