George & Willy’s ‘buy once, buy well’ philosophy

Tinkering with tools turned into a full-time business for childhood friends George Wilkins (below right) and William McCallum – the brains and brawn behind George & Willy.

George Wilkins and William McCallum  of George & Willy

Working from an old boat-building shed in Mount Maunganui, the men behind furniture company George & Willy describe themselves as “a group of young guys that hang out in a shed making life tools for enthusiastic humans”.

Starting as two, they’ve since expanded to six sets of hands on deck, and the lads, aged from 19 to 38, build products including tables and bunk beds for people who follow the ‘buy once, buy well’ concept. “We make things we will still be happy to have in our houses when we’re grandfathers,” says product developer William McCallum.

Recently returned from a year in New York working for architecture firm David Howell Design and interning with furniture maker Jim Zivic, William says while they have well-honed pieces in production, their most profound work is yet to come.

George Wilkins and William McCallum  of George & Willy

Which George & Willy pieces are you most proud of and why?
William McCallum: Each product has been a stepping stone to where we are now, so there are cool memories attached to each one. Naturally, we are more excited with the newer additions – the ‘Bang Bang’ pegboard and Studio Roller [an industrial-style paper dispenser for cafés, artists and offices].

How did you evolve your hobby for creating furniture into a business?
George and I started making stuff in the Otago University workshop after hours. We would leave a window open and go back at night – we were that keen to be creating. We left university and were too busy making things to apply for any grad jobs and then realised we could make George & Willy into a proper thing and create what we have always wanted to create all day, every day.

Describe your workshop and how you work on a day-to-day basis?
The workshop is an awesome environment with good music playing – we have Bob Marley Fridays and work from 7am until 4pm every day. Every morning we have a team meeting where we discuss what went well the day before, what didn’t go so well and what we are doing for the day. We start off with some chilled music, then everyone puts their earmuffs off and gets in the groove of working. At lunchtime we do paper-scissors-rock to see who makes the tea. On Fridays we have show-and-tell where one person teaches the others about something they are passionate about. Last Friday, one of the guys taught
us about the motorbike he’s fixing up. A few of us often stay into the evening making something personal, fixing up our motorbikes or developing new products.

George Wilkins and William McCallum of George & Willy

Do you design with a specific type of person in mind?
Our pieces are for people who appreciate simplicity, craftsmanship and functionality. Humans who get stoked on life’s details, like the grain of wood, the mechanics of a bolt, the texture of raw concrete, the colour of the sky and other things which are overlooked by most people. We are not into the disposable attitude of society – our products are designed and built to last.

What materials do you work with and from where do you source them?
We source our materials from all over New Zealand. A key part to our products is the people who supply the material. It’s so much more enjoyable working with great material when the supplier is passionate about it. Our powder coater, Bill, is always a pleasure to see, always covered head-to-toe in paint with a huge smile on his face, which makes working with him an enjoyable experience.

What plans, projects or collaborations do you have coming up?
George is going to Mexico for three months and we are excited to introduce an historic technique to light fires in your home, naturally and easily with no kindling. Stay tuned on Instagram (@georgeandwilly) to see what we come up with. We’re also building a small yacht in our workshop.

George & Willy
Words: Lucy Slight