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The passion for the beauty of Australian Cedar.
ABOUT COLONIAL LIVING
The origins - 1984
At the heart of it
Colonial Living Today

 

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 Throsby.
Colonial Living's original aim was to make available authentic handcrafted 19th-century Australian cedar furniture re-creations within the range of many Australians. 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.”
The Colonial Living logo in its early days.
 

Colonial Living 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 became restricted.

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. The company’s 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 returns.
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 patronage.

The economy didn’t turnaround soon enough for Tom and in 1994 Colonial Living closed its doors.

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 name.
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 for sale.

Terrace & Cottage and Colonial Living
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 the time.
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.

One 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 Terrace & 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.

Patrick 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 1984.
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"; Patrick said. At Hicks, Patrick studied and worked with the celebrated master craftsman William Hicks, brother of the Master Cabinet-Maker James Hicks.
Patrick was the last apprentice to be hired by the Hicks firm (Then partly owned by the Guinness Brewing Co.) before the firm was downsized and folded up in late 1986.

Patrick 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"; Patrick said.
"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."

Three 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, templates etc.

Upon their knowledge of Peter’s decision, 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 Vanities.

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 be treasured.

 
   
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