Time Out Melbourne

An abundance of beautiful timber inspired the work of Geoff Hannah, one of James Squire's Handmade Heroes

Signing up for a cabinetmaking apprenticeship at 14 seemed like a sensible path for a young man who was good with his hands. But for Geoff Hannah, growing up in the beautiful Northern Rivers in NSW (the hinterland around Byron Bay), an abundance of timber and natural beauty would steer this young craftsman from the functional to the fantastical in his work.

The pinacle of his craftsmanship can be seen in his latest piece, a cabinet worth $1.5 million (yep, $1.5 million) and featuring 140 handmade drawers, using 34 different types of timber, with artwork, engravings and precious stones inlaid. The Hannah Cabinet, as it has come to be known, features such an intricate design that there are sections only Geoff himself can access, because he has created unique locking devices. One such section, at the very core of the piece, features woven material from Marie Antoinette’s bed.

This is not your everyday cabinet. But then again, Geoff is not your everyday craftsman.

For Geoff, creating the cabinet was a labour of love in every way, taking him over six years to complete. It is something of a shrine to Geoff’s late parents, who raised him with a love of nature. You can see it in the ornate depictions of birds waiting inside many drawers, or the multitude of timbers used in the construction.

You can alse see the influence of his Churchill Scholarship that allowed him to hone his craft in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Palace of Versailles in France. Describing the cabinet as "a bit Flemish", Geoff says that the hardest part about his project is financing them. The Hannah Cabinet's lining alone features $13,000 worth of ebony from New Guinea, and for the gallery on top of the cabinet he used petrified wood – for which he purpose-built a $12,000 saw and then spent three months using, simply to cut it into the right pieces.

"The holdback, I suppose, is making enough money to get going with the next one!" he says. "I’ve had my next project on the drawing board for five years now, it’s a table-top cabinet, but I’ve never been able to move on with it while this [the Hannah Cabinet] has been hanging over my head. Still, I’d better not stall for too long – I’ll be bloody gone before it’s finished!"

As for why he’s spent a lifetime creating cabinets in such exquisite detail, Geoff’s answer is simple: "I suppose I just have a passion for creating something beautiful."

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Updated on 17 Jul 2014.

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