Johnny Thompson, owner of Dirty Old Town at Federal, with his home-made, hand-cut stencil.
Johnny Thompson, owner of Dirty Old Town at Federal, with his home-made, hand-cut stencil. Doug Eaton

Getting dirt on their hands

AT Dirty Old Town in Federal village, furniture making is a family affair.

Owners Johnny and Helene Thompson source and salvage rare timbers from the local area, and bring them back to life to make their rustic furniture.

They are passionate about including their children in all facets of the making and marketing.

Their 13-year-old son, Eamon, does the markets with his father and loves to help in the workshop.

Daughter Jasmin, 11, also loves to work in their retail shop and is a keen photographer, and nine-year-old Aja-May helps with the unique painted stencils that adorn some of the furniture.

"Aja-May is our little shop girl and Jasmin is our photographer," said Ms Thompson.

"Our youngest son, two-year-old John-Joseph, was the catalyst for founding Dirty Old Town."

The Thompsons moved to Bangalow from inner Sydney 10 years ago just after their first two children were born.

Two years ago, with the birth of John-Joseph, they committed to furniture making full time after years working for other people.

It was a deliberate move to place their family life at the centre of their working life.

"It's been a great thing for us, the kids are part of the business and we get to spend time with them," said Ms Thompson.

Mr Thompson is passionate about building furniture and instilling his healthy attitude to hard work in his children

"It's like a basic set of survival skills that we are passing on," he said.

"Who's to know what the world will be like when they finish school, at least they will have a few basic skills with tools and business."

Mr Thompson sources much of his material locally for his original designs. He also often makes new furniture for customers from wood salvaged from their own properties.

"People seem to be moving toward locally made and hand-made things that are good for the environment," he said. "They are moving away from that flat-packed stuff shipped out here from China.

"There is no big machinery here I spend a long time working the timber by hand

"We can offer a story for every piece. It makes each item of furniture a conversation piece."

The Thompsons' ambition is to see their furniture on sale in shops in Melbourne, Sydney and overseas and they are already flat out keeping up with local orders.

But success for Mr Thompson will be measured a different way.

"I'd like to be able to look back in 20 or 30 years' time and have people's kids say we still have that piece of furniture you made for my parents all those years ago," he said.

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