Creator & Plank Enthusiast
By Kian West
WHEN YOUR EMAIL SIGNATURE INCLUDES THE PHRASE ‘PLANK ENTHUSIAST’, YOU DEFINITELY HAVE MY ATTENTION. AND SO BEGAN A PLAN TO CATCH UP WITH MELANIE FROM WOODWORKING OUTFIT HOUTENPLANK TO SEE WHERE THE ENTHUSIASM HAPPENS IN HER REDHEAD WORKSHOP.
MELANIE IS ONE OF A HAND-SELECTED TEAM ABOUT TO APPEAR AT ‘THE IMPOSSIBLE’ MARKET AT THE EDWARDS, SO WE GOT A FEW DETAILS ABOUT THAT, AS WELL AS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MAKER, WINNING THE FIRST HOME BEAUTIFUL UNEARTHED AWARD, AND ONE OF MEL’S FAVOURITE GETAWAY LOCATIONS…
So this is where it all happens? Yes. The workshop is pretty empty at the moment! I've had like, I don't know, 800 metres of timber come through and out the other side on pallets to deliver down for this particular project [winning Home Beautiful’s Design Unearthed competition], so that was full on. Mass-production – overrated, it turns out! [Laughs]
So awesome opportunity with the Home Beautiful thing that has happened to me – yeah, just reminded me to be true to who you are and what you do, and still being a local garage-based business is kind of really important.
Can you walk me through what winning has meant? So basically they [Home Beautiful] run a competition, and they’re looking for someone like myself who is just a small maker that has the potential to be pushed out across the national magazine. So you win $10K and the chance to do this collaborative project. They just placed an order of two different Planks that we specifically designed together. So now they’re managing all the logistics and the freight, all of that stuff. That was a relief. Now they basically sell it through all of their channels overall. Awesome for me as a small maker, awesome for them as a big mainstream, because they’re all trying to do what you [Mirage] do, which is connect with local [people] and be relevant.
I get the impression you didn't grow up in Newcastle? I grew up in Lemon Tree Passage, actually. My dad is an oyster farmer out there and I grew up there, went to uni – I'm a dietician. So I worked in that health field for a fair while, but dietetics wasn't my thing, very channelled and particular. But I have always lived in Newcastle – commuted to work when I worked in Sydney, on a regular basis.
So this seems like a much more creative position than some of your previous work? Yeah, well [I was] setting up businesses within Sanitarium, a whole setup of brand and everything that goes with that. I still had some creative kind of leverage in that, and I realised that actually I am someone that needs to be a little more creative in my day-to-day to feel fulfilled, and some of the reporting to boards was… not what I looked forward to. Working for yourself, as you'd know, is pretty liberating and also you can't blame anyone else [laughs].
So we just spoke about this award – can you elaborate on the details, like how many entries, the process...? They [Home Beautiful] ran a social media competition, where people had a limited amount of space [for] one photo of a product and a product synopsis. There were two sides to the award: the side where the magazine select a winner, and a people's choice award. So that runs through social media – all the people who enter trying to get their friends and family, community, voting for them.
I'm not 100% sure on the numbers, but it looked to be between 100 and 150 products that people put up. Huge range, from ‘Look what I found on the side of the road and made!’ to beautiful lighting and other amazing pieces. In the end I figured there were probably 15 businesses really in the running to win the big award. Of course, the big part was [the magazine] being able to produce something that was in the price range that people could afford to buy. Also looking for a brand that they would like to sit together with... Then they did a whole heap of photography for the project.
Was it a sense of validation? Oh, yeah! I questioned if my product was good enough to put into the competition, so... I'm not a woodworker, I'm just learning. There is a lot of self-doubt as a maker.
What's next? Definitely revealing some things... I might be able to get my stuff into prop shops and that kind of thing. I'd also like to pursue the whole food styling, food photographer kind of thing. [It’s] just made me realise that being a maker is awesome, but I don't want to get bogged down into being in the garage ‘making’ for hours.
You have a small family, a young family – is it like working on a complete cycle? There is possibly another blog on the horizon.
If someone came to visit you in Newcastle, where is a must-take-them spot or spots? Just Newcastle? Port Stephens. Because I have access, I'd probably take them out to our oyster farm, to the family oyster farm. Jump in one of the boats and shoot around the estuaries. Nothing quite like fresh oysters.
We have lots of relatives that come from the Netherlands, and they are just so keen to kind of experience what it is like. If I was honest, given I have a food background, there is a great organic blueberry farm, which we as a family visit on a regular basis. Great, seriously awesome blueberries, although they just canned under-fives picking – I think they just ruin the plants! There is also an orange grove. Learning where food comes from is a really big thing we enjoy doing as a family.
You already gave me this tip, but I'm guessing the audience is going to want to know where you can be found? I am regularly at the Olive Tree Markets – massive supporter of that market, I started there. Willows Home Traders... I have an online store... There is a COOL NEW MARKET that is going to hit The Edwards soon, called THE IMPOSSIBLE MARKET. [Note: Mel wasn't yelling here, but it deserves highlighting, right?]
Tell me more? Hmmm. Curated by Rebecca Stern from House of Bec, it's going to be a Sunday evening pop-up market event and it'll be hand-selected stallholders. The Edwards is planning some cool market-style food. All weather-friendly.
THE IMPOSSIBLE will kick off on Sunday, 13th September from 5pm–9pm at The Edwards, 148 Parry Street, Newcastle West.
Or you can find Melanie’s awesome boards here: houtenplank.com.au