In this edition of our ‘in conversation’ series, we caught up with Gavin Ebanks, the Managing Director of Ebanks Carpentry.
Based in London, Gavin is a carpenter extraordinaire whose services include bespoke joinery, carpentry and homeware. Starting his journey as a young boy working construction with his father, Gavin has worked tirelessly at his craft to get to where he is today.
M: How did you get into carpentry?
G: Basically my dad is a plasterer, so he’s always been in the construction industry. And when I was in school I was working with him on the weekends, just doing little stuff like helping him build walls and things like that so I gained interest quite early. And then I went to college, studied and then sort of just branched off on my own.
M: So it’s always been something you wanted to do?
G: Yeah, I do enjoy it and I’m happy that I’m doing it now.
M: When it comes to your work, do you try to make sure it’s eco-friendly and sustainable?
G: My normal working practice is any material that I use must be sourced ethically. So there are trademarks on materials telling you where they were sourced and so I always make sure to use ethically sourced timber. I know where it’s coming from and there’s always regeneration so it’s important to care about where your materials are coming from. I also make sure the waist-band that I wear is always recycled or up-cycled if possible.
The Expert's Recommendations
M: You offer an array of services, what is the average cost for a good carpentry service when it comes to lamenting an average-sized house?
G: This is something I always talk through with clients. For example, I’ll go to a job, any job and I’ll tell them to look, you can get it done very cheaply, which is negative in the long run because it will be done badly. So I say my prices are not at the high end but they're also not at the bottom end, so I sit sort of in the middle to ensure quality
To laminate a house I would charge, well it depends really. There are loads of factors to take into account but to do an entire 3-bedroom house it would roughly cost between 1500 - 3000 pounds, but again there is variation in there to consider.
M: So if someone is looking to renovate their home, would you recommend bespoke furniture or off-the-shelf furniture?
G: I would actually recommend a bit of both. There are certain things that you’d want to be bespoke, for example, an alcove. There is usually a space beside a fireplace where people put shelves in it and I recommend people get bespoke shelves because you can build it to fit the exact space and it looks tidy and it makes the room look like a really expensive room without it costing that much. But, if it’s a dining room table in a rental property, I’d recommend you just go out and buy it. The same thing with kitchens, if it’s your own house I’d say build it if you're just renting it out then buy it.
It’s all about being clear.
M: When looking at renovation projects, how realistic is it to manage time and costs? What is your advice for carpenters who want to mitigate surprises, especially when it comes to dealing with clients?
G: Yeah so firstly, before I even start any sort of work, especially if it’s a big job, I will sit down with the client two or three times and iron out every single detail that you can think of. Even down to the smallest, most insignificant part of the job. Because what I’ve found out through the years is that you’ll have an agreement with someone and then have a disagreement over the smallest of things that could have been resolved before any work even started. It’s all about being clear.
M: And thorough I guess. When working with landlords and property owners, what do you say to those who think they can take on any carpentry work or repairs themselves?
G: Uhm, stay away from it. Haha, just don't attempt it. I’ve been to properties all the time where I’ve seen landlords try to do even basic carpentry tasks and they end up just having to pay double for someone to come in and put it right again. I always say to people, in this world we all have our strengths and weaknesses. So I’m a carpenter and someone else is a plumber, I’m not going to go and attempt a plumbing job.
Impact of Coronavirus
M: Going with current times, especially with regards to COVID-19, have you seen any changes to your industry already and what other changes can you foresee in the future?
G: Currently, changes wise, I think there’s been a massive change. Because people are scared for you to be in their house the work is really hit and miss now. Jobs I had booked have been cancelled now so I’ve sort of had to adapt to this completely unstable time with no guarantees.
M: When you say you’ve been forced to adapt, what changes have you had to make, business-wise?
G: Well, before where I was more service-based, so, for example, clients would call me asking me about building a new kitchen etc. Now I’m trying to be more product-based, so I’m making products that I can sell so I don’t physically have to be in someone's home. And yeah I’m spending more time in the workshop now making shelves and wardrobes etc.
Past Experiences & Lessons Learned
... When you do a kitchen, the smaller it is, the harder it is!
M: Moving on from your practice to customers you have to deal with. What’s been the most complicated request from a client you’ve had to deal with?
G: To be honest, as a carpenter every day is different so every single day is a challenge which means it’s even hard for me to think of what’s been my hardest challenge because pretty much every day is a challenge. Because you know, for example, when you’re working in houses where nothing is level or nothing is straight and you’re working with materials that are square. You know, you’re constantly having to battle fitting things in spaces.
But my hardest challenge is probably a kitchen I did in a flat in London. Now, it was a nightmare because the kitchen was small and when you do a kitchen, the smaller it is the harder it is. It’s awkward and it can be time-consuming.
M: Okay, and have you ever had a really strange request. Like has anyone asked for a table shaped in like a crazy shape, like a heptagon?
G: I think the craziest request I’ve ever had, and it was a shock for me. I had a guy call me and he was a bit dodgy and he wanted me to build a factory where he could grow cannabis.
Inspirations & Collaborations
Being on Instagram you see a lot of people’s work and stuff and you think, wow.
M: Going back to your time in the industry, is there anyone's work you envy?
G: Loads. Loads of people. Being on Instagram you see a lot of people’s work and stuff and you think, wow. Like I think I’m good but obviously there are people out there who are far better than me.
M: Okay, and is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
G: One, in particular, he’s not a carpenter but he's a tiler. He’s called Huds Tiling and he’s from Jamaica but now lives in London and he is a master tiler. His tiling work is amazing.
M: Haha, are there any business collaborations you’re looking for at the moment, especially now that you’re more product-based?
G: Yeah, of course. I’m actually looking for designers and people who also sell products where we could collaborate on a joint venture. So I make a product and they make a product and we sell it collaboratively.
M: When a client comes to you asking for a bespoke item, where do you go for inspiration?
G: Pinterest is the go-to basically for everything. Before I used to look at magazines, but that’s the past now. It’s all social media-driven now so Pinterest and Instagram, are my two go-to places for any inspiration.
M: So apart from social media influence, what other changes do you see happening in the carpentry industry?
G: Something I’ve noticed is that there aren’t a lot of young people coming into the industry anymore. I don’t know what it is but you just don’t see many young people involved in carpentry anymore. When I finished college I was in a class of about 40 and we were all budding to get going in the industry. Now when I go back to the colleges, looking for apprentices, there are classes of 6 and 7.
M: So there's a worry there’ll be a shortage of carpenters in the future?
G: I’ve been looking for an apprentice for 2-3 years now. I am completely overloaded with work. So the work is there, but there is not enough interest I guess. So that’s something I’d like to see change, I’d like to see more young people getting involved.
M: What advice do you have for young people looking to get into carpentry? I think there’s this idea that carpentry is an old-school trade, like Jesus was a carpenter you know, like do we still have carpenters? So yeah, what message do you have for young people?
G: My message would be that carpentry is such a versatile skill to have, regardless of what industry you’re in. Carpentry is involved in so many avenues. I always say to young people, say you didn’t want to be a carpenter in the long run but you wanted to run a fashion business. I say, who is going to build your shop for you or who is going to put it together perfectly.
I also run an education business. So I found a run-down building, did it up myself, saved myself an absolute fortune, set up a business and now that’s up and running. I didn’t have the capital to do this myself. In construction, carpentry is the main trade to have, so I’d say to young people, it’s rewarding to see things materialise from nothing. It’s rewarding.
You just have to be a hard-worker and have attention to detail. The main thing is you’ve got to be confident and have good people skills, which helps with customer service. You could be the best carpenter in the world but if you don’t have customer service skills you’ll go nowhere.
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Normette Homes specialise in property investment and tenant sourcing.