A sustainable, ‘smart’ home is an empty shell until furnishings and homewares arrive. The thought, attention to detail and strong foundation of principles that go into designing and building the exoskeleton must also inform the ‘filling-up’ of the created space.
The lampshade from the catalogue, the curtains from the big box, the dresser like the neighbours’ have all been replaced. Supplanted by a new way of shopping coupled with an old way of thinking about how we consume: slow-made products crafted locally, reused and upcycled materials, vintage objects. A few things believed to be beautiful and useful are winning out over a house-load of clutter.
We are learning the patience required to find just the right jug or rug or side table.
World War II conservation slogans insisted: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” And there’s now a resurgence of that way of living.
Peter and Nicola Coulter are involved in two retail shops, The Department of Curiosities and Fine Things in Napier and Coco and Co in Hastings, that specialise in handmade products, but their commitment to the cause runs far deeper than just hawking gewgaws to consumers.
Arriving from the UK eight years ago the Coulters found in New Zealand an ideological homeland.
“I was brought up to reuse everything. Dad’s a tinkerer and we never had anything new. He should have been a Kiwi!” says Nicola, who explains how her father makes bee-keeping equipment from old washing machines and freezers, back in the UK.
Nicola herself turns iconic Kiwi blankets into cushions and throws, and makes a range of homewares from vintage and retro fabrics.
“They have such fantastic quality for their age; there’s so much life still in them.”
Husband Peter takes old furniture and makes it new again by rethinking it, adding wallpaper, maps and paint, sometimes taking the drastic action of cutting it into pieces and rebuilding it.
“It’s the ultimate recycling: not using new but creating new. And it connects us to the past,” he explains.
The Coulters encourage consumers to both buy and make their own objects for their homes. For them, fewer things of greater quality beats a greater quantity of cheaper things.
A different kind of retail
Fiona Hosford, arbiter of good taste and all-round aesthete, agrees. She has run a number of interior design offerings since she came home from the UK in 1999.
“It’s to be encouraged; people making their own things. Yes, you should, and yes, you can make it yourself if you have time, but if not there are people who will do it for you,” says Fiona.
Arriving in Auckland straight out of a job at Sotheby’s in London, Fiona opened a shop in Kingsland. Not the humming high street it is now, but still full of potential.
Piece Ltd focused on high-end mid-century furniture, stocking vintage Eames when few consumers understood the importance of such a thing.
Then came a move back to the Bay and Global Piece, which specialised in vintage fabrics, especially Marimekko imported from Finland. Now Piece-Makers is an online portal for handmade products enabling a wider audience to access Fiona’s upcycled, slow made and vintage finds. Her contribution to the local scene is the monthly Craft and Design Market established in July 2011.
“We’re about making accessible a different way of looking at retail. Getting people to interact and consider their purchases: who made it and how,” she explains.
Peter Coulter agrees: “Making a choice to have a smart house means not buying off the peg. Most of that will have been imported and there’s big transportation costs associated with it. And no more MDF! we don’t need to introduce anymore of that into our households!”
“Handmade is individual; factory-made is all the same and it’s designed to be easily made, not easily used.”
Boxes of stuff
Extending notions of handmade and reused to their nth degree, rather than build new, Melissa Brignell Theyer and Matt Durham have recycled most of their modest 1940s three-bed into a new home, with echoes of its past self still apparent in cornices and floor boards. They moved in six weeks ago, having spent half a year living in a sleepout.
“Having to downsize to a shed for eight months helps put things in perspective. We have all these boxes of stuff we’re not using and we’re not in a hurry to open them. It’s probably the stuff we don’t really need!” admits Melissa.
The principles on which the new home is built are evident all around, but at first scan the house looks much like any other. A walk-through, however, reveals the care, time and energy that’s gone into not just constructing the house (a job done by builders Pat Mawson and Nils Rock), but furnishing it.
“With all these things there’s lots of thinking and planning to do first and it can take years. You start with a seed, for us it’s our fundamental beliefs: all things are connected, resources are finite, live within your means.”
From that starting block Melissa and Matt set about thinking through a project that would see their house cut in half, the two sections turned 180 degrees in on each other, a bedroom and second bathroom added, a hall widened, and the whole thing stuck back together again. The new house is 50 square metres larger than its former self.
“Our principles are challenged all the time. Sometimes we do just say, ‘I really want that’. Some things though we wouldn’t compromise. They’re just mental yard sticks and it’s personal to everyone. People are on different parts of the sustainability spectrum,” Melissa explains.
Throughout the house there are many examples of reuse. The kitchen is constructed from units taken from the old kitchen coupled with free standing furniture: chest of drawers, wardrobe, cabinet. Benches are doors found at the Hastings Recycling Depot.
The floor boards in new parts of the house come from beams and studs in the old roof. Second-hand bricks are used for the hearth, on which will eventually sit a Pyroclassic fire, a highly energy efficient solid fuel burning fire, made a stone’s throw from Melissa and Matt’s house.
Easy to live with
Furniture is carefully considered: either second-hand or ‘Matt-made’. The CD rack he fashioned from an old copper hot water cylinder, the kitchen cabinet from an old pair of leadlight windows.
“I have to say it helps to be handy,” laughs Melissa.”There’s a lot we wouldn’t have been able to do without Matt being incredibly able.”
The suite of art deco furniture in the children’s room was serendipitously made by the man who built the original house for his own family.
“If you weren’t in that zone of looking at second-hand you wouldn’t find that stuff that makes a real difference in a home,” suggests Melissa.
Fiona Hosford is also a strong advocate for second-hand.
“Across the board, vintage is better than buying new. It’s great when things can be reused in a way that gives them a new life.”
Fiona explains that mid-century (1930-1970) furniture is a good place to start.
“It’s easy to live with, built for a family, well made, and you don’t need to be super precious about it.”
Hawke’s Bay lends itself perfectly to this type of vibe. With a multitude of second-hand shops, as well as many makers, crafters and designers working in our region, we don’t have to go far to find things for our homes that match the way we think about our world.
“You can’t think one way and live another. You have to live what you believe in order to feel okay about yourself,” says Fiona.
Having things made for you by local craftspeople may take longer and cost more, but will also last longer and mean more than something bought off the shelf. Reusing things too takes some critical thinking, and some bravery. But for those with an eye for style and their mind focused on sustainability, all those options are vastly more appealing than buying what’s mass produced.
“I think people are beginning to look at products – homewares and furnishings – in a more considered way. They are waking up to the fact that lots of things are being made in a way that is detrimental to the people who produce them as well as to the environment,” Fiona says.
“People are just beginning that whole awakening: it’s not a fad, it’s an evolution.”
Every Home Needs a Fire
Arthur Harris and George Katzer were working for the DSIR in Wainuiomata when they were tasked with finding the most cost effective woodburner possible. When the DSIR disbanded in the mid-80s they took the project with them. It became the Pyroclassic and is now made exclusively in Hastings and exported around the world.
The design hasn’t changed in thirty years and yet it is still, by far, the most fuel-efficient fire on the market.
The Pyroclassic was adopted by ‘new-age environmentalists’ in the 80s and 90s, hell bent on being as green as possible. Harris and Katzer made one or two units a month, supplying people who were happy to wait. In the 1990s Wayne Morgan bought the company, in a round-about sort of way, and started making them out the back of his muffler shop in Hastings.
Later on, when the fires had moved to a slightly bigger site in the corner of an asparagus packing shed, Ric Chalmers’ father Alastair, visiting from England, happened to be helping a mate with a tree on the Morgan’s property and got to talking fires with Wayne. Long story short, Wayne was keen to sell, and Ric and Alastair leapt at the opportunity.
“You could call us the smallest player in the woodburning game,” says Ric. “We just make this one fire because if we made a better one we’d stop making this one!”
Basically the Pyroclassic is a ceramic cement cylinder with huge amounts of insulation. The internal temperatures get to such a point that fuel burns multiple times, recycling every bit of burnable matter.
“Our flue temperatures are among the lowest because it all burns in the box, that means the heat stays in the house and not up the chimney,” Ric says. “It’s kiln technology. Rather than using fire bricks, the whole cylinder is made of that material, so it burns much more efficiently.”
Even the wetback is designed to work optimally. On the Ministry for the Environment list of all woodburners it’s the only one that gets environmentally cleaner with a wetback. In every other fire it gets worse. “You can’t close a Pyro down because there’s no dampering ability,” explains Ric. “It burns overnight, also you can cook on it!”
The Pyroclassic appeals to people who yearn for the hearth of old.
And for those seeking style with their sustainability, it’s the only fire that comes in 150 different colours, which can be changed as your interior design does.