origins - 1984
the heart of it
In late 1984, after a
fruitless search to complete a set of Whitesides chairs,
Dr. John Buttsworth commissioned a cabinetmaker to handcraft
the chairs for him. These chairs, made in John's garage
in Balmain, Sydney, were so beautiful and faithful to
the originals that colleagues and friends commissioned
chairs for themselves.
Also the 1980's witnessed a renewed
fascination with Australiana. This was a big turnaround
in contrast to the 70's, the era bearing witness to the
fusion of influences that took hold in an explosive decade
of protest and outspokenness and cultural unrest (societal
and individual.) Nothing was safe, ideas, music, clothes
and certainly not Colonial homes. People removed their
old doors, fire surrounds and windows from their Colonial
styled homes and replaced them with the decadence of
the new age, new shiny aluminium and blue glossy paint.
The boom years
But fortunately the 1980’s came in a hurry and
brought with it another turnaround, everybody wanted
to restore their old houses and make them true to their
era, warm and adorned with the past.
So the blue glossy paint was stripped to reveal the hidden
timber underneath, and the fireplace surrounds made their
way back into lusciously history rich living rooms.
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|Now that Colonial
style homes and furniture were treasured once again and
restored to their glorious past, a flood of little companies
specialised in restoration and period work came into being,
capitalising on the new interest gripping the interested
population. The interest in old furniture was life-size
and helped all these small companies grow and coexist,
competing for the big pie. When everybody wanted old housing
and old looks, there was plenty of work to go around.
A vision turned into Colonial Living
These were the times when
Colonial Living was founded in partnership between Dr. Buttsworth
and his wife then, broadcaster Margaret
original aim was to make available authentic handcrafted 19th-century
Australian cedar furniture re-creations within the range of
The company's gallery was initially located at 106 Victoria Road, Drummoyne,
and the workshop was for a short time situated at Fred Street in Lilyfield. At
the time, Dr. Buttsworth was recognised as the owner of one of the most extensive
and important private collection of Australian antiques. He was also regarded
as a professional in furniture restoration.
The first of John's 're-creations',
as he liked to call them, were of chairs, tables and beds he owned. John and
Margaret made no secret of the fact that their furniture is copied. The copies
were virtually impossible to tell from the originals, apart from the Colonial
Living company seal gracefully heat pressed onto each piece.
|This is the
time where Aldo Vilarrubi joined the business. As
he recalls “I’ve been with Colonial Living
since their early beginning sometime in 85. I finished
my apprenticeship and decided to take time off work,
you know go to the beach everyday during summer and
spend sometime with friends. Once I went to my friend’s
house and his mother said he’s found himself
a job painting or something so I went home and thought
I better get myself a job. Not long after, I saw
a Colonial Living recruitment ad in the paper and
decided to join. After all, it was close to my home
and I loved working with timber.”
thrived and the demand grew, supplying customers
and clients like David Jones Sydney and Flair in
Melbourne. But supplying to department stores placed
Colonial Living under financial strains, as the agreement
dictates Colonial Living's gallery prices had to
match the department store high price tag and not
less, so the freedom to capture new market share
At its peak Colonial Living employed nine traditional
Cabinetmakers (amongst them the renowned Robert Howard)
eight Wood Machinists and four French Polishers,
beside the administration staff and sales people.
operations kept expanding and the company ended up
occupying 3 floors of their first building in Lilyfield.
A Danish Production Manager named Egon Ostagard orchestrated
the whole show with his great experience in fine tunning
production to meet the demands.
The big slow down
The overall market started to slow down at the beginning
of the recession we had to have in 1990. But Dr. Buttsworth
remained to his faith in the company’s purpose,
believing the economy was going to improve and turn
around. He retained all the staff in a now fragile
company with the same overheads except with lesser
This is the time where entrepreneur Tom Talbott
came out of his retirement and took over Colonial
Living in 1991. Tom employed the same strategy
and all the staff stayed onboard with the same
belief that things would turnaround soon. Tom was
partially right in his philosophy “It took
so long to get these tradespeople together and
to work as a team. Once we get rid of them it’s
very hard to get the right person.” It was
like a trap, the very same approach that helped
Colonial Living flourish and reach many Australian
homes is now its biggest burden at times when customers
tightened their spending belts and reduced their
The economy didn’t turnaround soon enough
for Tom and in 1994 Colonial Living closed its
Unexpected short revival
Following the business closure an auction took
place to sell all the workshop’s machinery.
Everything was up for grabs including the business
A Colonial Living cabinetmaker, Paul Floyd turned
up at the auction to buy a machine as he was setting
up a workshop. When the business name came up (Including
the telephone number, products templates, worksheets
etc.) Paul put his hand up and ended up buying
the lot; as he said, “I’m not going
to let it go.”
So he took everything home and put it all in his
workshop. On the same day of his purchase, someone
from Newcastle approached him to buy his newly
acquired prize and Paul refused in the hope of
potentially restarting the business again.
Given that they used to work together, Paul called
Aldo Vilarrubi over and asked him to make a few
things. But to restart a business like Colonial
Living, it wasn’t an easy operation. Three
months later Paul put up his Colonial Living possessions
Terrace & Cottage and Colonial
Peter Emmett and Bob Oldfield, two entrepreneurs
from Balmain were busy restoring early Australian
Homes during the early 1980’s under the company
name Terrace & Cottage. Before that, Peter was
a musician, playing guitar in a band and Bob was
a handy man.
In a typical restoration work, they needed old fire
surrounds to match with the period but the industry
was just non-existent. So they started building their
own handcrafted fire surrounds in a Balmain, every
one faithfully reproduced from original designs.
Eventually they thought other people might have a
need of this style for their own homes, especially
that no one was building these fire surrounds at
But some public awareness was needed and Peter decided
to get on the road and see who might be interested.
He tirelessly drove all over NSW and Victoria showing
his products and trying to get some orders.
of Terrace & Cottage’s
first designs was a Victorian Standard fire surround
named “The Balmain”, and their range
grew to a series of designs and sizes to suit most
early Australian architectural styles.
As demands grew, Terrace & Cottage gradually
offered support accessories for that finishing touch
to complement their fire surrounds, from register
grates to overmantel mirrors and a whole range of
feature and hearth tiles.
As time went on, Terrace & Cottage further widened
their products offerings with the introduction of
bathroom cabinets, vanities & Victorian Washstands.
Sometime during the year 1995, Peter Emmett got
news that Colonial Living is up for sale by Paul
Floyd. Without hesitation he rushed to its purchase.
Now Colonial Living became officially a division
of Terrace and Cottage Company.
|The 3rd rise
of Colonial Living
This revival of Colonial Living was modest at first.
Being the ever-savvy businessman, Peter Emmett decided
to feel the pulse of the market and slowly re-introduce
Colonial Living into the commercial mainstream.
That same year, Peter got in touch with Aldo
Vilarrubi (An ex Colonial Living tradesman) and
proposed to discuss the potential of reviving
the business with Aldo as a wood machinist on
a few days a week basis.
A large Colonial Living
sign was erected and displayed at the front,
coexisting next to the Terrace & Cottage
showroom on Victoria Road and the first creation
of this 3rd business revival was a two Door
Sideboard, as Aldo recalls.
Peter Emmett kept both businesses running alongside
each other, Terrace & Cottage people working
on this side and Colonial Living’s Aldo
on the other. They were separate but not disconnected.
From then on, Aldo was responsible for the production
and making of the necessary parts, and Terrace & Cottage
cabinetmakers in charge of assembly. On the Terrace & Cottage
staff of Cabinetmakers was Patrick Cullen.
came from Ireland in May 1989 joining Terrace & Cottage
in June that same year.
Back in Ireland, Patrick
began his cabinet-making career as an apprentice
in September 1982. Eventually he joined the HigginsBottom
cabinet-making firm, but that lasted for only
3 months due to the folding of the company in
Soon after Patrick joined the Hicks firm,
a most prestigious cabinet-making outfit exporting
furniture throughout Europe. "Back
then, everyone wanted to work for Hicks, it was
the ultimate and the place to be for master craftsmen.
Everybody wanted a piece of their furniture";
At Hicks, Patrick studied and worked with the celebrated master craftsman William
Hicks, brother of the Master Cabinet-Maker James
Patrick was the last apprentice to be
hired by the Hicks firm (Then partly owned by
Brewing Co.) before the firm was
downsized and folded up in late 1986.
moved on and later joined the Office
of Public Works in Dublin (OPW). The OPW specialises in
the maintenance and repairs of heritage-listed
furniture in all the national museums. "I have
worked on various kinds of furniture there, but
mostly the restoration of chairs";
"That lasted for 14 months then I moved into
teaching cabinet-making for secondary years students
at the St Augustine's School in Blackrock. But
seven months later I decided to move to Australia."
weeks following Patrick's arrival to Sydney Australia,
he came across the Terrrace & Cottage job advertisement
and called to arrange for an interview.
"In view of my experience in cabinet-making back in Ireland, working for Terrace & Cottage
presented an opportunity for me to bring various styles and experiences, which
helped me a lot, especially in the area of style customisation to suit particular
clients"; said Patrick.
"I became so familiar with the product styles, variations
and range I could almost build them in my sleep."
Colonial Living keeps coming back
In a repeat of events, sometime in 2000 Peter
Emmett decided to close down the workshop and
was looking around for a suitable successor
to carry on with the Colonial Living brand.
On offer were the Colonial Living name and
the Terrace & Cottage workshop machinery,
Upon their knowledge of
Aldo & Patrick thought it over and decided
to make the commitment to keep the brand alive.
The sale encompassed the same package as with
Paul Floyd, as in the Colonial Living business.
Also part of the sale were the Terrace & Cottage
workshop machinery, templates, patterns and tools.
Aldo and Patrick even decided to stay at the
same premises operating the workshop and showroom
at 126 Victoria Road, Drummoyne.
From this location, Colonial Living crafts assembles and displays the full range
of their Colonial Living furniture and the complete line of the Terrace & Cottage Bathroom
Peter Emmett retained the
name of Terrace & Cottage.
This is in short
our historical backdrop. As you see, somehow Colonial
Living keeps coming back. Each time with different
personalities at the helm but the product’s
quality and purpose remains true to the discerning
vision Dr. Buttsworth and Margaret Throsby
had over 30 years ago.
Their original aim was to make available authentic
handcrafted 19th-century Australian furniture
re-creations within the range of many Australians.
Are we any closer today? The demand for Colonial
Living’s products is increasingly on the
rise and the faithful re-creations continue to