Furniture maker John Blair of Happy Sunday.
On the hunt for custom-made wooden furniture? From kitchens and beds to lamps and shelves — you dream it,
and John Blair of Happy Sunday makes it.
Twenty-four-year-old John Blair has been an “unlikely business owner” for more than four years now.
“I wouldn’t say I’m killing it just yet,” he laughs. “But I couldn’t be happier with where I am right now. Running a business was never my intention, so it’s been an interesting journey.”
John is the owner of Happy Sunday — a local company that makes bespoke plywood furniture.
Think coat racks, draughtsman tables, kitchen shelves, desks, shoe racks… “Our standard products are almost like tools for everyday life,” he explains. “Although paper towel holders and shoe
racks are really popular, I’d say custom work is about 70 per cent of my business — and about
90 per cent of my time!”
Luckily for John, creativity seems to run in the family (you might recognise his sister Jen’s brand,
too. She’s the talented potter behind JS ceramics). “Custom designs take ages, but I find it really
hard to say no because that’s where my passion lies. I love the challenge of designing something special. It’s great having Jen to talk to — our studios are close together so we’ll often get together
The three huge lampshades (standing almost one-metre tall each!) that he built in December
for Southern Cross Horticulture are a great example of John’s ‘why not?’ attitude in action.
“I’d never done anything like it before, but they were really keen to work with me, so I went and
saw the space. I tried to imagine what I’d want it if it were my own environment, then went away
and came up with a design. It was such a cool opportunity to try something different, and the team was stoked with the end product.”
John launched Happy Sunday during the summer of 2015/16, after sharpening his skills for a few years under the tutelage of renowned local design studio George & Willy. “I took woodwork at school and really enjoyed it, but never really thought of it as a career option until I got the call from George Wilkins [co-owner of George & Willy].
“I went to school with George’s younger brother, Guy. When we were kids, we’d spend heaps of
time playing in their workshop at home. I remember George making these remote control jet boats…
I thought he was so cool.
“George launched his business when I was 17 and when Guy heard he was looking for a local person to help him out, he suggested he give me a ring — the little kid who used to tinker in their workshop!”
John got the job and worked with the George & Willy team for about three years, learning the ins and outs of custom woodwork. “It was my dream job,” he says. “I was doing custom orders and absolutely loved it. I’d take days off school to go and work for them, I couldn’t get enough. They also taught me
a lot about business in general. One day, George suggested I start my own business. He said they’d send some work my way to get started – all I had to do was find a workshop and buy some tools.
It all just fell into place from there.”
Fast forward a few years and Happy Sunday now has customers all over New Zealand and abroad.
“I send heaps of products down to the South Island,” says John. “Some things are flatpack assembly, but packaging can sometimes be a bigger job than building the item in the first place!
“I try to hand deliver whenever I can, because I not only get to relax knowing the product is safe and sound, but I love seeing the reaction on people’s faces. I once made a super king bed for a guy who lived at the highest point above Muriwai Beach. It was epic being able to see exactly where the bed would go and the views you’d be able to see from it.”
John’s favourite job so far? “It’d have to be the kitchen fitout I did in Auckland. It was my first time doing a kitchen, and it was a big one. It took a few months to complete but that’s the thing about bespoke designs, it’s just me on the tools, so customers are usually happy to wait.”
Although he’s a one-man band, John has a team of other tradies to help with things like metal work and powder coating. “It’s good being able to support other local businesses,” he says. “I try to keep everything as local as possible — the plywood I use is from the Hawke’s Bay and I was stoked to get this supplier on board, because it’s really hard to find decent plywood.
“The other wood I work with is birch plywood, which has such a great finish. It’s a very pale, very
hard wood. Sometimes I get asked to make things out of other woods or metals too, which I enjoy
for a switch up. But I always put quality first. I want my products to be around in 100 years — there shouldn’t be anything that can go wrong with them. Once I’ve sorted the functionality aspect,
I can figure out how to make them look good.”
At home, John’s surrounded by his own handiwork. “I’ve got a big trestle desk that’s about
four-metres long. There are wooden storage boxes, lamps, drawers… everything’s made by me.
It’s hard making time to do it, but I love experimenting with new designs. Whenever I need some ‘Happy Sunday inspo’, I take a hike into the hills or get out on the water. The best ideas seem to
come when I’m in nature.”
Curious to know where the name Happy Sunday came from? We were too. “It’s a funny story,
actually. I had a dream one night that I had a business called Happy Sunday. I woke up and wrote
the name down, and I guess it kind of stuck.
“I like that it doesn’t box me in to doing just one thing, because who knows what direction
Happy Sunday might take in the future. One thing I do know is that I always want to be doing something that I love, on my terms. I’d much rather be rich in time than money… although
I’d love a nice boat one day!”