Based in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, HomeWood manufactures bespoke timber furniture – crafting from a variety of central Africa hardwoods such as kiaat, Zambian teak and iroko. Each and every item of Homewood furniture is a collectable piece of art made from hand-picked raw materials of natural origin – a discerning buyer’s dream!
Originally operating in Cape Town’s Hout Bay, HomeWood was founded by Stuart McLaren and used to focus on the restoration of antiques as well as the creation of Cape-Dutch tables from indigenous Yellowwood. The production process and the styling for the tables took years to perfect, and this legacy still remains. However, in 1999 the current owners bought Stuart out and redefined the company and its products. Today a wide range of indoor and outdoor furniture is produced in many styles – with a focus on design, quality and exclusivity.
Ian Perry tells us what inspired him to take on HomeWood and how his business is benefiting the Lidgetton community.
Q: What inspired you to start your business?
A: Firstly: my passion for furniture, design and high quality wood. Secondly: in today’s fast-paced environment the production of furniture has moved away from its roots of highly skilled handcrafted works of art. Now it’s just high volume mass produced rubbish. Furniture no longer has a story and I want to bring this legacy back. I insist that each of my pieces has a story of its own – which begins with the 150 year old tree providing its raw material. Thirdly: true conservation of our indigenous African hardwoods is crucial. In Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and the Congo, the livelihood of millions of local inhabitants are completely dependent on the forests and the forestry industry. Without sustainable management, these valuable resources would be decimated. So by us using this wood responsibly and paying a good price for it, these forest industries can continue.
Q: How did the concept come about?
A: It has been a process that has evolved over time – starting when I was just 10 years old and made furniture with my grandfather in his garage. The main seed and passion was sown during my Wood Science studies at the University of Stellenbosch, while the final business grew from me having a hobby workshop in the garage. I started making a few items for friends, and before I knew it HomeWood was producing and distributing country wide.
Q: How is your product unique?
A: The philosophy at Homewood is a simple, but powerful one. If a tree is as old as two hundred years, the very least that can be done is to turn that wood into something special – into quality and exclusive furniture that will be bought as an investment. We focus on the origin and have respect for the timber. This is obvious in our original designs - in small details such as ensuring colour of the wood is left 100% natural.
Q: Tell us about your staff
A: All my staff are hand selected by me, and I only take on young and enthusiastic craftsmen just qualified from various woodworking technical colleges. They spend a full year in apprenticeship – learning how to love wood, respect it and work with it correctly. HomeWood also treats all staff like family, and it’s this family environment that adds to the passion and gives a sense of pride in all work done. We currently have 20 skilled artisans working for us, and each Friday we have a training workshop – where we go over the company’s financial performance (we keep everything transparent), look at ways to improve productivity etc.
Q: In what ways do you think your business is benefiting the community?
A: We are based in the rural area of Lidgetton and we employ quite a few people from the community – which means we do not only create employment, but we also increase the skills of the people.
Q: What are the main challenges when running your own business?
A: Finding enough market to ensure we grow at a good rate, employing the right people in the right positions, keeping staff motivated and managing our cash flow during time of low sales.
Q: What are the main rewards?
A: Knowing we have built something successful from scratch, and being able to continually employ more people – thus uplift their lives!
Q: Why do you think your business is successful?
A: Through the sheer drive, passion and commitment of our staff.
Q: How important is marketing?
A: Marketing is the most vital aspect of any business. If you have no market, you have no business.
Q: What advice can you give to someone starting their own business?
A: Make sure you are unique and that you start with the market first. Once you have a viable market, the rest will follow.
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