Former NSW Waratahs player turned woodworker Stuart Pinkerton does not miss his rugby days. ‘‘Not for a second. Never have,’’ he emphasises. ‘‘It was bloody hard work; training was hard, tackling was hard. It was all or nothing.’’
The affable 39-year-old is much happier working 10 hours, six days a week, in his Islington warehouse creating elegant bespoke furniture and timber fittings for an ever-growing list of clients. In December, he is due to start work on the second of Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants in Australia. Pinkerton created numerous pieces for the $1.2million fit-out of the celebrity chef’s first venue in Sydney’s bustling Pitt Street, including wine racks, benchtops, bar tables, flour bins, bread stands and large blackboards. (The new capital city site is hush-hush but, surprisingly, it is not Melbourne.)
In 2009, Pinkerton completed much of the new woodwork for British billionaire and Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson’s luxury 30-metre catamaran Necker Belle when it arrived in Newcastle for a refit. Slowly, but surely, his reputation as a skilled and sensitive craftsman has spread.
For someone who ‘‘is very bad at long-term planning’’, the success of his new career has been a blessing. ‘‘The ARU [Australian Rugby Union] contributed to career training and we were very well resourced in that area,’’ he says. ‘‘I’d always mucked around in Dad’s shed, making skateboard decks as a kid and I did woodwork at school, though nothing amazing. There was no big light-bulb moment, but I decided I wanted to learn more and take woodwork more seriously.’’
Pinkerton is known for his commitment to using recycled or sustainable Australian timber, which he sources in the Hunter when he can. ‘‘I don’t want to import timber,’’ he says, sipping water. ‘‘I don’t even particularly want Queensland timber,’’ he adds, smiling.
If he has to look further afield, such as Fiji for mahogany, he ensures the timber has been grown sustainably and ethically. ‘‘The villagers mill it,’’ he says.
He enjoys working on large-scale commissions as well as personal one-offs such as the entertainment unit he is making for a Newcastle family and a work station for Maitland Library. He has also completed a number of boardroom tables.
Pinkerton moved from his former Mayfield West workshop to Islington almost three years ago and his wife Micky has helped transform the light-filled front section into a lovely retail space. For sale are colourful beaded necklaces created by his twin 11-year-old daughters Ella and Josie (he also has a 14-year-old son named Barney). There is also a recycled spotted gum and glass circular table made by Pinkerton that is complemented by four chairs restored and re-upholstered by Micky using vibrant, geometric 1960s-inspired fabric that she screenprinted. Ceramic homewares by local artist Kim Long also feature and there are neatly folded piles of hand-loomed Turkish towels for sale. (They could would also make great shawls or scarves.)
‘‘They take a few washes, but that’s all I use at the beach now,’’ says Pinkerton, whose rugged looks and work boots seem incongruous in the colourful, feminine shopfront, which is separated from the large work area by windows and a small office. The entire warehouse is 450square metres.
Pinkerton also teaches classes on site. The large-scale projects enable him to employ extra help and he is proud of being able to boost the profession, which is ‘‘slowly dying out’’. ‘‘Any projects with a lead time of 10 weeks will get the bulk of the joinery done in China. It’s a real shame and it’s happening across Australian manufacturing.’’
Which is why a Pinkerton-led revival is Newcastle’s gain.
Pinkerton is located at 12 Fern Street, Islington. The shopfront is open Tuesday to Friday, 10am to 4pm. Phone 4962 4862 or see stuartpinkerton.com.au.