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AJ and Nick Cook in their Bathurst workshop.
Bathurst welder AJ Cook and her carpenter husband Nick have built the lifestyle of their dreams – and they credit TAFE NSW for making it all possible.
The entrepreneurial pair run four successful businesses including their latest enterprise, Bespoke & Co, a shopfront where they showcase their handcrafted timber and steel furniture.
The pieces can only be described as works of art and each is a labour of love, with the couple combining her welding and his timberwork to create one-off designs made from recycled materials. The pair are passionate about sustainability, salvaging the materials from old cattle yards, shearing sheds and factories.
“We reclaim it, repurpose it and expose its natural beauty,” AJ said.
“We love taking old materials and giving them purpose again. We often leave the steel rusty or just use some simple matt black paint – we love to let the timber and the metal speak for itself.”
Both AJ and Nick undertook TAFE NSW courses to learn their trades and launch careers. AJ completed a Certificate III in Engineering – Fabrication Trade and became a mechanical engineer in the mining industry while Nick completed a Certificate IV in Carpentry and started a successful building business.
When AJ left mining and had their three children (another one is on the way) she was drawn back to her welding roots and began working full-time in the building business. She says the next step was to pool their talents and not long after they launched their custom furniture business, T&B Bespoke Furniture.
“Nick does renovations, extensions and unique builds that are sustainable, often solar passive, and a lot of the customers we worked for couldn’t find the furniture they wanted to suit their homes,” AJ explained.
“I love that we create things that are unique and different. It’s mentally challenging for us – you have to figure out how to manipulate the materials to make a strong and functional product – but there is also scope to be creative because you want to design furniture that looks beautiful in people’s homes.”
In 2019, the couple opened the Bespoke & Co shopfront as a base for their designer furniture and to nurture skills sharing and artistry within their community.
The pair host welding and furniture-making classes as well as providing a workshop space where other local artists and tradies can host classes on everything from bronzing and blacksmithing to weaving, ceramics, knitting and flower arranging.
“We have a lot of people with amazing knowledge and skills in our community and now they have a place to pass them down,” AJ said.
“That’s how I learnt to weld – from people experienced in the trade – and now it’s a part of me and I love it. I had some amazing teachers at TAFE NSW and I love that they had real industry knowledge; they weren’t just book teachers."
AJ said the skills she and Nick learnt at TAFE NSW were the foundation they have built their lives on.
The couple has come full circle and now employ three apprentices in their building business, NJC Building, because they believe so strongly in the TAFE NSW model of learning from industry professionals.
“We love passing on our trades and knowledge because we know that good skills can take you a long way and help you express your purpose,” AJ said.
“My husband left school in Year 10, knowing there must be another way of learning, and we are now both successful business owners. We love TAFE NSW and everything it gave us.
“I have so much gratitude for the people who helped shape me in my trade and in my life – my mentors, the TAFE teachers, and the other apprentices. Their support and my stubbornness got me where I am today."
Media contact: Terra Sword, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist.