If you ever have the pleasure to speak with Alby Johnston, you are immediately struck by how much he cares about the world around him, and how the furniture he makes is really an expression of that interest in the connections between our happiness, our spaces and the things we fill them with.
Starting as an apprentice under Tony Kenway, a renowned furniture craftsman in the Byron Bay area, has really shaped Alby’s philosophy towards his craft, and more broadly life.
Alby really believes that our homes and the spaces we spend time in, have meaning and that this influences our emotions and ultimately our lives. Not surprisingly then, he believes that its important to be particular about what we bring into our spaces, that we should all be making informed choices about our furniture with an understanding of where its come from and who’s made it.
As an example, the Byron Bay area has a lot of food brands that celebrate the paddock to plate concept, really emphasizing the connection between where our food is grown and processed, for both health and environmental benefits.
Alby sees this as inspiration for a real direction shift for the furniture industry, where the story and provenance of a piece is celebrated, as much as the form and function.
Living and working in Byron bay, Alby is surrounded by other talented artists, makers and craftspeople and that is definitely influencing the direction that Alby’s furniture making is taking, with more collaborations and community based approaches to making coming through.
This is a big shift away from the work he has created under his own name, and to separate and acknowledge that difference in practice, Alby has created Bayspoke Studio.
Bayspoke is all about community and collaboration. Working with friends and neighbours who run similar or related businesses around the Byron area and drawing on their skills, influences and expertise to create beautiful pieces of furniture.
Bayspoke encompasses a broad array of work – repurposing, restoring and built to brief. In the future it may even create short runs of standardized furniture designs – watch this space.
One of my favourite pieces that has been created under Bayspoke Studio is a repurposed table from 1876. Originally a large dining table that had had a long and chequered history, the client recognized that the timber used in the table was beautiful and worth saving, but that the form of the table needed re-thinking.
Taking the original table, it was re-imagined into a four piece table that could either be fitted together as a single large table, or used as four separate individual tables in different parts of the home. In designing this table Alby updated the table legs to a clean modern design on parts of the table, whilst still keeping two of the original turned legs. The result – a really interesting, flexible piece that the client loves, as he explains it “the table has been sent into orbit” with each of the clients’ children claiming a section of the family heirloom.