From Kilkenny to Adelaide and back: How a furniture maker returned to his roots

The attraction of Ireland brought David Carpendale home to work alongside his Dad

David Carpendale and his father Seán pictured in the workshop of David Oliver Bespoke in Strangsmill Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

David Carpendale and his father Seán pictured in the workshop of David Oliver Bespoke in Strangsmill Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

 

Although he had always enjoyed making things and working with his hands, David Carpendale almost embarked on a career in law, but decided at the last minute to eschew the legal life for something very different.

He chose to use his talent for design and woodwork and become a furniture maker, creating beautiful, bespoke pieces for residential and commercial clients. And although he had hoped to set up a business in Ireland after college, it is only now, after living on the other side of the world for 10 years, that his dream has finally been realised.

“After finishing school, I turned down a place in Trinity College to study law in favour of a position at the Letterfrack Furniture College in Galway,” says the 34-year-old. “During my teenage years I had developed a strong passion for working with my hands as I spent a lot of time helping my parents (Joan and Seán) and picked up a lot of skills from my dad who designed and built our family home and ran a renowned iron-craft and engineering business in the area.

“I also did some summer jobs which involved carpentry and woodwork and really loved the experience – so my course in furniture design and manufacture really honed my skills and appreciation for fine woodworking and it was fantastic to have been selected to study there.”

After finishing college, Carpendale, who is married to Georgina, worked for a time with Waterford-based furniture designer Noel Whelan before going on to work, for four years, as a carpenter and joiner with Murphy & Larkin. Following this period of learning and development, he had hoped to establish his own business, but due to economic instability in the country at the time, work was thin on the ground so he made the decision to emigrate to Australia.

‘David always had a natural appreciation for wood and the way it could be shaped into something beautiful and timeless,’ says his father Seán says. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan
‘David always had a natural appreciation for wood and the way it could be shaped into something beautiful and timeless,’ says his father Seán. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

“Towards the end of my apprenticeship, I set my sights on starting my own business, combining the precision and practical sides of woodwork I had experienced over the previous six years,” he says. “But it was unfortunate timing as the downturn in Ireland was in full swing so although I had plenty of ambition, the demand for high-end work just wasn’t there and lending for small businesses (getting a loan from the bank) was next to impossible.

Emotional goodbye

“I had never lived outside of Ireland but, like so many others at the time, emigration came into the equation and by July 2011, I was on a flight to Australia with the intention that if things didn’t work out, I would come home and look at other options until things in Ireland settled down again. So with my suitcase half-filled with hand tools, on my 25th birthday my sister Ruth drove me, along with my parents and Georgina, to the airport – it was an emotional goodbye.”

While his then-girlfriend stayed on in Ireland to complete her chartered accountancy exams, the Kilkenny man got to grips with his new life and thanks to some family connections, was able to stay with a host family until he got on his feet.

Then having found work easily as a carpenter with a firm specialising in luxury residential properties, he was sponsored to live and work in Australia and after two years supported to set up his own business.

By this point his then girlfriend had joined him in Adelaide and, after returning home to get married in 2014, Carpendale then set about using his talents to build and furnish their family home which was completed in 2019.

But despite their wonderful life overseas, the pull of family was too strong and just after Covid hit, they decided to move back to Ireland and re-establish themselves here.

The Magill lounge chair from David Oliver Bespoke.
The Magill accent chair in solid walnut with sesame colour linen upholstery, €790 from David Oliver Bespoke. Photograph: Gerry O'Carroll

“The pandemic made us feel anxious about the distance (between Ireland and Australia) for the first time in 10 years and though life was relatively normal in Adelaide, we decided to return home,” says Carpendale. “It was a huge decision, but we had spoken about it for some time. So we sold our home and Georgina left in July 2020 to take up employment in Waterford and I remained until January 2021, finishing up contracts and winding down the business.

“I felt a mixture of emotions as my love and appreciation for Australia and its people will never change but I felt excitement in the pit of my stomach about returning home and picking up where I left off back in 2011 (after the obligatory quarantine period). Dad had wound down towards retirement so offered me space under the same roof in his workshop to set up David Oliver Bespoke – so with the love and support of my family, I had the basis of a new start.”

New home

Carpendale is now doing what he loves best, designing and manufacturing free-standing contemporary furniture for both commercial and private clients - he offers boutique fit outs and also has a signature collection.

He and Georgina are living in a rental property but are looking forward to building their own home and furnishing it with his unique creations.

And just as he is delighted to be starting afresh in familiar surroundings, his father, Seán is delighted to have his son back in the family fold.

“It is great to see David back home again, starting a new venture and using his wonderful talents in Ireland once more,” he says. “Working with him is a pleasure as we discuss new ideas for design and manufacture, with a bit of banter thrown in for good measure.

“My own association with both timber and metal began over 60 years ago when I made the kitchen table for our own home from a blockboard top covered in Formica with box section steel legs, which was a totally new concept at the time. Then my apprenticeship began as a millwright (flour mill) maintenance engineer which involved working with both wood and metal, under the guidance of a brilliant carpenter/joiner and a sheet metal worker/tinsmith.

“Then when I finished, I became self-employed, renovating bars, hotels and restaurants, introducing box section steel support work and cladding in hardwood or veneer.”

A privately commissioned walnut sideboard with sage green sliding doors from David Oliver Bespoke.
Solid walnut sideboard with hand-finished caper green sliding doors and brass legs manufactured in house, €2,100 from David Oliver Bespoke. Photograph: Gerry O'Carroll

He progressed from this to working with church furniture and has continued this line of work for many years. And having passed on a love, and talent, for working with his hands to his son, he can think of nothing better than working alongside him as he did when he was a teenager.

“David always had a natural appreciation for wood and the way it could be shaped into something beautiful and timeless,” he says. “He gets totally engrossed in the process, so it nearly becomes part of himself.

“I hope his clients get as much enjoyment out of the pieces as David does making them. And I am delighted to be able to share the workshop with him, as he is not only my son, but my best friend.”

davidoliverbespoke.ie

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