SELLING individual furniture items for $50,000 to $200,000, the Port Lincoln-based Constantia Furniture has established itself as one of Australia’s finest designers and makers of art furniture.
The business is one of the few in regional South Australia which employs master-craftsmen and attracts a steady stream of visitors through its doors to view its high quality furniture.
Established by Bernhard Koker, it has been located in Port Lincoln since 1977 because its stable climate was ideal for storing and working a collection of more than 150 exotic and rare species of timber.
Mr Koker arrived in Australia from Namibia, southwest Africa, bringing with him five generations of skill as a furniture craftsman.
In Port Lincoln, the company’s national reputation for quality, handcrafted art furniture grew through the 1980s and by 1985, its work was selling for record prices.
Mr Koker was commissioned to design and build the ornate central table and Hansard desk for the opening of the new Parliament House in Canberra in 1988.
The Parliament House table took two years to make and weighed two tonnes.
Since then, Constantia has secured numerous significant commissions from across Australia as well as from overseas.
Most of its furniture is owned by art investors or has ended up in private homes.
Mr Koker’s daughter, Summer, has taken over the running of the business during the past decade and is one of four furniture makers keeping the family tradition alive.
“These trades that offer such great value need to be preserved,” Ms Koker said. “My father encouraged me to develop my own concepts for design and to utilise the constant technological advancements in the industry to avoid the physical impacts associated with what was once hard labour.”
Ms Koker said the business had reached its peak because there were few people in the world with the skills to match those of the people working at Constantia.
“The constrained financial environment we are in has seen good growth in art investment, including for our exquisite furniture, that we anticipate will continue,” she said.
Some of the timber varieties used by Constantia are no longer commercially available and can cost up to $150,000 per cubic metre.
They include a mix of timber from overseas and Australia such as Queensland maple, Australian cedar, Victorian and Tasmanian ash, Queensland black bean, sheoak, and even wood from apricot and olive trees.
“Consideration for our environment is a priority and we have also developed a range of traditional and organic wood finishes that have been improved for contemporary use and they are very popular throughout Australia,” Ms Koker said.
One of its most recent developments is a recording studio to introduce an additional element to the family’s creative endeavours.
The small group with Mr Koker on piano and other instruments, guitarist and technician Rob Nitschke and Ms Koker as singer and songwriter, is planning an album for the year’s end.
Constantia also conducts guided tours through its workshop every day due to public demand.