Wooden tap artist
The majority of Aussie households are equipped with stainless steel fittings in the bathroom and kitchen, so when Building Connection came across a Melbourne carpenter doing something a little different, we had to take a closer look.
While mass produced goods are part and parcel of society, and most of us have become content with buying them, there’s something special about bespoke, handmade products. This is especially the case when it comes to timber craft. But when thinking of tapware, it’s certainly not the first material one thinks of.
So how did this unlikely marriage come to be?
As a young boy Oliver MacLatchy had a keen interest in building and crafting thanks in large part to his father who introduced him to the construction industry at an early age.
Now an experienced carpenter, builder and inventor, Oliver not only manages and runs his own bathroom fittings design business, but dabbles in his own creations with wood in his spare time.
That dabbling created demand, which in turn formed his business Wood Melbourne, along with its signature timber spouts.
As tends to be the case with many artisans, despite employing others, Oliver still creates 90% of the products he sells five years after the start up of the business. He lovingly considers his work more of an art than carpentry.
“I have a couple of guys helping me out with the production but getting in there and machining the parts down to make things function is my pride and joy. I think I’ll always be creating in some way,” he says.
The business idea for Wood Melbourne didn’t come to Oliver in the usual manner; rather it happened upon him while looking for tap fittings himself.
“I was building my own little apartment in West Brunswick and I couldn’t find any tapware that resonated with me. I found it was an area that was really lacking in creativeness. There were a few matte black items but that seemed to be the most exciting thing around. I think that’s when the light bulb moment happened,” he says.
From there it was a case of asking his brother to weld the copper fixtures which Oliver then adorned with timber spouts. Positive feedback got him thinking…
It wasn’t long before Oliver was approved his first design registration on his outlets, which meant he was the first to bring the idea to market. To this day he still believes Wood Melbourne is the first of its kind but has started to notice a rise in competition.
“I brought the idea of using new materials to the forefront of the industry, and now there are other companies starting to see the potential of it. A couple of companies in the US seem to be tinkering with timber handles and outlets. I’m not worried though. No one does exactly what I do,” he says with confidence.
Speaking of which, the raw timber used for each spout is reclaimed timber that goes through a 12-step process by hand including de-nailing, sanding and waxing.
It isn’t something that everyone understands and appreciates just yet though.
Oliver compares the complacency of society to adopt or search for ‘interesting’ bathroom fittings to society’s aversion to electric cars when they were first introduced.
“A lot of us have a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to ‘how it’s supposed to look’; if it goes against the status quo then it shouldn’t be done according to society. I think that coming into this industry without prior knowledge or experience gave me the upper hand,” he says.
While making aesthetically appealing tapware is one thing, the other side of the business Oliver had to wrap his head around was the likes of WaterMark and WELS.
“All of our tapware is registered with Watermark, as required. The WELS rating for all of the basin/sink spouts are 4*, using 7.5L per minute. Meanwhile our shower heads are WELS rated 3* using 9L per minute.”
The tap handles have met the WaterMark testing pressure of 67kg required for residential and commercial applications.
For the installers, Oliver’s team provide a rough-in and install guide for their taps and are available to answer any questions plumbers may have when installing.
It may be a long road for Oliver’s products to be fully accepted and seen across bathrooms all over the country but that’s one thing that doesn’t faze him at all. Considering he had no experience or knowledge of the industry, Oliver is very proud of how his products accentuate the bathroom.
“Timber, concrete or marble fittings challenge the feel of a bathroom. They provide softer tones than that clean hospital-like sanitary grey that you can get from chrome or stainless steel. The raw elements I use have that earthy feel and I think that’s something people desire more and more these days, because they pair so well with greenery and natural light,” he says.
With plans to see the business go global, Oliver and Wood Melbourne have already started tapping into the overseas market with appearances on UK TV shows like Grand Designs and a number of trade shows under their belt, but no plans to slow down any time soon.
“I know I’m dreaming, but I’m dreaming with actions,” he says.
So, if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary for your client’s next bathroom renovation, Oliver may have a design or two that fits the bill.