I first met Natasha Dickins of Little Red Industries a couple of weeks ago when I went to her inner west workshop to shoot this post. I found her so down to earth and lovely that I felt like I already knew her. I’d seen Natasha’s beautifully made handiwork and heard about Little Red Industries from a few different friends so I was fascinated to find out about her journey from fashion and beauty editing for a glossy mag to rolling up her sleeves and getting amongst the power tools.
I’m really inspired by Natasha’s energy and skills in her own business as a furniture designer and maker, DIY specialist and renovator and I’m thrilled to share this interview and studio tour with you.
Natasha is also giving away one of her fabulous white Chalkboard Houses valued at $425 to a lucky We Are Scout reader. Find out how to enter at the end of this post.
Where do you live?
I’m blessed to have two homes. One is a cute cottage in Sydney’s Balmain that I inhabit with my partner Alun, who’s an experience designer. Leafy trees crowd over our courtyard to attract noisy birds and it’s perfectly positioned for busy city life.
The other home is where my heart is. Five hours away, on the mid-north coast of NSW, is a dated 1970s weatherboard that we’re gradually sprucing up. It’s nestled in the bush where kookaburras laugh on the letterbox, an aggressive goanna patrols the backyard, and the beach is a four-minute stroll.
We’re passionate about keeping it humble but well designed and refer to it as Little Red’s Reno. Alun looks after the landscaping and is a gentle, careful DIY painter, while I’ve taken on the building and being the bossy boss of painting. We escape to work on it every month or so, but one day we’ll live there forever.
Where do you create?
My workshop, fondly known as Little Red Industries HQ, is set up for woodworking, making new furniture, restoring vintage pieces and playing with ideas.
It’s basically a double garage in the gritty suburb of Marrickville, but is part of a larger building that houses other woodworkers, artists, a basket weaver and a pair of ceramicists.
When do you create? Is it a full time job?
Random ideas never stop flooding in, whether it’s for remaking supermarket shelving while shopping, repurposing the industrial fencing used for roadworks while driving (one day I’ll make a bedhead from it) or planning the best fasteners for flatpacking while falling asleep.
To capture every idea is impossible and mentally overwhelming, so I try to stay focused on being practical and hands-on during ‘normal’ work hours of about 9am to 6pm then squeeze in admin and writing in the evenings.
What path led you to this creative place?
For 20 years I worked in publishing, editing lifestyle magazines and developing useful marketing skills – how to write, take good pictures and present on radio or TV. I also developed a passion for homemaking through styling and karate-chopping many cushions for photoshoots.
While managing the fashion and beauty pages of a glossy weekly, I signed up to do a woodworking course and made a bench seat, relishing in the contrast of being a stressed media chick by day and dusty woodworker by night.
I later left publishing quite traumatically and took time out, which involved setting up power tools in the kitchen to make stuff. One sawdusty day Alun suggested I move it all to a proper space to preserve our health.
Four years later, Little Red Industries is very real and my workshop is a truly unique place where I love to design, build and continue to tap into that past life by creating how-to DIY content for various brands.
What’s your elevator pitch? How do you describe what you do?
As a furniture designer and maker, DIY specialist and renovator, I build modern living solutions. Much of my work is made-to-measure, from refurbishing offices and styling retail spaces to crafting bespoke heirlooms. At my Little Red Industries workshop I love to talk DIY and create how-to content for various media and hardware brands.
My style is simple, often midcentury-inspired with a splash of colour. Sometimes it’s created from new materials for a clean aesthetic, other times I choose reclaimed timber for warmth and character, but I always craft something I’d want to live with.
How would you describe yourself in six words?
Brave, physically strong, resourceful, over-indulgent, fairly good-humoured but red-headed (and peeved there is no emoji for this).
Where do you find inspiration and motivation?
Travel is exciting and the elegant, midcentury architecture of California, especially in Palm Springs, really suits our coastal Australian climate. But since I can’t do that every day, Instagram will do!
And while I’m always inspired by the timber I work with, bold graphics and textiles give me goosebumps and I often indulge in an online glutton of pattern, starting with something big like Marimekko and ending with an Aussie flavour, like the fabulous fluro designs of Roofus Australia.
What are the essential items in your workspace?
Working with timber means cutting, fastening and sanding, and the more power tools I have to make that happen, the better! But a builder’s square for setting out measurements, clamps and a drill press are essential.
Oh and I couldn’t live without my iPhone, from converting measurements to taking pictures of products in the hardware store and managing finances.
Do you have a favourite tool that’s essential to your work?
My Bosch drill is totally ergonomic and my lady hands can use it all day without getting fatigued. And my favourite finish for plywood or pine is Porters Paints ClearCote, because it doesn’t discolour and dries in 10 minutes so the old ‘wait two hours between coats’ doesn’t have to happen. (This has saved my bacon many times!)
What do you love the most about your creative space?
It’s my creative nest, where I’ve given myself permission to fail. It’s taken 44 years to come to the realisation that this acknowledgement is one of the greatest tools of success. Without this mantra I would never begin anything new or have even put foot on this rewarding path.
Oh, and it has a shooting wall. The white brick makes a great backdrop for photography. Sharing images on social media keeps me accountable and productive.
Is there something you don’t like, or would like to change?
While I’m pretty tidy, which is essential for safe working, I’d love to be one of those minimalist types who doesn’t hoard little pockets of ‘save-it-for-later’ messes.
Do you listen to anything while you work?
Old-school soul via iTunes in the home office, and Triple J in the workshop, although if I’m using power tools there’s no point creating more noise.
Favourite work-time snack (or beverage)?
There’s something about getting to the workshop, pushing up the roller door to start the day then catching the aroma of coffee from the cafe across the road… And nothing beats cold beer after a day on the tools.
What would be your dream job or collaboration?
I’d love to inject the joy of DIY into a paint or tool brand by presenting a series of how-to renovate and create videos with a non-cheesy Aussie feel. Or work with a kids clothing brand, conceptualising and building the fitout of their stores.
Who or what are your biggest creative influences?
My family are fabulously crafty. I still spend time with Dad in his shed, watching him turn wood into beautiful pieces using tools he’s invented himself. My sister is a clever candle maker too.
My grandmothers both upheld the great tradition of resourceful homemaking and Mum effortlessly mastered every craft fad, from painting Holly Hobbies, to decoupaging the kitchen, gorgeous needlework and glass-bead making. In 1987 she engineered my award-winning, fully puffed bubble skirt.
Tell us five online resources or apps you can’t live without.
Instagram helps me tell my story, keeps me in touch and provides a stream of information about trends, competitive brands, how nesters are decorating their spaces and what people want.
What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
Staying motivated and focused when I reach that halfway point in a project where it’s simply hard work, when the creative thinking has been done and the doubt starts to creep in, usually on my third hour of sanding: am I doing it right, will it be good enough, will they like it…
How do you work out the financial aspects of your business? What resources, tips and tools would you recommend?
I shouldn’t confess to this out loud, but my greatest resource is Alun who keeps track of the Little Red Industries finances. The mention of paperwork makes my eyes glaze over and I think it scared him in the first year of my business when he said, ‘Let’s have a look at your books’ and I showed him a wallet full of receipts.
He’s helped me set up an efficient invoicing system, keeps my website updated and is a constant, dependable, resounding voice of reason in the flurry of my creative chaos.
What advice do you have for aspiring creatives?
Start telling your story right now, it’s the easiest form of marketing. Use Instagram or whatever social media suits your style and share your journey. It’ll be disappointing when you pour everything into launching a brand, product or service then pop up and say ‘Dah dah, here I am!’ to the world… And the dust balls roll past.
Do you have a dream that you’d love to fulfill?
I dream of designing a range of furniture that’s useful, comfortable, beautiful and essential to everyday Australian life. It has to be affordable and have an element of DIY so each new owner feels they’ve not just paid for it but have tailored it to suit their home.
Little Red Industries Giveaway! [now closed]
Natasha has generously offered to give away a House Chalkboard in White (that’s it in the centre of the photo above) with chalk in its own little timber storage box, valued at $425, to one lucky We Are Scout reader.
Never seen a white chalkboard before? Me either! That’s because Natasha has the only white chalkboard paint in Australia. If you’re an Australian resident and have a public Instagram account you can enter to win this fantastic prize. All you have to do is head to my Instagram @we_are_scout_lisa and find out how.
To connect with Natasha Dickins of Little Red Industries:
Check out Natasha’s DIY and how-to projects here
To purchase products visit Little Red Industries’ Etsy shop here
Follow Natasha’s design and build journey on Instagram @littleredindustries
Follow Little Red’s Reno on Instagram @littleredreno And connect with Natasha on Facebook @littleredindustries here
If you’d like to take a look into a whole range of other artists’ and creatives’ lives and studios, visit the Space to Create archives.