People of CBR: Tom Skeehan

Posted 6 Nov 2017

Story by CBR Canberra

Tom Skeehan is a local furniture designer and owner of Skeehan Studio, which specialises in furniture, lighting and product design. We sat down with him to hear about his life in Canberra and why the city is so important to him.

How did you get into furniture design?

There was a lot of influence from my father, who was a cabinet maker and carpenter. I grew up on the job site with him and he taught me all about hand tools and timber and how to draw. I was always encouraged to pursue a creative career and do a job that I loved. I had decided to set up a design studio while studying at the University of Canberra and it’s been a long five years to get where we are today. It started with working locally with businesses in Canberra and then building our brand and collaborating with national suppliers. From there, we’ve had the opportunity to start expanding into the global market.

As a global company, why have you decided to stay Canberra based?

I very deliberately decided to set up and stay in Canberra. It’s an amazing city and it has a really friendly and tight community.  We have had the opportunity to move the studio to Sydney as a lot of our work is based there, but we like the support we get in Canberra and love calling it home.

Tell us what a typical day in your life looks like.

A typical day for me starts with a walk to work – I’m lucky enough to not live too far from the studio. I normally head to my local café, Barrio on Lonsdale Street, where I’ll often sit for a couple of hours to go over the schedule and diary and flick off a few emails. I’ll then walk down to the studio and prepare for the day. A lot of the staff are self-directed and aren’t often in the studio, so we might catch up in the morning for a meeting to see where we’re at. I’ll normally wrap up work around six and then sneak into the city to Bar Rochford for a glass of wine and to draft a few emails.

I’m very lucky to travel a lot with my job. I’m in Sydney two to three times a week having chats with suppliers and manufacturers and we’re also overseas about four times a year visiting Europe and the US for exhibitions and relationship building.

How does Canberra benefit local businesses like your own?

The support and guidance from local industry is really important, especially for a design studio. Early on, I built some really strong relationships with a number of the local cafes and interior architecture firms. Their guidance and influence helped me form the products that I was designing as well as gain marketing opportunities.  Another great thing about Canberra is the pace – it’s got a beautiful pulse to it.

What opportunities does Canberra offer to entrepreneurs?

Canberra offers a lot of opportunities to developing businesses. There are incredible institutions, such as the University of Canberra, teaching great content. There’s also an industry that offers great support. Because Canberra is a smaller community, there are opportunities to really leverage off – you can form a business and prototype something, test it and get some really great feedback. Canberrans also really like getting behind other Canberrans. We all work together and you can really start to understand the core principles of a business and have the opportunity to easily work with real professionals.

Where do you see yourself in future years?

I’m really excited to see where the business is going over the next five years. We’ve just signed a lease for a gorgeous new studio here in Canberra and it’s exciting. The business has grown so much over the past two years and we’ve given ourselves some really good opportunities that I’d love to build on. For me, that’s about running an international business based out of Canberra, which allows me to travel, but still call Canberra home.

To see what life is like for Tom, check out his People of CBR campaign video.

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