Call it organised chaos. Nicole and Richard Stewart’s second-hand store is unlike any ‘junk’ shop you’ve ever seen.
I’ve just parked outside Northcote’s Junk and Disorderly when a station wagon pulls up alongside me. A white-blond boy, six or seven years old, leaps out before his mum has a chance to switch off the engine. ‘YAAHHH,’ he shouts, sprinting for the store.
Junk and Disorderly is an I Spy picture book brought to life, a cavernous 140,000-square foot warehouse filled with, well, the past. There’s a whole wall of clocks, bookshelves stacked high with forty-year-old magazines, box upon box of records, sports trophies, surfboards, clocks, lamps, a subdivision’s worth of silver spoons. Walk though the door and immediately there’s the feeling of embarking on a treasure hunt, the sense that if you spent enough time sifting, you’d unearth something precious.
“You just never know what you’re going to find, because we’re not very good at putting things in order,” says founder and co-director Nicole Stewart. “You really do have to hunt around. Sometimes if we’re empty or if we’ve cleaned up a bit our regulars don’t like it.”
This is Junk and Disorderly’s fourth home – it’s outgrown all the rest. It’s also the only job Stewart’s ever had, pretty much. Her husband, Richard, joined the business early on, but she’d been dreaming of owning a second-hand store for years.
“When I was little I made my dad take me to garage sales. My nana took me to the tip, when tips were real tips and you could fossick through other people’s rubbish. I was always collecting – Smurfs, or shells, or stamps. I only collected butterfly stamps though.”
Stewart started saving at 15, got an office job straight after school, began buying up paraphernalia and by the age of 21 had opened a tiny shop in Northcote Point.
“We filled it with all the stuff we thought was awesome and lovely, and sat there and waited for it to sell. It didn’t take long for us to work out that not everyone likes the same stuff. That’s why we don’t specialise in anything – you just never know what’s going to sell. Some things you think are absolute rubbish! There’s just no rhyme or reason to it.”
But it helps to have a finger on the pulse, she acknowledges. “We sold 120 crates in 24 hours – those came out of someone’s wine cellar. We do heaps of vintage wedding stuff at the moment.” She sighs – she’s waiting for that particular trend to move on. “Anything industrial is a hot seller, rusty metals or old cabinetry. Things that can be upcycled.”
While it’s important to know what’s in demand, keeping the store humming is mostly about buying, buying, buying – ensuring a constant flow of stock through the store.
“Our biggest source is mum and dad going from the five-bedroom house down to a unit – we would do that more often than anything. Then deceased estates – we do a few of them. A couple of years ago the big thing was people going to Australia – now, not at all. I’ve actually had a couple coming back.”
Some of the stock flows in and out of their Beach Haven home, too. “Yes – it’s a smaller Junk and Disorderly,” Stewart admits. “We might decide we want a completely new lounge, so we’ll change the whole fit-out of it – everything just comes back to the store.”
Though butterfly stamps might not appeal to Stewart these days, she hasn’t ever stopped collecting. “It’s not about what you collect, it’s the collecting bit that you’re addicted to. So you’ll build up this huge collection and next, you’ll think, ‘Oh, I don’t really like that’, and you’ll move on to something else.” Right now, Stewart’s into royal busts, her husband stockpiles vintage surfboards, and both of them have been setting aside religious statues and paintings. “What’s fascinating is where you get them from,” Stewart muses.
But it’s not only homes – or weddings – being furnished from Junk and Disorderly’s depths; the store is a popular port of call for interior stylists and set dressers. The week before my visit, the Stewarts helped fit out four pubs. Recently, shoe chain Wild Pair bought up old movie magazines, while Auckland’s Albion Hotel bar had a makeover with British royalty memorabilia. The film industry’s been quiet as of late, but it’s slowly picking up again.
“We did the bar leaners for Once Were Warriors,” Stewart recalls. Lately the Stewarts have forayed into selling new items along with the old: shiny Mason jars, crockery with foxes. “What we’re buying new goes with the whole vintage, upcycled look. We try to control the area it takes up – we don’t want it to take over, because it quite easily could. You can just buy so much stuff new, but that’s not what we’re about.”
They’ve seen a few things come and go in their 23 years of business. One welcome addition to the store has been a coffee caravan in the back to offer treasure-hunters a break from fossicking. They’re about to go on their first overseas buying trip to fill a container with vintage finds, and they’re also considering having products made exclusively for the store.
But a glance around this afternoon’s clientele shows it isn’t the new stock that’s attracting the store’s youngest customers. I spy a slightly older boy than the first wandering around, gently cradling a trophy in the shape of a fish.
“Some kids just walk in and go, ‘This is all rubbish’,” says Stewart. “But other kids, they just go nuts. It’s about seeing them appreciate second-hand goods and knowing everything doesn’t have to be new to be likeable.”