Natasha Courtney came here from the UK in 2001, backpacking with a working holiday visa. “The first place I went to was Waiheke Island, thinking I’d stay for a few days, but I ended up staying there for 10 years.” After a brief stay in Nelson she now lives on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula.
What do you make?
I design and make a variety of fine woodwork – from furniture items such as coffee tables, desks and stools to small items such as jewellery boxes, shelving sets and chopping boards made with my offcuts.
How did you get into your craft?
Quite by chance – a friend taught me how to build timber retaining walls when I lived on Waiheke Island. I really enjoyed the tools, the timber, the maths etc so I decided to go to woodwork night classes at Community Education. I went term after term for a few years making more and more ambitious projects (I started with a recycled rimu tea tray which I still use daily and my final project before I left Waiheke was a lift top desk like we used to have at school).
After a few years of hobbyist woodwork, I decided that I should try something more specialised to take it to the next level – so I enrolled on a two week introductory course at The Centre for Fine Woodworking in Nelson… two weeks that changed my life!
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
In 2012 I gave up my job at NZ Post and left Waiheke to return to full time education at The Centre for Fine Woodworking in Nelson. I completed the full time furniture makers’ course (9 months) – this doesn’t carry a formal qualification but I built up a portfolio of my own designs and left with the confidence and desire to set up my own studio workshop.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I enjoy the challenges of working with recycled timber when I can get my hands on good enough quality materials, and I like to work with sustainably grown plantation timbers. I really enjoy traditional furniture timbers such as Ash and European Beech.
My favourite hand tool would be a Black Maire shooting plane which I made – I don’t use it very often but it’s beautiful to look at, hold and smell. My favourite power tool is my router – it is such a versatile tool I’d be lost without it. My favourite piece of machinery is my bandsaw – it’s an old cast iron beast which a neighbour gave to me when he heard I was setting up my workshop.
What inspires you?
Other creative people. I was recently part of Christchurch project The Whole House Reuse – where they salvaged an entire red-zoned house and asked designers and makers around the country to reuse the materials, I made three items from demolition Rimu – it was great to visit the exhibition at the Canterbury Museum and meet some of the other makers.
As for my work, I’m inspired by Scandinavian and Mid Century Modern Design, I really appreciate the less is more approach.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
It’s really important to me to make high quality heirloom pieces. Equally important is to minimise waste and re-use where possible.
Describe your workspace:
I converted my garage into my workshop, it’s 7m by 5m and houses everything I need (though there is always another tool on the wish list). I made trolleys for the heavy tools so that I can move them around the workshop with ease. I have a sturdy workbench made of European Beech in a corner with natural light coming in on two sides. My view is out to the garden and I can usually hear the sea (when I’m not running machinery!) which is only a few hundred meters away.
What are you currently listening to?
I often just go for music streaming so that I don’t need to make a decision. I also listen to audio books and podcasts when I’m working. Lately I’ve been going through the archives of desert island discs from BBC Radio 4.
Recommend an album:
I’m terrible and I’m stuck in the last century as far as music goes. I guess I’d say anything by The Cure.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
I loved Rupert The Bear and had several of the old annuals, I still have one now. I wasn’t into dolls but I had lots of teddy bears and so I guess I just loved Rupert as he was a talking bear and he and his friends were so adorable.
What are you reading now? I’ve just finished I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
From a customer who recently commissioned me via Felt to make a box to house inherited Huia feathers: “The beautiful wooden box is amazing! We thought it would be wonderful from the emailed photos you kindly sent us, but it’s hugely better than that (and absolutely perfect for our Huia feather family heirloom). We can’t speak highly enough of your work. Thank you very much.”
Do you have any pets?
A cat called Betty, she’s our fur baby – an SPCA rescue cat, 15 years old and we’ve had her since she was 2. She is so set in her ways you can set your watch by her. She loves it when my hair is newly cropped – she grooms my head like I’m her kitten.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Wonder-Wood-Woman – I’d be able to plane in any direction without getting tear out and I’d be able to sharpen plane and chisel blades just by looking at them!
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I recently bought some absolutely gorgeous hand knitted cakes from another Felt seller which looked good enough to eat – I got them for my niece Alys – she lives in the UK and now we have Facetime tea parties…
Who is your hero/heroine? How do they inspire you?
Doctor Who – a hero who doesn’t have a weapon but has a screwdriver to fix the universe, and he has an extra heart instead of a superpower. And he’s very good at maths.
A favourite quote:
“We’re all stories in the end, just make it a good one eh?”
- The eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith).
What’s in store for the rest of 2015?
I’ve set myself a target to get my stock levels up before the summer season on the Coromandel. In March I take part in the Mercury Bay Art Escape which is an open studio tour so I need to have new stock in my studio by then and a couple of new designs for the opening do.
Love Natasha’s creations? Check out more of her gorgeous woodwork and cabinetry in her Felt shop. Natasha’s also a member of the Mercury Bay Art Escape, an annual open studio tour in March, and her studio is open year round by appointment.
Natasha has very generously offered a prize of this beautiful chopping board made from Swamp Kahikatea (below), worth $45, for one lucky Felt blog reader. To win this lovely prize, leave a comment telling us what you like about Natasha’s philosophy and craft. The draw will be made on Friday 11 September and is open to New Zealand residents only.