We met with Ross Triffit from Eclipse Handcrafted Furniture to discuss how he transforms our unique natural resources into objects of true beauty.
Hello, Ross! You run one of the most unique and exciting furniture brands in Australia, can you give us a summary of the Eclipse journey so far?
Being more of a boutique style of business (and starting off in a relatively small regional market) led to a pretty tough beginning for us. We became trapped in that market for many years, and we weren’t making enough money to get out of it.
Eventually, we started doing some weekend shows in Canberra which led us to opening a weekend showroom there. After the 2014 election was called, retail in Canberra just died. We tried to stick it out for a while after the election but we weren’t well enough established to survive so we were forced out and had no other option but to try and get ourselves to Sydney, which we managed to do thanks to the help of a removalist from Wagga who got us there and allowed us to pay him off over the next twelve months. We opened a showroom of sorts in what was basically a tin shed in Waterloo, six months later we moved up the road to a better building which was only a short-term lease after which we bit the bullet and took on what we have now. It was a big leap of faith at the time.
Beyond that, our journey has been a process of evolution, as we develop our designs to accommodate the current trends and to set ourselves apart from the most imported mainstream/mass produced offerings.
Your handcrafted products have caused your furniture to become sought after, what part of the process still excites you the most?
The part that still excites me the most is the raw material that we use. I am passionate about using this stunning (but very much underrated) eucalypt timbers that Australia is blessed with. Being able to turn what was almost a waste material (i.e. timber from dead trees on private properties and old timber pulled from demolition sites), into high value and very desirable products excites me no end.
This is very closely followed by the immense sense of satisfaction that we get when complicated and difficult customers’ design eclipses the customers expectations. We put a lot of effort into selecting the timber to suit the design we’re making, and then we have to work with the challenges that that timber presents.
These challenges are what makes the timber so special.
Your customers seem to get passionate not only by your products, but also by the stories behind them. Can you tell us a bit about your approach to each piece?
Some of our designs suit a fairly nondescript plain looking timber (Tasmanian oak for example), where the unmistakable hero is the design itself. But we’ve found that a large proportion of our customers just fall in love with the beautiful natural features in some of the eucalypt timbers that we use.
Yes. They include things like gum veins, small sap pockets as well as some evidence of where an insect has lived in the tree. For example, gum veins are created when the tree has been exposed to a bushfire. The outside of the tree becomes charred, and then that charring moves inside the tree as it grows and it adds layers or growth rings from the outside. You just don’t get that sort of thing in a piece of imported furniture. When you think about how old some of these trees are, 400 to 600 years old in some cases, there’s an amazing story right in front of you.
What has been the most satisfying feedback you’ve received from customers once they receive a handcrafted piece of Eclipse furniture in their home or office?
We get people coming in to our showroom who have bought say a dining table from us something like ten or twelve years ago, in some cases longer, and they say things like we still just love it so much, it’s become a part of the family and we still get comments from people all the time.
What is the biggest mistake you see buyers and interior designers make when approaching custom made furniture?
I don’t see any standout or common mistakes, most designers have reasonable expectations, especially if they have experience behind them. As far as our general customers are concerned, again there aren’t any particular common mistakes that I could mention.
We get a lot of people who obviously need help, some need it a lot more than they realise but I suppose as far as mistakes are concerned, it comes back to us, it’s our job to make sure they avoid mistakes and so far I can I can honestly say that we have an extremely high success rate with the made to order side to our business and that’s mainly because we have a lot of experience in doing what we do, we know the right questions to ask.
What comes first, the materials or the design concept?
When I’m designing a new piece it’s always the design first and then after that, the design pretty much tells me what the materials should be.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the very first day you launched Eclipse handcrafted furniture 25 years ago?
If I could do that I would say to myself, don’t kid yourself about expecting to have a successful furniture business in a regional market when your aim is to be ahead of that market with what is being offered. With home decorating, back then at least, not so much now, a regional market like Wagga was at least two years behind the metro markets.
But, it’s always tough in regional markets because they are so reliant on what happens in the rural sector, with all the droughts, floods and huge fluctuations in the price of the produce, it’s a tough gig owning a business in even a major centre like Wagga. So my advice would be, if you want to offer something that doesn’t appeal to the majority of that relatively small market, don’t even start there and if you do, get out into a bigger market as soon as you can.
What can we look forward to seeing in the Eclipse showroom in 2018?
In 2018, I am aiming to transfer the formula we have adopted for making dining tables into making timber framed lounges. Which is essentially Australian made, uncomplicated designs, using beautiful Australian mainland timbers exhibiting beautiful natural features, which will surround some durable and invitingly comfortable seat and back cushioning.
This gives us the opportunity to get back into using some of the gorgeous fabrics that we’re only able to use on dining chairs currently (and most of the time these are for small padded seats), which really doesn’t show off the fabric to any extent.
We’ll also be doing more with the guy who makes our metal table legs who is a very clever guy when it comes to creating works of art by forging metal into all sorts of interesting shapes when it’s red hot. When we combine that sort of thing with our beautiful hardwood timbers, who knows what will come out of our close connection with him in 2018.
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