Josh Carmody: Largely Made-to-Measure

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Josh Carmody, Seek HQ Boardroom Table, American oak, nine metres long and 1.4 metres wide. Photo: Haydn Cattach

Interview: Linda Nathan

‘There’s quite a leap between learning to make furniture, starting a business, and having a sustainable business’, said Josh Carmody in a recent phone conversation. ‘I kind of have big aspirations. My strength is big, made- to-measure projects. It’s a creative side of myself I can’t bury.’

Attention to detail is what many of us strive for, but when that extends to mammoth scale furniture commissions with hard deadlines, that also speak of a handmade ethic, it could all become a bit mind-boggling. I asked Josh what the attraction of large-scale work was for him, and how he got one very large commission done in the midst of the world’s longest lockdown.


Seek HQ Boardroom Table, joinery detail. Photo: Haydn Cattach

Josh, in and around Melbourne’s six covid lockdowns you completed a major commission plus numerous other tables and items. How does that even happen?
Luck and good timing played a part. In August 2019, after years of subletting, I finally got my own space. Six months later the lockdowns hit, however I now had my own workshop and a number of commissions in the pipeline. This left me with a level of certainty and control at a time when new laws and restrictions were emerging daily for small business owners.

Good client relationships also played a big role. I got a phone call from a former architecture colleague who wanted me to do something special for the new Seek HQ in Cremorne, Victoria. Seek trusted me to design the key pieces to complement their vision. I sent through my concepts, they approved. It was as simple as that. And then we just got to work. Even so, a project of this scale was ambitious, more so given the pandemic.

How did lock-down affect you?
In the second half of 2020 most manufacturing was forced to cease production. It was illegal for me to go to my own workshop and even to work alone. Moving in and out of covid restrictions, the main difficulties were supply chain related. Most retail was closed. Click and collect was slow. Couriers were slower. Getting specific tooling, hardware and material had to be planned in advance, and you needed contingencies.


Josh Carmody’s Dilettante tables, were made in solid American hard maple, each with monolithic tapered bases supporting a ‘bold dovetail shaped beam’.

What did the Seek job entail?
We had to design and make nine tables in 14 weeks. At 9 x 1.4 metres, the boardroom table was the major piece. Handcrafted in solid Victorian ash, it was designed and made for reassembly in the Seek boardroom overlooking AAMI Park, the MCG and the Melbourne CBD. It had reassemble in such a way that the joins and seams and overall layout adds to the aesthetic and function of the table. Mixing traditional joinery methods with commercial realities (such as transport and access) required design foresight and millimetre perfect precision. There were also six dining tables with tiled tops designed for staff breakout spaces. These were made in solid American hard maple, each with monolithic tapered bases supporting a bold dovetail shaped beam.

Others may baulk at the scale, but you said that you have found yourself through big projects like this...
Maintaining attention to detail at scale is the ultimate challenge for a furniture maker. The jump from producing one-offs to production pieces under deadline was a big one for me. For me, being a furniture maker was always limited by one question – how do you find enough clients to grow and sustain a business?


Curve table in American white oak in Woods Bagot, Melbourne studio. Photo: Brooke Holm

People often say you don’t become a furniture maker to get rich. Well respectfully, I didn’t become a furniture maker to be broke. The big brands that I love with pieces designed by my favourite designers are all specified in architecturally and/or interior designed commercial projects. So this market was where I needed to focus my attention. And given I was an architect working in one of the largest studios in the world, I had a leg up in that regard.

My career in architecture provided inside information as to how the furniture market operates with the support of architects and interior designers that design the buildings we eventually furnish. My understanding of these fields and the overlapping skills I gained from each has been vital.

What is it about ‘major projects’ that you most enjoy?
I usually have multiple jobs on the go, so blocking out my time for one major project to anchor my attention is actually quite refreshing. Beyond this, the scale and inherent complexity of managing projects like these on hard deadlines is something I am familiar with – as is thinking the design all the way through beyond aesthetics to delivery, lift access, assembly/install and everything in between.


Table joinery detail. Photo: Josh Carmody

Aside from the benefits of big jobs, what are the pitfalls?
Ask any tradesperson or maker and they will have stories of non-payment for work completed. For me this is one of the more concerning pitfalls to avoid. But it is simpler than you’d think. I know the terms I am willing to work under and when they are not met, I am willing to walk away. I would rather not win a project – than complete and not get paid for it.

What about the batch designs you make? Since we first saw the Legless stool in 2010 it’s become one of your signature designs. How do fit these in between bespoke work?
It is hard to find time for speculative work and restocking my own shelves. It helps if you’re thoughtful about your processes – even to the extent of sorting off-cuts into bins that can be processed down the line into production items, such as chopping blocks or Legless stools or seat tops. That way you’re also using everything, and the only by-product is sawdust.


Trustable standing height table, made for Woods Bagot’s Melbourne studio. Photo: Brooke Holm

Can you tell us a little about your work as an architect?
I began studying architecture straight out of year 12. That year I also began designing and making furniture, picking up from where I left off from my school days. My intention was for my furniture business to be a creative outlet from my architecture studies, and hopefully merge it with my architecture career at a later date.

I started my first architecture job when I moved to Melbourne to study for my Master of Architecture at Melbourne University. After graduating I went on to work at Woods Bagot; a large architecture and interior design firm with studios all over Australia and the world. The scale of projects I worked on increased to towers and entire precincts. I was in the deep end. Contracts. Builders. Consultant teams. Lawyers. Drawings. Schedules. Economies of scale. Deadlines. Aconex. The amount of work that goes into a large scale architecture project is unbelievable.

Throughout this period of more technical architecture work, furniture design and making still remained a creative outlet for me at a workshop space I was subletting in Richmond called Handsome & Co.


One of three 4m long Curve boardroom tables made to measure for the heritage listed lower levels of Australian Unity’s headquarters in Melbourne. Photo: Peter Clarke

How did the transition to designer maker come about?
There is symmetry between how my architecture career started, and how it ended. My furniture design business got me my first architecture job – and my furniture design business dragged me out of my last architecture job when Woods Bagot designed their new studio and asked if I would make them a table.

Overnight, that one table became nine – and about 15 of my Legless stools, it was a big project. There was a significant catch – I had to design, make and deliver the tables in six weeks. I worked 16-hour days and loved every minute of it. I delivered the best pieces I had made to date and was unashamedly proud of myself. In six weeks I went from a hobbyist with serious ambition to a professional. The next 12 months were intense. I continued as an architect – but furniture was pulling me away.

Another even larger furniture project came my way and I won an international design competition which took me to Milan to collaborate with Patricia Urquiola on a product line. So finally, I handed in my notice and went to work for myself full-time.


Changing views of Josh Carmody’s Legless stools. Photos: Michael Gordon Hill

How did you fund your new business? You said you ‘bootstrapped’ the whole thing.
For me the key was patience. When I was 19, I knew nothing about the design industry or business. I was aware of my shortcomings, and knew taking out a loan to finance my start- up would not be wise. So naturally I just started up with my own personal savings and funds.

I would always end up in either architecture or design or both, and the skill sets were largely transferrable. Money earned from my part-time jobs was used to buy basic tools and machines. I set up a website and uploaded my projects as I went. Over the next decade, (in parallel to my architecture studies and eventual career), I leveraged my wages from my jobs and simply invested back in my business when I could. Eventually I fitted out my workshop with commercial machinery, and was being specified by some of the largest architecture firms and companies in the world.

Growing slowly gave me time to learn about business while learning about design. The financial pressures associated with a start-up were alleviated. The clock was never really ticking to turn a profit within a certain number of years. With low overheads I could just focus on my craft.

You combine a contemporary aesthetic with a crafted ethic, for example the central lower rail of the nine metre conference table. Who or what taught you your woodworking skills and values?
I’ve always had quite specific creative values that revolve around authenticity and skill of execution – and I appreciate real materials. The way that has translated to furniture making is that I prefer joinery over mechanical fixings. I prefer mortise and tenons over the domino. Each have their place in the ecosystem – but for me, retaining the skills and craft of furniture making was always a priority. My design process is about balancing what is possible structurally with the aesthetic in my mind’s eye.


Josh Carmody on the cover of AWR#116. Cover photo: Hadyn Cattach

In recent times, what changes have you observed in the realm of being a professional designer maker?
The main change is the proliferation of the internet and social media – effectively removing the barriers for entry for an early career designer/ maker. Nowadays making a website is easy, online shopping is the norm. And you can reach millions of potential customers for a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time it would take when I first started.

Back when I started, the path I could see for a furniture designer and/or maker involved designing a product or collection, prototyping it, marketing, seeking out publication, entering competitions and awards, finding a manufacturer and/or distributor, and pushing your products at trade exhibitions like Milan. This process is still a path you may follow these days, but it has been supercharged by social media in a way where a new designer can choose their own adventure to find their place in the market.

Do you have goals? Where do you see yourself in five or ten years time?
I have a workshop, and I have resident furniture makers in my workshop building their own pieces and businesses. I would like to be able to expand this offering to more early career makers in the next five years. At that point hopefully I will have a bigger workshop, a few more machines at my disposal and perhaps a few more people working with me.

What’s your advice to other woodworkers, especially those who hope to maintain a sustainable career?
Two things are key. My creative advice is to always act on your inspiration. Draw, sketch, and make things whenever you can. Whichever way you satisfy your moments of inspiration – prioritise it. The admin can wait.

My pragmatic advice is to develop your skills, your products and your project pipeline prior to jumping in full- time. The further you can get your business before needing to rely on it financially, the better chance you have of making it sustainable long-term. Jumping in too early can mean running out of money before your production volume is at a level that pays the bills.

Learn more about Josh Carmody at and @josh.carmody


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