When The Roundhouse restaurant on the top floor of the Crystalbrook Kingsley hotel opens later in June, diners will enjoy a sensational view and hopefully, a dining experience to remember.
With the promise of great food comes smart decor. One the restaurant's prime spots is a communal table that seats 12 located adjacent to the kitchen, and resting on a beautiful mosaic featuring olives, designed in Turkey, at the request of the property's Turkish owner, Ghassan Aboud.
That table, one of three communal tables in The Roundhouse, was made by Newcastle furniture maker Mark Aylward in his Lambton studio. AF Sourcing, a company that sources furniture for hospitality venues throughout Australia, came knocking on Aylward's door midway through 2020, and commissioned the pieces.
Alyward, who's company is called Solid Wood Furniture, has been making custom furniture for nearly 15 years. Initially, his clients for tables were in Sydney - customers who could afford his work. But as Newcastle has come of age, Aylward's work has shifted increasingly to Hunter clients.
"Everything I make, as far as I'm concerned, they are heirloom pieces and they'll last at least a hundred years if they are looked after," he says.
A perfect fit for a five-star hotel in Newcastle.
The Kingsley project - six tables in all - consumed most of Aylward's workload in the last year. But, he's proud of the result.
"I love having them in town," he says.
"I probably could have made more tables in the meantime, but it's nice to get them in there."
Aylward picked his timber from his own supplier at Port Macquarie, who specialises in "reclaimed timber" - trees that get knocked over when a house or road is built.
Everything I make, as far as I'm concerned, they are heirloom pieces and they'll last at least a hundred years if they are looked after.Mark Alyward
He started the job with two-and-a-half tonnes of blackbutt slabs in his workshop, long enough to meet the brief of three-metre tables.
"The tops are made of two pieces," he says. "The tables are 1.2- and 1.4-metres wide. It's not often you'll get straight pieces that wide. And they weigh too much. So we split them down the middle. Two halves - 100 kilograms each. Just two pieces of timber on the top."
There is sound logic to having two halves on the top, as Aylward explains: "The split is actually better, the cut takes some of the tensions out of them. Once you slice them up, then the knots and different grains come into play as the moisture comes in and out.
"One of the tops here had a knot near at the corner. It was all nice, and then we had a week of bad rain and it sort of went, bummpft, and we had to tease it all back down.
"You put water in some spots, you make it swell in some spots, dry it other spots. And it sort of twists and turns. It's very, very alive this stuff. It's not like kiln-dried planks. The weather changes an they are just big sponges. A 1200[mm]-wide tabletop might grow by 12 millimetres overnight. Until you get them flat and the way you want them, and then you sort of whack the finish on them which seals them up."
The legs were mostly made from a softer timber, coachwood, which Aylward had kept a supply obtained from the old Cardiff railway workshops several years ago.
Aylward's craftsmanship is in his blood. He still uses tools from a his great great grandfather Phillip William Legge brought with him from England to Australia in 1850.
"I still use my great great grandfather's square, it is perfectly square," Aylward says. "If I want to check any of my squares, this is the one I check it against. And I use it all the time... it just about gives me goosebumps when I use it."
Aylward started as an apprentice sheet metal worker at Harveys in Islington, eventually becoming a refrigeration mechanic, and then in management, and later worked with his partner, architect Helen Stronach.
He was so happy when he made it back on the tools about 15 years ago. "I really wanted to work with my hands," he says. "I felt weak just sitting at a desk and a computer... I really had to get that work with my hands and feel strong again."