FEATURED WOODWORKER
May, 2002

Michael J. Calnan
Tiwi Beach, Kenya, Africa

Page 1 Aussie Mike's African Home
Page 2 - The Funzi Furniture Factory

Page 3 - Mikes Work and Tips and Techniques
Page 4 - Mike and Sabine's Personal Paradise
Page 5 - Sabine's Work and Mike's New Project

This was a tough article for me to write. Why? Because when I started to unravel the story of Michael and his partner Sabine, there was more information than I felt competent to cover in one article. But, this one begs to be told and I have done my best to bring it to you.
In 1972, after an overland trek across the Sahara Desert, Michael arrived at Tiwi Beach, just south of Mombasa in East Africa. He took a look around and decided to stay while also noting that the local tradesmen had a wealth of talent that was lying mostly dormant. This led to the birth of the Funzi Furniture Factory, Michael and Sabines woodworking shop in Kenya.

To the right is the beautiful home of Aussie Mike and Sabine, and just below is beautiful Tiwi Beach. It looks like Paradise now, but when Mike retrieved this house in 1991, he had to reclaim it from several goats, the mosquitos and some bats. Originally the house, built at the end of the 1940's, had 7 bedrooms but it has been converted to one large bedroom on the top floor with the lower two floors taken up with office and workshop.

Mike's woodworking career is directly related to the move to Kenya and acquiring the house pictured above.

He tells us the story in his own words: "I had a rudimentary education in the use of most woodworking tools at school in Australia by the time I was 14, but had little or no use of the knowledge for a further 30 years. It was not until 1995 after returning to Kenya that I needed to agains use my earlier training.


Of the house Mike says: "I had just moved back here from Australia in the early nineties and was in search of accommodation on Tiwi Beach. I found a house but it had no furniture. I tried ordering chairs and sofas, but the local supply was non-existent and importing from Europe was out of my financial bounds.
I found some indigenous bench type bed/seats that I liked in a local village and ordered 6 of them. Problem was delivery took 10 months.
You might say 'necessity being the mother of invention' I decided to recruit my own 'specialists' from the bush. I had my first room full of indigenous furniture within the month.
Next problem was all my friends wanted me to make the same for them. Well, it all started from there, an old story. The more I sold, the more time and money I put into the freeform side of my interests - trunks into tables, roots into tables, etc., etc. Trouble was these pieces took so long. It was just a hobby really, the main line was the Funzi Furniture side which continued to expand and is now in Sabines hands."

On the left is a sample of the chairs (African thrones actually), that are featured in the sitting areas of Mike and Sabines home. The table or bar is carved from a neem root for the base and a mvule top. It is necessary to wait years sometimes for this wood to dry and be carved.

Page 1 Aussie Mike's African Home
Page 2 - The Funzi Furniture Factory

Page 3 - Mikes Work and Tips and Techniques
Page 4 - Mike and Sabine's Personal Paradise
Page 5 - Sabine's Work and Mike's New Project

 

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