From Forest to Floor

Jeremy Lee


By designing with the entire life cycle of the materials in mind, designer Jeremy Lee is building sustainability into style from his workshop on the north coast of New South Wales.

What were you doing prior to opening your studio?

Dreaming about opening my studio. It was always my goal. My youthful utopian vision of self-employment motivated me through my study of Industrial Design and into a furniture making apprenticeship. Before moving into my first space full time I was working as a cabinet maker mainly doing kitchens and wardrobes and spending as much time as I could in my garage which I had converted into a mini workshop. I had a buddy on the same street as me with a similar setup and we ended up talking each other into getting a lease on an industrial space and spending some money on some serious machinery.

It was all a bit of a fantasy back then. We had no real idea what we were doing, there was no big list of projects to kick off with or serious business plan. It just felt right, and that was enough. It’s funny, the day we moved into the new space was the same day my wife and I welcomed our first baby boy into the world, so it was the start of two wild adventures.

What inspired you to take up woodworking?

I became fascinated with Japanese joinery and intricate furniture design during my studies. I have always enjoyed making things and spent a lot of time shaping and cutting skateboards out of anything I could find as a kid. I don’t think you ever stop learning with woodwork. The more I create the more I’m aware of truly how much I have yet to learn, which is exciting and daunting at the same time.

You talk about being in “the flow” when you work. What does that look like for you, and how does that contribute to your process?

But working with wood is incredibly logically. There’s basically these rules and if you follow each step with precision, every joint, every glue up, every construction will work. But it’s the patience involved that usually leads people afoul. Like everything I have experienced, the challenge is often such a gift. In this case it offers the opportunity to slow down and enter the state of what I call ‘the flow’. A result of being forced to work carefully with precision in every process in all aspects of woodwork and furniture making. I think we all experience that in some way or another where the consciousness seems to drift away and you are left in a place of effortlessness and being. It’s something I also experience surfing or hiking in the bush. Nature seems to inspire that same drift of consciousness.

Do you have any rituals or practices that you return to to keep you inspired?

I’ve been self-employed, a partner and a dad long enough to know that I am useless in all areas of my life without some sort of balance. As long as I look after my basic needs I have a greater chance of connecting with and being my best self at home and at work.

Essentials for me are as simple as eating good food and regularly drinking water. Not overworking myself. Since my second son was born I have been running a four day work week. I’m up before the sun and in the workshop early so I can get home in the afternoon for family hangs which again is so, so important for me. Being sure to carve out personal time for myself, getting in the water for a surf or on the trail for a family hike is a weekly must. Making sure I’m living my best life in all areas, and not being all consumed by the projects I’m working on. As is for any creative doing what they love, it can sometimes be a struggle. Just as long as I am doing what I love, and when I’m connected, it feels right, I know I am on the right path.

How do you balance comfort and aesthetics with play and utility in your designs?

I think it plays out differently with each piece I create. I either start with a particular aesthetic I want to explore and design ergonomics and functionality into it, or start with the feel or touch I want from something, like snuggling up in an armchair with a book and create an aesthetic and functionality to suit.

I think lot of good design just comes with practice. Having made enough chairs and tables to know what heights and angles work best ergonomically is very important. Being the designer and the maker is also a massive advantage as from the early stages of a conceptual idea I have a holistic understanding of not only the design principles, ergonomics and functionality and the processes which are needed to create it. This gives me the ability to design smarter and create less waste – environmentally, physically, and financially.

Everything I design has been born from the desire to own something like it for myself. I think I would struggle to work on anything I wasn’t interested in.

How do you view your work in the larger scale of  your community and impact?

JDLee Furniture was seeded from my passion to support the environment and to do my bit, the best I can and be a part of making a difference. My work is about having a holistic approach to furniture design, reducing waste is all areas and increasing longevity of each piece by designing for disassembly wherever possible and manufacturing quality pieces using quality, non toxic materials and processes.

The best thing any individual can do is to buy less. In a world of seasonal, mass produced, stupidly cheap furniture, clothes, and foods, I’m trying to be part of a conversation about what the ‘real’ cost is. Creating awareness and support for quality products and produce, supporting local, seasonal and craft in all areas. There are so many people taking up this challenge and investing their energy, time and money into creating a better world through conscious spending, promoting products with aligned values and creating platforms to do so. My work is an expression of me and my family trying to contribute to this movement the best we can.

I think it’s so important to always be following what you love. It’s so easy to get stuck in the system and put off what you really want to be doing; the challenge is jumping in and just having a go. Doing so and showing others it’s possible is something I am so passionate about, because it was all those others before me who inspired me to follow my own dreams. When my son asks me why I go to work, I’m able to tell him in all honesty, “Because I love it,” and that’s bloody beautiful.

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