Ryan and Marnie McKnight are the talented makers behind milkcart, a Sydney-based furniture brand.
All milkcart pieces are (absolutely stunning and) designed and made by hand by the husband and wife duo.
We are so excited to have Marnie with us today telling us more about milckart and their future plans.
How would you describe milkcart’s design style?
“Most people tag it under the Scandinavian style umbrella and we’re happy with that,” says Marnie.
“We have an intern from Sweden who just started working with us and one of the first things she asked was where in Scandinavia we have travelled! She was surprised to learn we’ve never been,” laughs Marnie.
I would say our style is about simple clean lines and creating multi-functional pieces that are slightly Scandinavian and slightly minimalist.
Tell us how milkcart came about.
“Initially what happened is Ryan and myself moved from a small townhouse into a three bedroom home and we couldn’t afford to furnish it with the pieces we liked so we decided to make our own.
“We started making crate shelves for the kids room, then a coffee table and other pieces using scraps from around our house. Ryan is a residential builder so we had heaps of pallets sitting around the house and used them to build most of our first pieces.
“Our house is an old 50s style home and much of our old furniture was too big for the space. We upcycled the pieces that could work to make them fit in with the style of our new home.
“From there we decided to start making pieces to sell.”
That’s quite a leap, did you have a design or furniture making background?
“Neither of us has a formal design background but we’re both really creative.
“Ryan made his first bed with his Dad at age 5,” laughs Marnie, “and my Mum was always bring home furniture for us to paint and upcycle from a young age.
“I suppose we’ve both always had an eye for it.”
Each time we look at your online store you seem to have new pieces and your latest additions are the concrete base lamp and concrete top side tables. What are you working on next?
“We are always experimenting and making new pieces,” says Marnie.
“We were expanding into bigger furniture like making some tables and sideboards but we didn’t really enjoy doing it. We’re more confident and get more enjoyment out of making smaller items — it just wasn’t where we wanted to go with our brand.
So we’re back to what we like best, making smaller items like new concrete and timber coffee tables, as well as smaller side tables that you could just pop an iPad on.
“We have a thing called ‘Experimental Friday’ where every second Friday we just make stuff.
“At the moment we’re experimenting with different measurements of concrete, like some that have a hemp base, to try and develop a lighter concrete for our ‘Puddle’ coffee table.”
Talking about experimenting, you have introduced colours into your store, are there more to come?
“Yeah, we’ve done a few pieces like with red or turquoise drawers. I would like to do more colours but to be honest they doesn’t sell. I think it just limits where the piece can be in your house.
“Something customers often say to us is how they like the versatility of our products so what was a bedside table can become a side table in a living room and introducing colours can limit that flexibility.
“That being said we are trialing a new matt black at the moment. We used black gloss on some earlier pieces but found they showed dust so we’re testing out the matt black at home to see how well it wears before we introduce it to our store.
“Of course if we are asked to use colour for custom orders we will.”
How much of your work is custom orders vs your signature designs?
“In the beginning, all our work was custom orders but the online store is doing so well now that it’s been turned around. Now 10% of our business is custom and 90% is making furniture for our store.”
What inspires your designs?
“It’s pretty much what I need in my home,” laughs Marnie.
“What I need right now is a super small side table so that’s a new piece we’re designing at the moment.
“I also come up with new designs when we do custom orders. Today I was at a house giving a consultation and when I saw the space that she needs to fill, I knew exactly what would go there. I’ll sketch it out tonight and see if Ryan can make it.
Most of our designs are to help fill in tricky little spaces.
“We both love mid-century furniture and slim lines and have sketch books full of designs that we’ll often amalgamate.
“I also love Australian houses, how they are so light and airy, and they are definitely a big source of inspiration for me.”
When you say you’ll go home tonight to sketch up a design, has there ever been a miscommunication where what’s been made is nothing like you envisaged?
“Ha ha, yes!” says Marnie.
“Once I was on holiday and I left him a sketch of what I wanted and when I came home he was so proud saying ‘I made it’ and I just thought ‘no, no…’ the placement was all wrong and spacing,” laughs Marnie.
“I’m generally always there to oversee what he makes and especially on Experimental Fridays!”
Other than your stunning designs, what stands out about your furniture is how incredibly affordable it is. Is that important for you to keep the prices low?
“Absolutely! And it’s the reason we don’t wholesale and only sell online.
“We’re approached daily by boutiques and buyers to wholesale but if we were to do that we would have to double the cost of our furniture which defeats the purpose of why we started.
“We don’t want to bring the price point up so the plan is to keep selling through our store and other online stores.”
Can you let us in on your future plans or any new collaborations you have coming up?
“It’s going crazy at the moment!
“Our main goal is to keep making new pieces every three months and a new collection every six months – it keeps things interesting for our consumers and for us.
“We also just moved in to a new workshop before Christmas and our plan is to have a little showroom up and running soon. The aim is to have that space available to display the works of other local designs, like The Design Twins, and create an arts centre in our community.”
Thanks Marnie for chatting with us today!