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Monday, August 1, 2011

New Zealand designer Alex Fulton

When I lived in New Zealand, I came across an article in a Kiwi shelter magazine about a designer, Alex Fulton, who lived just around the corner (or down the cliff) from me. We never connected while I was there and it's one of my greatest KiwiLand regrets. Alex recently found La Lamp Shade and was the lucky ducky who won my recent Obsessilicious giveaway.

Alex's house is featured again in the current issue of New Zealand's Homestyle magazine. I caught up with Alex over the weekend to talk about Kiwi design and how a spate of recent earthquakes in the region have affected daily life.

What's the short story of your career in interior design?

For me, school was a genuine power struggle between sciences and arts. Interior design is a tip-top amalgamation of both I believe. It was a funny old road getting here though - it took a few rounds of doing what I 'should do' to get too what I 'wanted to do'. That's cool, and it makes it all the sweeter when you find your calling. In 2006, I decided that I wanted to be an interior designer and then started my company the next day. I then did a diploma in Interior design extra murally from the Melbourne Design School. It all sounds a bit arse-about-face, which it was, but I'm not known to take the easy/normal route!

Last year, I started my own design-centric blog which I love doing and it has opened up yet another side of design that I'm slowly feeling my through. I am blown away by how it has been like the Narnia Wardrobe to the rest of the design blogosphere! It means I can live in my little wee corner of the world, yet still be always learning and being exposed to literally a world of design-a-rama.

There is some bad-ass talent out there (yourself included!).  In fact it was a little post you did way back when you lived in NZ which actually started me thinking about blogs - seriously! Now you are interviewing me! That's spooky eh?! As an aside - It was kinda nice reading your old blogs about your time here in Christchurch - and a little bittersweet as there was a lot that is no longer here now. *Sob*

How did you come to settle in Sumner, a tiny seaside village not exactly known for its decorating resources?

Again, I didn't really have a plan to live where we live. It was a chance thing and a last minute decision. I tend to go with my gut a lot when it comes to decision making and luckily it's the same for my husband Jeff.

The conversation probably when something like this -

Jeff: "Hey Sweetie - you ever been to Sumner?

Me: "I think once but I was quiet drunk."
Jeff: "Cool - you wanna go live there?"

Me: "Ok - want another donut?"

Disclaimer for donut: I was 32 weeks pregnant at the time. So we moved with a 15 month old kid, and a bun in the oven and we collectively knew 3 people.

Saying that, we really love it here - beach, 10 minutes from town (pre-quakes), hills, great friends, super lifestyle. As for the decorating resources - when we first arrived here there were mostly only food joints in the village, but now a few funky locally owned design stores have opened and we have a real chance of developing Sumner in a design destination! For most things I have to go into the city and for everything else it's online. I probably head to Auckland and Wellington 4-5 times a year to meet suppliers and check in with designers. Not wanting to sound like a tool, but I do try and travel overseas to somewhere each year for inspiration and to keep me feeling like I'm still a participating member of a global design community.

Christchurch has been hit with two large and many small earthquakes in the past year. How has it affected your daily life? Was your house damaged?

As I write, we have had 7328 shakes in total since 4th Sept last year. That's effing mental. It's affected absolutely everything in our lives. We lost friends and most of the central city has been destroyed as well as many of the suburbs in Christchurch. Where we are (the eastern suburbs) we were hit pretty bad back in Feb of this year with a 6.4. That was smaller than the first 7.1 that hit in September, but because it was so shallow it tore apart everything. We now have double stacked shipping containers next to all the cliff faces to protect us. It's nuts. I just wish someone would say "Ok guys, see that last earthquake - that was last one so you can now get on with your lives." Sadly, this will never be the case. Ironically, NZ is well known to be quite volcanic/geothermic and prone to earthquakes and Christchurch was the last place you would imagine in the whole of NZ that would have had earthquakes.

Our house is fine with a bit of damage due to piles moving, but because it's a 1930s wooden home it moves like a mother, but that probably saved it. We are very lucky and I can't even imagine what it's like having to walk out of your home because it's been deemed to unsafe or has fallen off the side of a cliff (true).

It has changed our lives forever and I'll be the first to admit I thought about leaving, but we have decided to stay.  We are making a commitment to re-build our beautiful city and suburbs. At times it just seems too much to even think about but we will get there. As they say, one piece at a time (bricks are out!).

Your house is what Kiwis call a "character villa" (a late 19th-century or early 20th-century home). What condition was it in when you bought it and what improvements have you made?

Ah - the good ol' Kiwi villa! We love them - can't get enough of them. It always seems funny to me, after living in London for a few years, where houses are actually built for the weather (i.e. warm), and here in NZ we live in these drafty wooden houses and we have very cold winters. Go figure! We seem to be obsessed by them. The Kiwi mentality seems to see us standing inside wearing puffer jackets, telling each other to "harden up!". I was speaking to my English friend Lucy (who has lived here for 12 years) and she said she could not believe our houses when she first arrived. They breed them hard down these parts!

According to a locally written book by Jeremy Hansen called (surprisingly) "Villa," he says, "despite the interest in contemporary architecture (in NZ) it's a fact that more people in inner-city suburbs throughout New Zealand end up living in a villa than a house of any other architectural style." Everyone at some stage finds themselves doing some renovation work, and that has tended in recent years to revolve around "blowing out the back." We are no different and have, so far, renovated (interior only) the office/sunroom/TV room and bathroom. Still lots to do and we will definitely be doing more once these shakes have slowed down.

This is the second time in four years your home has been featured in a Kiwi design magazine. When can we expect a home furnishings line or TV show from you?

Yes, second time but with lots of changes in between - my house it pretty unique I guess with my love of colour. Most say gutsy but I say it's just me living with things that make me feel good. As a family we love our home and that's what the bottom line should be for anyone. Love things - don't just have them because the Jones's down the road have it.

Funny you mention both those things....  I did audition a few years back for a design show - it was a mixture of wife-swap and house reno. I got down to the last two but was pipped at the post for not living where they film. Their loss! My only TV appearance was when I did a wee skit for a comedian friend of mine - in fact it was pretty funny to do and it's just reminded me of it - I think I will post it on my blog so you can see it too. I'm no actor, I warn you now.

As for the home furnishings line - I'm currently working on a range under my own name. I love designing and especially working with colour, so it's no surprise that it will be heavily influenced by my style icons of Marimekko and Jonathan Adler. A mash up love child from a Finnish 1950s mother and a Jewish gay father. What could go wrong!

My thanks to Alex for her time and for choosing La Lamp Shade as one of her three favorite design blogs!

Alex Fulton Design [official site]
Coloured In [Homestyle]
In a little village called Sumner [ITLSF]


Ann said...

Love her house...

so fresh and the colors don't clash.

Great interview too ♥

Modern Country Lady said...

Lovely article- really enjoyed it.What a great use of colour.Can't wait to seee the Marimekko- Jonathan Adler lovechild !!!
Have a great week !!

Mar gar et said...

Human interest story at its best: incredibly small world, enormously talented, no fear, snark free and worth watching. Nice article.

Keep Calm & Wife/Design Swap On.

Unknown said...

Very interesting blogpost, Raina. Thanks for the time you invested and for the inside look into another culture. It is very fascinating to read how people are living on the opposite part of the world and how they manage to cope with natural challenges. Those earthquakes are really eeek...

Bri@Meyouandawiener said...

Wow you lived in NZ. Is it really as beautiful as everyone says it is. My husband has been wanting to take me there for a while. We never had a honeymoon since we were super broke after paying for our wedding ourselves. We thought I'd be a great honeymoon location someday.

Congrats on the La Lamp Shade magazine feature!!

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if I can be the adopted child of Marimekko and JA. That would be marvelous fun! Great post, Raina!

Naomi@DesignManifest said...

great interview. She creates such happy spaces. Very curious to see what she's been working on.

Jessie said...

You were mentioned in a mag. Congrats! Anyway, I love how she is fearless when it comes to using lots of vibrant colors and bold patterns in all her designs!

Great interview, by the way!


Alcira Molina-Ali said...

How incredible the way you two connected indirectly after never meeting as neighbors.
Alex seems like a great woman -- and what vibrant, fun spaces.
Perhaps you and she can somehow manage to tete-a-tete somewhere in this small world soon.
Cheers, Alcira

Karena said...

Love, love her home and colorful palette!!

So great and what a small world it is, and that now you have hooked up!


Art by Karena

David said...

She sounds lovely. And just when I thought I'd shaken the Chesterfield bug that cover comes along.

Alex Fulton Design said...

Thanks Raina - fun to do the interview and to be a part of La Lampshade! I appreciate all your wonderful reader comments - it's pretty nuts having your home on show for all to see but so happy to share the colour-love!

Thanks for the lovely feedback peeps


Madam Pince said...

Love love love Alex! And that sectional's marvelous palm upholstery has me rethinking my distaste for sectionals.

Seems Alex and Jeff came to their home in Sumner the way my late bf The Banshe and I came to the Chihuahua Ranch. Sometimes we just end up where we belong.

Daydreamer said...

what a fun interview to read! Great color, great style; and also a fun turn of events for Alex and you regarding blog and design worlds!
Can't imagine living with all those earthquakes, though.

Sarah Greenman said...

Her home is so happy! I love the color use and that chesterfield tucked in the middle of it all is wonderful. Great interview as always. XO - Sarah

Valerie Wills Interiors said...

I didn't know you lived in NZ!!! Where did you live? My hubby is from Oxford, just outside of Christchurch and I've been to Hamner!! Really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks, Val

Raina Cox said...

Valerie Wills Interiors - In Sumner, just outside of Christchurch.