Friday, April 30, 2010

Interview - Greg Hatton

Willow chair - photo by Lizette Bell

Best. Cubbyhouse. Ever. (designed and built by Greg Hatton)

Cubbyhouse interiors

Outdoor table setting and overhead light by Greg Hatton

Lights and things

Deco chair and other lovely stuff in Hatton's previous workshop/showroom in St Kilda

I cannot believe it has taken me this long to interview Melbourne furniture designer/landscaper/stonemason/general fossicker/ Greg Hatton. Even if you don't know him by name, I'm sure most Australian-based readers would have seen his beautiful willow furniture in print magazines or Melbourne shop windows in the last few years... yet somehow I have neglected to share Greg's incredible body of work here until now! Shame! I can only say a huge thankyou to Greg's fabulous loyal assistant Leila Sanderson, who contacted me a little while ago and kindly chased down the interview from Greg - no mean feat from a man who, I dare say, spends a lot less time at his computer screen than the rest of us!

You might know Greg by his studio moniker 'Twiggie' - an apt name which describes the stunning rustic furniture, lighting, and props he makes for private clients, local businesses and stylists. What you mightn't know is that Greg's diverse background originally included stints as a bike courier, fisheries officer and vegetable farmer(!!)... until he fell into stonemasonry after a 2 year sabbatical overseas. Greg found himself instantly drawn to the raw beauty of this natural material... and before too long was taking on his own landscaping and design commissions.

I am so inspired by Greg's brilliant attitude - his answers below reveal so many likeable qualities... and it seems that aside from being insanely talented, Greg is just such a super nice guy! He strikes me as someone for whom no job seems too hard or too complicated, someone who is driven, yet doesn't take himself too seriously - and who relishes the opportunity to get his hands dirty and earn a crust with 'honest toil'. In some strange way, it seems that each chair, stool or stonewall created by Greg tells something of his own unique personality... each wobbly imperfection points to his free-spirited creative process, and highlights the beauty of the raw natural material.

Until very recently Greg was working out of a fabulous warehouse/showroom in Melbourne's Balaclava... but being an ever-restless creative soul, he's recently taken on an immense new project, purchasing an old Butter factory in rural Newstead earlier this year (pics below). It's a brilliant (but dilapidated) old heritage building, in much need of love and restoration. Wowsers, big job! Currently part of the site is being used as Greg's new workshop, and the pair also intend to exhibit furniture and other design work here... oooh exciting! Stay tuned!!

Please check out Greg's website for more, or his Flickr, and he also has a brilliant blog which is updated by his trusty assistant Leila (aka Skinny) - she seems super AMAZING in her own right actually... I really need a Leila of my own! Where do I find one?

Huge thanks to both Greg and Leila for this wonderful interview!

Clearly having some trouble culling the photos. But can you blame me? LOVE the Christmas trees... a LOT.

Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?

Whilst sorting out the screws and nails in boxes in his shed for the 100th time my aging Grandfather once told me that you can live one life for 80 odd years or 8 lives for ten years, I chose the latter, he painted trams. His house was yellow and green! I have always made things, cubby houses, billy carts, bikes with big front wheels, bikes with big back wheels, pulled things apart and put things back together. A tree fell over in the backyard when I was about 12 and I decided to make a chair from it for my mum.

Year’s later after pursuing opportunistic and diverse vocations such as a bike courier, fisheries officer and vegetable farmer, I found myself without a job following a 2 years sabbatical overseas. So I started making things from willow - a weed growing prolifically in our rivers and streams and degrading waterways. After 12 months and little success I started working for a childhood friend Marty who put me in charge of the mixer for his stonemason gang. 3 months of mixing and the novelty had worn off and the only way out was to learn how to lay stone myself. It was love at first sight. Working with another raw material in its most basic form, and hard physical toil to create amazing structures that retained the beauty of the natural material they consisted of. It was great!

I scored a big job building a front entry wall of my own design, went out on my own and haven’t looked back…although we all have those days where working for someone else looks a little more attractive.

You’ve created so many incredible pieces - from private commissions to props for stylists and for retail display… what have been one or two of your favourite projects?

Making coffee bean silos for a mate who runs an amazing café/ coffee roasting company called St Ali in south Melbourne was pretty satisfying. They look good, functioned perfectly first time and are used everyday and haven’t needed any maintenance. Touch wood.

Coffee silos at St. Ali

Last year I finished a 12 month project building a billabong (Fancy dam) for some loyal clients down the Mornington peninsula at Red Hill. I actually used my university education! I studied geomorphology and soil science and with this realised the Ordovician clay at the site chosen would be impervious, deep and would resist turbidity (not suspend particles in the water column or be cloudy) ..unlike the nearby volcanic clay on the east side of the creek. That alone was satisfying enough, I even thought I was smart for a moment! I saved the client about $80000 on dam lining and had a great time making it. Unfortunately they want to plant willows along the edge to which I have protested vehemently. They even named their newly born daughter willow so I can no longer argue.

Fancy Dam

We did a great garden job in Acland street St Kilda, great clients are generally the key, if they let you go and believe in your vision it helps a lot with the end product.

Garden in st. Kilda

A garden behind a block of 60’s flats in South Yarra on a very steep site was also pretty satisfying, dragging all the rocks up 5 sets of stairs reminded me of it for at least 6 months, I can tie my shoes again now.

Beautiful landscaping by Greg at steep site in South Yarra

Some of the pieces I am most proud of I have made for myself and aren’t prepared to give them up, a sculptured dragster out of sticks, a four poster bed, some cool shelves. Its normally the pieces I make when I have some downtime, the ones that flow out rather than being forced a bit, does that make sense?

OMG awesome. :)

Four poster bed in Greg's previous Balaclava showroom/workshop


Can you give us an insight into the inner workings of your business? Do you employ other people, and do you outsource any significant tasks…? How do you keep up with the boring ‘business’ side of things, in addition to the fun creative side?

I have a girl Friday everyday, Skinny (Leila), who’s great. She puts up with me and her duties vary from p.a, paving queen, blog manager, bookkeeper, chair maker, soft furnishing expert, delivery girl, publicist, marketing manager, tree lopper, teepee designer and manufacturer….etc etc.

Beautiful Teepees by Leila Sanderson who works with Greg

We each have our strengths and varying tolerance levels of the boring stuff so it balances out well. I have a few boys I call on for the heavier stuff, Nick - a barista who worked at a café around the corner from one of my bigger jobs, Paulie - another stonemason/ barista, Gumby - who’s recently run away overseas, brother of another café staffer, and Stu who’s run away too, to open his café, Tim’s starting this week, a mate of a mate. I rescue people from badly paid hospitality jobs and when they are sick of waking up sore and tired they run away. They mostly come back though.

Where do you turn for inspiration for your designs? (ie books, magazines, your environment, travel, nature, family or friends… etc?)

Many of my clients provide enough of the inspiration, they are mainly pretty creative types who know what they want, we just sit down together and nut out the bones of a job, I like them to evolve rather than be a set design on paper. Often it’s the materials I find that tell me what they are to become, or in a garden build the whole outlook changes when you remove a tree or change ground levels, and so do your ideas on what to do next.

My favourite mag is called DAMn from Belgium.

I love the freaky beauty of organised European villages. (I lived in Austria for a while) and the history around them. Utilitarian design in old Austrian farmhouses many made before steel was readily available, so no nails no screws no wire…

Greg and Austrian Farmhouses... how about that fence!?

My mate Big Al had a very cool great uncle Keith, rip - who lived on a remote property in the Wimmera alone all his life. This resulted in various eccentricities and much inventiveness. He became a bit of a cult hero with a few mates after a couple of visits. I always think of him when I need to make something and have limited materials… what would uncle Keith do?

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Getting up scratching my head and wondering what I’m supposed to be doing today, followed by a strong coffee at home or The Wall, my current favourite café. All shadowed by my trusty old hound Kev. I don’t really have typical days as I am stupid enough to take on different things all the time, thus leaving me in a constant state of confusion, research and fear.. I mean excitement.

Greg's trusty pal, Kev

What are you most proud of professionally?

Working pretty green, I know that term has been flogged to death but I can sleep at night.

Taking on new and challenging jobs

Winging a pool renovation and pulling it off.

Compromising minimally

Aforementioned pool renovation. Looks pretty profesh to me!

What would be your dream project?

A large sculpture work over acres of rolling hills.

Building a stone house into a rocky outcrop

Running a skip sculpture competition, each artist gets a random skip full of rubbish and has to produce a work in a set time frame.

What are you looking forward to?

Genuine leadership in government.

Feeling relaxed and confident in what I do.

Getting my shit together, I guess they are the same thing.

Planting out my vegie patch in Butterland (The Butter Factory in Newstead).

Melbourne Questions –

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade? (ie recycled materials, hardware, fabrics etc?)

Side of the road for materials apparently its illegal but what isn’t these days.

Timber from Bowerbird timbers out towards Warburton, recycled and windfall timbers, lovely people to deal with …worth the drive.

Recycled Timber and things from Hughes demolition in Oakleigh

I actually scrounge most of my materials, it’s part of my business plan , reuse recycle repair. It’s amazing what people throw away.

Where /what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Had some great hot cross buns from a bakery in Elwood the other day, sourdough, buttered…thickly. Yum and a great lamb and couscous salad at Mart in Albert Park, haven’t been out much lately, my mate Pat whipped up a tasty dahl with some tommy’s I kidnapped from a clients garden….they were over ripe and the clients were away!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Again hard to be typical as I have no routine, at the moment scraping paint or wax off some surface of my latest project, renovating an old butter factory in central Victoria. I’d like to be riding my bike somewhere in the bush.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

I am about as far from having my finger on the pulse of Melbourne as anyone, however I’ll give it a shot. That you can make a coffee at home that’s as good as one at your local café.


  1. I did not know his work but he is really the best with wood staff. Unluckly I live i spain where everything is done by stones.


  3. Brilliant. I really loved this interview.

  4. What a creative, inspirational man. Such artistic vision. Thanks for the interview.

  5. I had no idea he was from Melbourne...I LOVED this interview.

  6. OMG that is so cool and you know what's creepy? That farmhouse he's standing in front of? BEEN there, small town, jeeps that is so funny. Waha! lucy you keep amazing me with your great interviews and posts. Mwah!

  7. I loved this interview too. Great guy!

  8. I think I 'll be Greg Hatton when I grow up.

  9. Probably my most favourite interview to date. I want to work for him!

  10. Hi Everybody! Thank you for all your lovely comments we really appreciate it. And of course thank you to Lucy for having us! And Madeleine you dont really want to be Greg Hatton - he's got really dodgy feet!! X

  11. Wow - brilliant interview!!

  12. Great interview Lucy - and great subject obviously - funny, inspiring.

  13. Wow, I had never heard of him before but his work is great!

  14. went to newstead yesterday! the butter/candle factory is just as amazing in real life. cant wait for them to set up the show room. thank you for the tour Leila! that whole little town was gorgeous. good work lucy!