By Emily Friedel
Pete Olive of Custom Carpentry & Construction in Alexandra has found a niche among local building businesses. His skill set is perfectly suited to jobs that are too small for a builder but too big for a handyman.
And when it comes to those medium-sized jobs, Pete is willing to do anything that doesn’t require a licensed trade. This means he will tackle everything from post-and-beam structures all the way down to intricately tiled splashbacks.
“I don’t really let anything get in my way, so I tend to give everything a go. I’ll put my heart and soul into whatever I’m doing. But the finish has to be as good as – preferably better – than what I’d pay someone else to do, and if I wouldn’t put it in my own house, I wouldn’t put it in someone else’s,” Pete says.
Pete didn’t start out in carpentry and construction. His prior career was in the engineering sector, predominantly working as a qualified automotive machinist and professional engine builder. Although he enjoyed the work, having a family meant it was no longer the financially sensible option.
“Nearly 15 years ago we had my first daughter, and a year later we had another daughter, and a year and a half later we had a son. In between those three crazy years, I realised that as much as my prior trade was lots of fun and I really loved it, it wasn’t really paying the bills,” he says.
“I had already renovated a house and was on a second house of our own. I enjoyed carpentry and I was able to turn my hand to most things. I had a friend in the building game at the time who offered me a bit of building work.”
Pete subcontracted to other builders, first in the Yarra Valley then in the Murrindindi Shire, until the subcontracting work slowed down in 2018. Rather than being a setback, this was a turning point for Pete.
“I took on a couple of jobs of my own and haven’t looked back. My current business has got to a point where I’ve been considering putting someone on for a while – I think the opportunity’s there to ramp things up.”
And while he no longer works as an automotive machinist, Pete says the skills he developed in that trade have transferred to his current one and help set his work apart.
He also credits the engineering background for developing his keen attention to detail, which is especially important when taking on his favourite type of job: ones that other builders don’t want.
“I like doing jobs on older houses as well as new ones, but I get more of a kick out of doing older ones. I particularly like taking on jobs that no-one else will touch. When you’ve got old finicky stuff it could take a week, but it could easily push out to two weeks. So I guess that’s why other people don’t take it on, because you just don’t know what you’re getting into. To try and get that high-quality detail on something old is that much harder, but I like that – I like a challenge. And I like getting the detail right; all those tiny little aspects are important, and I think it makes the job what it is in the end.”
Pete describes his style as modern rustic and says that doing it well is more a matter of resourcefulness and creativity than money spent on materials. He put those qualities to good use when building a shed for himself.
“I’ve got a bit of a theme going at home with barns. Our house is actually an American-style barn, so I thought I’d do an Australian barn [for the shed]. I only had a certain amount of money, but I’ve found the rustic style is better with no money because there are certain aspects that money just can’t buy. It takes lots of time, lots of effort, lots of thought, and lots of looking for material.
“The finish on my barn came about with four recycled packs of seasoned hardwood timber from the Yarra Valley that were a nightmare to get here. I paid a slab of beer for them, then it took an entire weekend to drag them here, with a multitude of problems. Once I got them here, I spent I don’t know many days and hours machining bits and pieces and making the timber workable, and the end result is a unique timber-clad barn.”
Pete’s main lines of work are decks, pergolas, bathrooms, and general renovations. But his willingness to think outside the box and do most processes on his own have led to some unique projects.
“I had a client with an old concrete water tank they wanted to turn into something, so I had to construct a hexagonal-style roof. It was all exposed beam and was actually quite complex once I got into it and realised there’s a lot more compound angles than first thought, but the finished result was amazing. I ended up doing all the stonework, all the tiling, I rendered all the inside walls, I made the kitchen bench, barn doors, the list goes on. When you look in that building and you look at each little detail, that’s all my work, so that’s probably been one of my favourites,” he says.
The satisfaction Pete gets from this type of job has spurred him on in his second career, and he is now on the cusp of expanding. His attention to detail, can-do attitude and love of a challenge will no doubt mean taking on more jobs that are too small for the builder but too big for the handyman in the future.
“Changing trades was a bit of a gamble, but I think it’s paid off in the end. And I have always been able to enjoy it too, which has been helpful. I’m quite happy with where it’s gone and hopefully where it’s going.”
To contact Custom Carpentry & Construction you can call Pete on
0407 095 220, email email@example.com or go to www.customcc.build
You can also find more information on Facebook and Instragram #customchippy