Back to the Woods

A.C. Barton. Photograph by Dane Beesley.

Back to the Woods

Sandra Conte

1 February 2014

Backwoods Original is the business of A.C. Barton who has craftsmanship in his blood – the great grandson of a blacksmith, grandson of a carpenter and son of a stonemason, Aaron has responded uniquely to this predetermined calling to ‘create’.

Aaron C. Barton creates handmade furniture and installations with both his immediate landscape and the needs of the environment in mind, approaching each piece with integrity, heart, intuition and a whole lot of recycled wood.

At a home studio, set-up in a charming rural Australian hamlet with partner Genevieve Trace, a theatre director and performance maker, the duo run the ‘nerve centre’ of Backwoods Original – their city store outlet is an hour or so away in the metropolis of Brisbane.

eARTh emag once happened upon a Backwoods Original catwalk/runway, fashioned from recycled timber for the high profile event, ‘Undress Brisbane’, finding the raw beauty and dramatic presence a true reflection of the integrity and goodwill that swirls around the brand. While the runway project is a “happy memory”, the energy of Backwoods Original seems now directed towards capacity building and ‘reach’, as evident in some unique projects:



Performance maker Sarah Winter, one of Genevieve’s industry colleagues, commissioned Aaron to create the dinner table around which audience members sat for ‘Dinner with Gravity’. As Aaron outlines, “The challenge was laid down to make a 5.4 metre dining table that can be easily taken apart and put back together for a touring theatrical show. I was lucky enough to have dinner (and wine) at this table in full flight. The basic concept is for 18 strangers to sit down at a table where the food floats around suspended from large helium balloons, as a menu is passed around with suggested topics for conversation. It was as close to having dinner at the Mad Hatter’s table as I think I’ll ever get. Although we do set design, this amazing space wasn’t dressed by me but by Sarah Winter and her ‘Dinner with Gravity’ team. I made only the window table”.



The Nest Ensemble, a theatre company, in presenting their performance “EVE” saw Margi Brown Ash commission a set for the company’s version of an Australian shed-cross-mystical treehouse. The “Eve” set incorporated organic material (mostly wood) and responded to Brown Ash’s simple brief to “build a treehouse, do what you want I trust your decision”. As Aaron outlines, “The set was made completely from recycled, found and re-purposed materials. The stick balls (thanks to Greg Hatton for sharing your secrets) were made from sticks that were washed up by the river near the workshop after floods. The shack was made from sawmill offcuts destined to be burnt or thrown in land fill, floor boards left over from renovations at the Old Museum, pine logs from sustainably managed plantations, roofing and framing from Caylamax (my local demolition yard).” In this production the dressing of the set was also designed by Backwoods Original and proves that you can make anything into a beautiful visual statement. Aaron goes on to state, “The chair was made from old pallets and an old de-upholstered chair (bought from a trash and treasure). I grew up with the bath tub, so the tub on stage was collected from my parents’ rainforest garden where I kept a yabby farm in it as a kid. But when it came to collect the bath tub I discovered it was being guarded by a Red Belly Black snake.” Thus proving the extent to which the young designer goes to get the right piece for the right client! Aaron goes on further to highlight the collaborative nature between his partner Genevieve Trace that spans both the Backwoods Original business and her home-ground in the theatre. “The chandelier or Shantylier was arranged by the lighting designer, my partner in crime, Genevieve Trace.”

As beautiful as these pursuits in the Brisbane theatre industry are, Backwoods Original’s focus remains with the building of the company as a leader in small scale furniture manufacturing and design. As a designer, Aaron’s focus remains true to individual pieces imbued with tradition and a story to tell, such as the trusty Standard Issue Trestle Table and one-off commissions.



Aaron explains his appreciation for the Trestle Table in the following, “I have long appreciated the simplicity and practicality of the humble trestle table. Originally developed in the Middle Ages as a few loose boards over collapsible legs in order to feed many hungry mouths. Then, in later times the trestle table evolved into the frame based design we recognise today.” He goes on to say, “We reckon the Standard Issue Trestle is a great heart for any home. Plus you won’t knock your knees on that awkward post in the corner on your way out”.



Aaron took a cross section of timbers recycled and otherwise to fulfil this commission and outlines how, “The concept was to replace an old TV cabinet remove the TV and replace it with some books. We wanted it to be useful both standing in portrait and lying in landscape. I used salvaged Silky Oak windows for the exterior texture which were filled in with French Oak that was milled out of beams found in a barn house from the Lavoix Valley, France. The shelving was constructed from mixed Australia hardwoods. I used box joints, mitres and dowel joints in the construction.”

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