People

Good turns

Come with us to Titirangi, where Walk in the Park’s lovely timber pieces are made among the trees.

At the top of a winding path in the West Auckland suburb of Titirangi sits the studio of husband-and-wife team Sam Choi and Jiho Yun of Walk in the Park. Sam makes beautiful woodturned objects and Jiho manages the business and media side of the venture, including styling and photographing the evocative images seen on their website and Instagram feed.
Opening onto the tree canopy, the loft-like two-storey studio was built by a previous owner from recycled materials, such as mismatched window frames, terracotta bricks and pipes. The aesthetic perfectly fits Walk in the Park’s ethos, which celebrates the beauty of raw materials and all their ‘flaws’.

MAIN IMAGE Jiho and Sam in their treetop studio. Sam says his ideas come from seeing “objects that have interesting shapes, like bottles, a lamp, a cactus, or even things on the street – and then I find the function from the shape. I’m also influenced by architecture.” ABOVE Some of the brand’s exquisite creations. Sam aims to make simple and functional objects with soft lines inspired by nature. “I also take inspiration from the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic [centred on the acceptance of imperfection and impermanence]. When I find a great-looking piece of wood, which might be beautifully cracked, I try to make something with minimal carving to enhance the beauty of its natural character.”

Sam, when did you start working with wood? I studied art furniture and conceptual woodworking design in Korea and worked for an artist group as a technical helper. At that time, my focus was on developing a career in the art and design industry; I didn’t think I could support myself with workworking in Korea, so I folded up my dream and kept it in the back of my mind. When I came to New Zealand, I found there were community groups that teach practical skills. I learned woodturning from one of them and brought my dream back to life.

ABOVE Sam uses 60% native timber and 40% exotic timber grown in New Zealand. “There are so many beautiful and unique native woods here, and I’ve used a lot that are rarely used for products. But there are also so many non-native species that I want to try.”

When did you start selling your pieces? Before I starting woodturning, Jiho and I created Walk in the Park for fun. We planned small projects randomly and made things that were practical and enjoyable whenever we had spare time. For one of our projects, I made leather hair ties for Jiho and her friends. Yvonna Van Hulzen, owner of [womenswear label] Widdess, saw Jiho wearing one and asked us to make some for her shop. That’s how we started selling our products as Walk in the Park.

ABOVE The front of the studio extends right up to the roof, which means the couple can communicate easily when working on different floors.

Do you have a daily routine in the studio? I always light incense, make a work plan, turn on the radio and sharpen my chisels. Sharpening chisels is an important thing to do before starting work. It’s easy to skip it out of boredom or laziness, but I’ve found that something always goes wrong if you don’t put the effort into basic preparation.

ABOVE Sam and Jiho’s plans for the future include developing larger-scale functional objects, such as a floor lamp, a side table or maybe a stool – and collaborating with other makers, too.

Can you tell us about the process of making a piece? It’s pretty similar to the process of making a ceramic pot, as both ceramics and woodturning rely on turning energy to make shapes. Once a piece is centred on the lathe, one side needs to be shaped to put in a chuck clamp to hold it stable. After that, the piece is carved with chisels, sanded and finished with oil.

Do you repeat particular designs, or does it depend on the timber? Because I use pieces of wood collected from nature, there are always the restrictions of size and species, so I mostly make one-off items. I get a lot of satisfaction from making one-off, special works as I love the adventure and to experiment.
Our pear-shaped incense holders are one item I make again and again. The types of timber I make them from are easier to find, and I love my little incense holder and never get tired of the shape.
walkinthepark.bigcartel.com

Words Lisa Morton
Photography
Larnie Nicolson