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Weekly Chew: Interior designer Liz Kerby on why you're only as good as the tradespeople who surround you

Capitalising on her flair for reinvention, interior designer Liz Kerby of Workspace Design creates contemporary spaces—and furniture—imbued with an intriguing sense of history. 

Who the heck are you? 

I’m an Aucklander; a director and designer for Workspace Design, a small, boutique commercial interior design company as well as the owner of Flutter Design, which has recreated Flutter Chairs. I have years of experience in and around the building industry including kitchen and bathroom design, exhibitions and residential work. For the last nine years I’ve worked in commercial interior design. 

What inspires you? 

I love transforming spaces – the whole act of designing and the building process—turning grotty, mundane work conditions into really dynamic, creative spaces has such an influence on people’s lives.

5 things that influence your every day?

  • Family – the rhythm of family life is constant but never dull
  • Home and garden – they create a sanctuary from the world
  • Community – I believe in treating others as you would have them treat you
  • Work – it’s important to find your passion and to make it your work – it took me a long time, but I’ve done that now
  • Design – mother nature is the original designer – everything else is an interpretation or reflection 

Your philosophy? 

Most design projects have two overriding parameters: Budget and timeframe. With that in mind, I try to design practical, clever, visually appealing solutions for clients through colour, texture and form. I also endeavour to deliver surprising solutions that clients have never thought of. But you’re only as good as the team of tradespeople you gather around you who make your ideas happen. A big part of my job is managing a lot of great tradespeople. 

What makes Workspace designs distinctive? 

I’m not sure I have a distinctive style as every client has different requirements. Having said that, I always look at using strong colours with white and charcoal as the base. I never went through the donkey phase—he browns and neutrals. My designs are clear, uncluttered and practical. 

Favourite projects you have completed? 

I recently did the interior design for stores for Michael Holmes Premium Eyewear in Teed Street, Newmarket and in High Street. I understood their branding and had to get their interiors on the right track. We’d already worked together so we had formed a close relationship by the time I did the High Street store. High Street posed challenges being in the basement as did working with a tight budget and timeframe. 

I had to make the most of the entrance foyer and stairwell so I used theatrical, dramatic use of colour, shapes and light along with a fantastic oversized photo of Audrey Hepburn in sunglasses. I brought in big, white high gloss heritage frames. The interior design of the store continues with a glamorous theme juxtaposing the high gloss, modern reception counter with the heritage frames, sunglass cabinets and custom-crafted fittings with cabriole legs. Black chandeliers and a collection of Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses photos add extra detail. 

How did you arrive at your latest venture - the Flutter Chairs? 

I was gifted an old BKF or Butterfly chair by my parents and it’s been at the family bach for years. I always admired its fluid, simple lines – and I wanted a companion for it. The more I investigated the lack of options, I was drawn into the history of the chair. That lured me towards a redesign and relaunch so it could once again sit comfortably in popular New Zealand culture. I discovered the chair was first released in Buenos Aires in Argentina in the 1930s, then it was popular in the 1940s in New York and Knoll picked it up and started manufacturing it. But it became so iconic that they no longer had control as others all over the world started reproducing their own versions. It finally came to New Zealand when it was reinterpreted as the Hammock chair by John Crichton—one of New Zealander’s early design pioneers in the 1950s. 

I’ve called it the Flutter Chair and I’ve broadened the frame across the back and made it more ergonomic and comfortable using the latest marine grade fabrics and trims for strength and durability. My approach is to offer covers in three ranges: a) plain with contrasting trim b) patterned c) limited edition NZ artist series – the first being Philippa Bentley known for her insect designs. 

Other favourite Classics?

  • 1960s E-type Jag
  • 1950s White Crown Lynn china
  • Cartel’s Componibli storage units
  • Isamu Noguchi paper lampshades 

Dream commission? 

I like the idea of designing a range of homewares to complement the 1950s lines of the Flutter Chair. Watch this space!