Willetts invests in sustainability

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A mainstay of Oamaru’s Victorian precinct is crafting a sustainable future.

Harbour St business Willetts Furniture has been “keeping a very low profile but is gearing back up again”, manager Cath Anderson says.

Owner Colin Willetts was approached by Ross and Debbie Ward, the Oamaru couple building an accommodation complex near the Oamaru Harbour, to make furniture for their new site.

Willetts Furniture has started making items for the 22 guest rooms and reception area.

“They wanted top-end furniture,” Mr Willetts said.

While most accommodation providers had to replace furniture every four to seven years, the pieces Willetts had made for clients including Queenstown’s Millbrook Resort and Eichardts Hotel had far greater longevity.

Mr Willetts described them as “everlasting”.

He created most of the designs himself and consulted with customers for the likes of heritage situations.

For the Oamaru accommodation, he made suggestions to the Wards that resulted in “some exciting designs”.

To store the pieces before they were placed in the complex, Willetts Furniture has taken out a short-term lease of the building next to to its premises, formerly occupied by the Oasis furniture and antiques shop.

All the wood used by Willetts Furniture is sustainably-managed native New Zealand timber sourced from Southland. It is approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

One of Mr Willetts’ favourites is silver beech, also known as tawhai. The medium-density hardwood was “akin to the best of the solid heart rimu the untold stories of the New Zealand furniture industry”.

Willetts Furniture was one of the first companies to work with it on a commercial scale, after rimu became scarce.

“It’s beautiful to work with.

“It’s a blank canvas for us. It’s really raw timber. It goes right through the process here.”

Production manager Chris Mackay said he did not know how the grain would appear when he received the timber. Each time it was like “unwrapping a present”.

Another advantage was that “it’s pretty much impervious to borer”, Mr Willetts said.

Willetts has a range of seven styles of furniture displayed on its website, which serves as its shop. It is continually customising pieces based on those designs to suit buyers’ requirements, Ms Anderson said.

The company has three part-time employees it brings in as needed, but would “never be huge again”, Mr Willetts said.

He liked being a small enterprise based on craftsmanship and attention to detail.

“It’s all hand-made,” Mr Mackay said.

“And the proof is in the pudding – the wonderful emails we get from customers,” Ms Anderson said.

The small team has been developing an alternative to traditional chemical spraying to seal timber.

“There’s been a heck of a lot of R&D years of fairly intensive work,” Mr Willetts said.

“It hasn’t been easy.”

Working with chemists from various paint companies paid off. Willetts will now use water-based sealers that will have “a huge positive impact on the environment”.

“It’s about being responsible,” Ms Anderson said.

“And it’s nicer for the guys working here.”

“We’ve only just completed it,” Mr Willetts said.

“It will go on to the new website.”

His son, Sam, co-owner and creative director of Nudge Marketing in Dunedin, was taking care of that.