By Candace Sofianos King

Cape Town-based Coney Timbers shares insight into the business of repurposing reclaimed timber for iconically honest, rustic and timeless furniture.

Industrial pine was used for marketing agency VML’s boardroom table in Woodstock. Credit: Coney Timbers

When it comes to contemporary timber design trends, ‘out with the old and in with the new’ is a general prevailing approach. However, this shouldn’t necessarily be the case, says Dean Dicks, founder and creative director of Coney Timbers, manufacturers of custom reclaimed, recycled, rustic, vintage or refined solid wood furniture.

The birth of this bespoke sustainable business all began in an ‘overwhelmingly large’ auditorium at the Design Indaba back in 2010. “I sat there not knowing what to expect, besides listening to inspirational speakers from across the world. Over three days, I listened to many presentations that inspired, enlightened and motivated me.

The speaker who made the greatest impression for me was Piet Hein Eek, a Dutch furniture designer. He delivered a narrative that was humbling and inspiring about how an individual, through a creative process, can apply his DNA and education to create something unique, artistic and desirable.”

Dicks left Design Indaba more confused than ever, wondering if he should resign from a 15-year career in media to chase his inner desire for raw creativity. “During this time, I was looking for a piece of furniture for home and thought, based on Piet’s presentation, I needed to design my own unique feature piece,” enthuses Dicks. And so, this thirsty creative trawled the streets of Cape Town looking for something eye-catching, recycled and bespoke. After fruitless effort, Dicks decided to find a furniture maker to brief, which he did, and they produced a table that caused a stir.

“Friends and family wanted to know where I got the piece from, and based on their interest, I decided to market online and see what the response would be. On the first weekend I had sold the same table five times over and was faced with a dilemma because I only had one table! I had to order four more very quickly to be delivered the following week, and we pulled it off! The rest is history.”

Sustainable design inspired by nature

In the beginning, Dicks realised that many can make furniture, and felt the need to differentiate his business by sharing how Coney Timbers do things instead of what it is that they do. “We don’t just make furniture, we produce feature pieces that are from a sustainable process and are unique wherever possible. Our materials are sourced from historical catchment areas in Cape Town, so everything we use has lived many lives before we make each unique piece.”

Coney Timbers has made table tops from reclaimed doors; side tables from old teak flooring from yacht clubs; and kitchen islands from wood from old watering holes. We also

VML digital agency’s bar in recycled oregon. Credit: Coney Timbers

source unique handles, knobs, locks, and keys for individualising pieces. “Coffee tables are my thing and can be made using any recycled material, especially oak, oregon and scaffolding boards. We designed a minimalist look by creating legs that feel part of the top with the grain of the top ‘falling’ over into the legs to accentuate the natural grain of the timber. This is such a small piece but has the presence to enhance an entire room.”

A special species to mention is Oregon, notes Dicks, “Based on its character, its brilliant, especially the 100- to 200-year-old examples. It’s also soft enough to work with, but tough enough to endure any environment. It also comes in different colours: natural biscuit, yellow/orange and deep red/brown.”

When using reclaimed materials, Dicks says the best character outcome comes from making use of a natural aging process and not an artificial one. He continues, “The urge to reconnect with nature plays out in a variety of designs and natural colour palettes. There’s a strong link to the farm-to-table movement that now extends to sustainable furniture as consumer trends become increasingly ‘homegrown’.”

Collaborate and differentiate

Dicks says the collaboration with other designers, contractors and architects is key. Marrying the personalised experience with the supply of furniture is a winning formula, notes Dicks. “It’s good business to engage with and assist clientele months after the purchase has taken place or add an element of surprise to the purchase delivered with a bunch of flowers, surfboard wax for the surfers, a case of wine, or even a baby grow, for example,” he laughs, adding, “We are also in the business of storytelling, meaning we source really old wood that has a rich history, which helps with marketing as clients share the story around their dinner parties.”

When dealing with customers seeking upcycled furniture pieces, Dicks says it’s beneficial to work in collaboration with clients; who play an integral role in the entire manufacturing process; with storyboards and the selection of wood and give them ongoing updates until final approval on site. The client can change the design or material used at any stage. “Treat each and every client as a victory, from the smallest purchase to the largest commission,” he adds.

Dicks says the market is saturated with a full spectrum of the single guy working from his garage to large retailers. It’s about doing things that are different, kind of disruptive and making your products bespoke, unique and not found anywhere else, he believes.

“If we as an industry keep evolving and adjusting strategies that align with crucial consumer trends, we won’t stop growing. In the next five years, I’d like to see a few retail outlets that offer an exciting environment for people with an interest in all things related to cool furniture design. I want to create a place that enlightens, inspires, educates and adds value to the community,” says Dicks.

Considering future industry trends, Dicks’ one wish for the wood furniture industry is for further collaborative work and more frequent opportunities for like-minded individuals to engage and leverage one another’s businesses. “I prefer looking for opportunities to work collaboratively with peers and competitors to increase efficiency and contribution than to operate in a vacuum.”