Something To Be Proud Of

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In a cloud of saw dust, Donald Straka works with the ghosts of the forest. “This craftsmanship is becoming old-fashioned,” laments Donald Straka, founder of Daylesford’s Pride Furniture. “Everything in the retail market now is basically boxes with a few legs bolted on.”

 Amidst the furniture that crowds our daily lives, the delicate touch of artisans is fading. For millennia, artisans have looked up at trees and sculpted a comfortable way of life. In carved woodwork, craftsman try to honour the ornaments of nature. In Ancient Egypt, the nobility would furnished their palaces with opulent wooden chairs, delicately carved dining tables and bed frames with legs sculpted into lions and bulls. And it’s staggering to think that since the age of Pharaohs, modern furniture is still framed along the same design principles.

So what have we lost with bespoke furniture?" “Things with heart in the,” asserts Donald.

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Donald Straka’s father is Croatian, and his mother is French-Egyptian. “Since I was a kid, I always loved building things with my hands,” but Donald was raised on the other side, selling furniture in his parent’s retail business, “I was never satisfied just being a retailer of furniture. I always wanted to build it.”

 Although Pride Furniture is a family-run woodwork business with a history that winds back 30 years, the essence of the craft has been ingrained in Donald’s blood. “We’re currently working with a designer who approached us with an illustration of a staggered leg dining table that we evolved into a city skyline,” Donald entrusts his hands with his imagination, “we want to make furniture that tells a story.”

 Fifteen years ago, he was offered a chance to buy woodworking machinery from a retired mystic of the trade. Armed with panel saws, spindle moulders and drum sanders, Donald gave up the suit-and-tie floorshow for a factory on East Street in Daylesford.

 “I almost remember every single piece I’ve made since. I know how I’ve built it and I remember the grain structure of most of it.” Donald’s work feels like rustic re-imagining of Art Deco furniture, a decorative aesthetic that highlights modern style with intricate craftsmanship and rich materials.

 “I can remember making a parquetry table, it was an all curved and arched table top. And timber naturally doesn't like having curves and arches in it. But once you make it all work and see how it ties together...you just feel like you’ve brought something to life.“

 

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Whether it’s the wooden flames erupting from the base of Bernini’s Saint Lawrence or the armchair of Queen Hetepheres, Artisans have been sharing with eager disciples the tenets of their craft⁠—a skill that stems from our relationship to nature.

 “I still draw inspiration from nature and the timber itself.” Donald’s practice soaks in the Wombat State Forest, where he takes his children for lazy afternoon bush walks. “I love stringybark because of the natural Australian features in it and American black walnut is because I love the brown lustre in it.”

 Although Donald’s mind wanders around those trails of the Dja Dja Wurrung peoples, it’s alone in his factory, to the music of panel saws, that his practice cycles through the shared spirit of man, machine and forest.

 “As you sand it, the wood becomes smooth and you see the grain evolve. There’s something in the satisfaction of seeing the end piece, something that I’ve made with my hands,” Donald reflects, “Having a craftsman's piece in your house is meaningful. It can make someone's house—a home.”

Sam PridmoreComment