This story was published on Haven.
A move to a charming 1920s apartment in Napier has become more than just a downsizing exercise for a vintage-loving old Auckland couple.
There is something about moving that inspires change. This is one of the few times in your life that you’ll inspect every shelf, empty every drawer, and face your tendencies on the edge of the hoarder.
When Wendy Nowell-Usticke and her partner, Greg Quinn, moved from a spacious house in Herne Bay in Auckland to an immaculate pre-war apartment in Napier, Wendy was confronted with the reality of several huge cartons of products from beauty hardly used.
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“It was so unnecessary!” she begins, settling down to chat, a pot of herbal tea by her side. “I was actually quite horrified of myself. There were mountains of creams and lotions, serums and moisturizers, some of which probably cost me hundreds of dollars a jar. It was a shock, but it’s one of the things that helped me take a new path. “
Wendy, who worked in the beauty industry most of her adult life, had left the management team of a successful mineral makeup company she had founded in Auckland to start from scratch at Hawke’s Bay, where she grew up.
They began the search for a home as well as an office for Greg, a pilot and drone operator, but the search for the former was called off when, while searching for the latter, he spotted a building designed by Louis. Hay in 1926 in the art deco heart of Napier.
“This place just seemed perfect,” says Wendy. “It was spread over three floors, with tenants on the ground floor and a middle floor ready to be renovated. “
Even so, it wasn’t until they opened the door to the modern rooftop apartment and saw the stunning skyline with character buildings, palm trees and lush green surroundings that “we very quickly realized that we didn’t need to find a house, we just needed to buy that building, ”says Wendy.
So buy it, they did it. But before they could truly make it their own, Wendy’s collection of precious vintage furniture, knickknacks (and moisturizers) needed to be dealt with. As cosmetics were donated or thrown away, her French antiques came with her – though only a handful settled into the top-floor space, known as The Laneway Apartment, which Wendy and Greg call now at home.
“For a few months we took advantage of an unused apple shelter in Hawke’s Bay to safely store them,” says Wendy, “but it became very clear that they were never going to be used, so we incorporated what we like most about the existing apartment, and sold the rest.
Was it an emotional separation? “Not really,” she said. “I don’t get too attached to things, because they’re just that – things.”
The apartment is gracious and classic – two bedrooms, an expansive terrace, a spacious kitchen and a comfortable living room filled with a few special pieces that speak of Wendy and Greg’s life together, as well as several sculptures from Zimbabwe, hence Greg comes from.
Here, at treetop level, the couple spend most of their time barbecuing or entertaining friends for a drink and enjoying those captivating views of the restored Art Deco buildings.
It’s almost another world, like stepping back in time. And that decision gave Wendy the freedom to slow down, shake off the pitfalls of her busy Auckland life and start over.
It was here that she launched Corbin Rd, her sustainable slow beauty skincare brand, which pays homage to both name and nature in the place Wendy knows best.
“I grew up on Corbin Road, just outside Hastings,” she says. “It was such a relaxed and simple life – fresh air, eggs from free-range hens, birds in the trees… Every day was filled with the quiet, quiet sound of nature and a working farm. Time passed slowly back then, and I think that’s what I had planned to emulate with my skincare line.
Her simple natural beauty line – a cleansing balm, restorative skin oil, an exfoliating cloth, and non-invasive beauty tools that sculpt the face – originated in a small office at the back of the Dalton Street building.
It might seem like a challenge to separate work and home life when choosing and packaging products to send to clean beauty enthusiasts from a space a few feet below your bedroom, but Wendy loves it. “Because the company is still so young, I am happy to devote as many hours to it as possible. During the 2020 lockdown, I would put on my overalls, glasses and gloves to go down to the office and fill orders each day, then go upstairs for drinks and dinner with Greg each evening. “
Meanwhile, Greg, an amateur photographer who likes to photograph in black and white, built a darkroom on the middle level. “I know for sure he’s hiding half of his purchases in there.”
Some, however, are allowed out. “The wire chairs on the deck were finds from Trade Me – we got a local company to powder them, then our amazing local upholsterer found a photo of the original look and made some cushions for it. adapt.”
Bringing used furniture to life is, in fact, a passion of Wendy and Greg. “We redesigned our 1940s recliners,” says Wendy, “we put new feet on a butler tray to make a little coffee table, the lounge chair in the bedroom lived in Government House and once sported long tassels, and the 1950s upholstered lounge in the office was a wedding gift for the owners of the apple coolstore where we kept our antiques. We couldn’t resist it, and because it had sentimental value to them, they were happy that it was going to a good home.
Recover, recycle and reuse is a constant theme. “We found a company in Hastings that collects original ceiling molds from the 1930s, so we installed one at the top of the stairwell,” Wendy continues. “Because we’re in the Napier Design District, we want to restore what we can, when we can. “
Another feature is a pretty leaded window, refurbished but based on original architectural designs by Louis Hay. “We took its cross-lattice design and added the initials ‘LW’ for Laneway. “
Space may be limited, but Wendy says she and Greg don’t want anything. They can go weeks without using their cars and love to go downstairs to eat at one of Napier’s many exceptional restaurants, go to the Urban Farmers’ Market, or see a ballet or opera. They grow herbs and other edibles around the edges of their patio and entertain themselves as often as possible.
During your visit, Wendy – who loves drinking Monkey Shoulder whiskey or locally made Hastings Distillers gin – will more than likely pour a finger into a cut glass goblet from one of her crystal decanters. “Why would anyone buy new glassware?” She said to herself, “when are there so many fine examples of vintage crystal around?” And it lasts and lasts.
But living small is also about being smart and investing wisely. Wendy says her only challenge is drying clothes, so she just couldn’t live without her Miele condenser dryer, which requires no ventilation and doesn’t damage valuables by baking them.
“And I also recommend a lot of soft or rounded surfaces – having hard edges in an apartment is a sure-fire way to injure your shins,” she laughs. “You can’t have bulky bed frames, and we put natural sheepskins on everything to protect the fabrics – wool is an amazing fiber that repels liquids, especially good if you’re used to spilling things. . I have never managed to squeeze red wine out of a cloth!
Although she never says “never” when it comes to moving, Wendy relishes small town and apartment living.
“Greg likes it too because he doesn’t have a to-do list – there is no lawn to mow, and the only garden we have is tiny and irrigated. Less to do at home gives her – and us – more freedom for our businesses and the ability to do more of what we love. “