“Imports from China aren’t standing the test of time,” says Will. “We feel there’s more support for New Zealand products and an appreciation for well-made, heirloom-quality furniture.”
McKean Carnell specialises in hand-crafted, customised cabinetry and furniture – tables, dressers, entertainment units, library cabinetry, and wine cellars.
“Popular furniture finishes today are grey and silver tones on more rustic pieces and mixing old styles with new is still a strong trend,” says Will.
Turning out modern or antique pieces using contemporary and traditional methods, McKean Carnell furniture is mostly made from plantation grown, renewable American and European timbers.
“It’s tragic that New Zealand forests have been raped and pillaged so we don’t tend to use much native timber.
“We’re suspicious of any new native timber that hasn’t come from a reliable source and demolition timbers are very hard on our machines.”
Will’s path into furniture making was a little unusual. He was a hairdresser for 10 years – here and overseas – but started planning a career change when he returned home in his late twenties.
Remembering back to when he was eight years old, he recalled being enthralled watching a family friend make a lamp stand.
“I was fascinated by the smell of the timber and seeing the action of the lathe.
“On talking with another craftsman about this nearly 20 years later, he encouraged me to enrol in a course.”
When Reeves retired in 2003, Will bought the business and a couple of years later relocated to Onehunga, where he continued to turn out top-end commissions.
Asked what inspires someone to get out of bed at 6am on a winter’s morning, drive into a chilly workshop and work on a piece of wood, Will says: “I love it that at the end of the day I’ve created something, and when a piece comes together well – that’s when the magic really happens.”
While competition from imports and computerised cutting in the local market will continue, Will remains staunch to his craft.
“If someone asks us to make 10 of something to bring the unit price down, we say the price will go up, because we get bored,” says Will jokingly.
He and his colleague Simon Doyle have a reputation for producing precious pieces, but they don’t want their clients to be precious with their furniture.
“We say to them, ‘A table is a tool, it’s a utensil. Use it and enjoy it.’
“We find aged finishes are ideal – they allow people to relax. To create the distressed, aged look, we use Ron’s beautiful old planes and chisels.”
Having found his niche in the market, Will’s confident his business will survive. He’s determined to avoid the pitfalls of growing too big and his young son helps him achieve work-life balance.