Seán Breen – Furniture Maker
Seán comes to us from Cork in the beautiful South West of Ireland. He initially trained as a Furniture maker at St Johns Central College, Cork before going onto the renowned Rycotewood Furniture Centre Oxford along with a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Ulster.
Working in various Furniture and Cabinetmaking workshops in Ireland, London and Melbourne. He has recently begun taking on his own commissions here at Handsome & Co. His work is characterised by traditional furniture making techniques, fine detailing and grain orientation to create furniture of the highest quality. He enjoys a good pint of porter as well as keeping fit and active in the Australian outdoors.
1) What early influences led to your pursuit of a career in Woodworking/Furniture Making?
One of my earliest memories was walking around my Uncle’s Joinery shop piled high with wood shavings past my knees. Rough sawn wood coming in, the smell of freshly cut timber with the hum of the machinery and then to see crisp clean doors and windows going out all seemed like magic. My father, a carpenter would take me out on jobs with him. I’d sit in silence and watch him mark out and cut a door hinge, scribe a skirting board or rip a plank straight and true all by hand. My favourite hobby when I was young was to search through dad’s handmade tool box and inspect all these interesting tools and try to figure out what they did. In fact he later gave me this toolbox before I started my training. My first piece of woodworking was actually before I could even talk. When just a toddler dad gave myself and my brother a hammer each and we ‘aged’ a few softwood four by twos to create distressed wooden beams for our front room. When I started secondary school I had a great woodwork teacher in Mr Ford. Gaining a solid foundation in woodwork skills and enjoying every minute in the workshop. All of these experiences led to a passion for making and creating in timber.
2) What have been some of your career highlights?
Whenever a client is happy with a piece of furniture is a highlight to be honest. But in terms of milestone moments I would have to say one would be whilst completing my Level III at Rycotewood Furniture College. The Principal, Chris Hyde, came to me while I was spraying my final showcase piece. He simply said follow me. Off we walked and when we came to the college trophy cabinet he pointed to the Jack Lazenby trophy and said ‘that’s yours this year’. I was awarded the prize for best example of making at the opening of the Show and also received another surprise, an encouragement bursary from one of the college benefactors. In terms of projects my recent commission for various traditional pieces in a new Irish Bar in St Kilda has been the motivation behind striking out on my own which in turn led me to Handsome and Co. The project is one of my largest to date and will be seen and enjoyed by a large clientele.
3) Could you name some of your current sources of inspiration? These might include artists, designers, travel destinations, films etc.
I wouldn’t say my work referenced any one particular style. My execution is constantly changing to suit clients’ needs. Meticulous attention to detail, timber selection and quality of construction are equally as important as innovative design. But inspirations come from a variety of sources. Heavily ornate period furniture to the simplicity of shaker styles, contemporary furniture through to luxury exotic inlaid pieces. Sam Maloof’s heavily shaped rocking chairs, George Nakashima’s wonderful slab furniture, and James Krenov’s outlook on the ethos of working with wood. Traditional stone carving ever since reading Séamus Murphy’s Stone Mad has been something I have admired. I have a huge appreciation for monument carving as well as finely cut well-proportioned lettering. Intricate wood carving and joinery found in the likes of The crown Pub in Belfast creates an amazing atmosphere to enjoy a drink in. Architecture in its many forms is a constant focus when travelling to a new city and also when revisiting home. The Baroque Architecture of Prague, Georgian streets of Dublin, Chicago’s plethora of Styles sitting comfortably alongside one another. There are too many to list here. Although one may not be able to identify one particular influence in my work they have all been a form of motivation in the creative process.
4) What project/s are you looking forward to in the future?
I look forward to working on my own commissions out of Handsome & Co. With all the different residents’ styles and backgrounds, and a comprehensive workshop it’s an exciting space to work in. Sharing my passion for craftsmanship with enthusiastic students as part of my tutoring role is an exciting prospect. I see it as an opportunity to slow down my woodworking and really enjoy the process. Creating schemes of work for short courses at Handsome & Co should allow me to explore techniques and styles that I would not have had time for in the running of a day to day business. A referral from a recent commission has led to a discussion about a seating and dining solution for a quirky Melbourne bar. Creatively it’s a dream job and one that should lead to further exposure for my work.