A vue from the top with Grandvue Joinery

Timber joinery currently has about four per cent of the window market in New Zealand and according to Robert Piacun, or Robbie as he’s affectionately known, those numbers are a real shame. Robbie is perhaps the country’s best-known joiner and he’s passionate about developing the industry.

Although he’s nearing 70, Robbie shows no signs of slowing down. Having been in the joinery business for decades, he’s created a name – and somewhat of a legacy – for himself. His commitment goes a long way. In his late fifties he completed a degree in architecture so he could develop the industry further and push the limits of what is possible.

And that is certainly what he has done, and continues to do. Grandvue Joinery, the business he started in 1984, is known for its stunningly simple yet elegant and technologically advanced work. Robbie, at the helm, leads the business into the future of timber joinery, offering solutions at the forefront of modern technology.

The industry has changed a lot since Robbie first got involved in it. “In my time, all youngsters built huts and wanted to have a pocket knife or a saw or a hammer and some nails,” he says. “I was fortunate in that my father was a bushman, mechanic and engineer and had the tools at hand for me to borrow.” Robbie recalls camping out in the bush with his father and watching large trees being winched out of gullies before the logs were rolled onto a truck and taken to the sawmill his father had designed and built.

Aged 16, Robbie began an apprenticeship with the New Zealand Railways as a carpenter and his success started there, being named top apprentice. “I was often found in the machine shop working on making custom parts for my Mini … it was to their chagrin that they wanted me to change my trade to a fitter. They also offered to send me to Wellington to learn bridge design but wood was always my passion.”

Then, after some years working overseas, Robbie returned to New Zealand and in 1984 started Grandvue Joinery because he found that he wasn’t happy with the joinery that was available.

Now, more than 30 years on, Grandvue Joinery is well-known for its superior products. As far as Robbie sees it though, the basis of what he does is simple: “Creating a quality product and something that is beautiful from a piece of rough sawn timber lifts your heart. It gives you a true sense of wellbeing.”

The products Grandvue Joinery create aren’t just beautiful though; they’re also innovative, on-trend, sustainable and designed to last the test of time. Motorised timber joinery is becoming increasingly popular and it’s something that excites Robbie. At the moment, this is limited to windows and shutters, but Robbie’s sure the next big thing will be automated bi-fold doors and next time he has a client willing to try it, he will make it happen. “Miniature motors run along a track and pick up the power from the track, in the manner slot cars do, allowing the bi-fold to open at the push of a button,” he says. “It’s costly but we’ll do it as soon as the opportunity presents itself.”

European tilt-turn joinery is also forging an identity in the New Zealand market at the moment and Robbie’s on top of that too. “In 2003, our firm was possibly the first to manufacture this type of joinery in New Zealand. We used it in a house in St Heliers and the effect was outstanding.” In essence, the windows open into the house rather than out by turning a handle 180 degree and causing the joinery to disconnect from the sash and lean into the room to create ventilation.

While new technology is opening up the possibilities for timber joinery, what’s important to Robbie is creating products that last the test of time. “I have always believed that it’s essential to have a very high standard of workmanship,” he says. To that end, Grandvue Joinery products all have joints that are made with double tennons and the best glues available are used. It’s about creating a level of craftsmanship that is unparalleled, and is not rushed to be made in a certain timeframe. “It certainly doesn’t make us rich, but life’s not about the money,” Robbie says.

Sustainability is the other key driver for Grandvue Joinery. All timber used is either FSC- or PEFC-certified. “It’s something that’s really important to us. Seeing all these forests getting wiped out and entire eco-systems disappearing … it’s just so sad. We want to ensure that the timber we use is farmed sustainably.” And Robbie makes the comment that the embodied energy of an aluminium window is 40 times higher than that of a wooden one.

As Grandvue Joinery continues to promote the possibilities of timber joinery with its advancing products, Robbie takes great pride in seeing the industry develop overall and has high hopes for its future. “It’s great to see some of the fine work that’s being produced by young people in the sector.”