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Design life… with Mr. Bigglesworthy’s Dan and Emma Eagle

Auckland’s resident gurus in mid-century modern design, Dan and Emma Eagle are also the duo behind Mr. Bigglesworthy – a store selling restored vintage furniture and homewares from the 50s to the 70s, with most of the pieces hand-restored by the couple themselves.

Dan started the business on Trade Me, before opening a physical showroom in Mt Eden, Auckland, in 2011. They moved to a larger space in Grey Lynn early last year, where visitors are met by Buster, a long-legged griffon, and a stylised setting of nostalgia furniture, updated with contemporary patterns, colours and furnishings.

This week their High Society collection is on auction, an offering that is described as “premium modernist design accented with contemporary and oceanic art.” 

We catch up with the couple to talk about turning your passion into a business, Dan’s balance of being an accountant as well as owner of Mr. Bigglesworthy, and a good book recommendation about mid-century modern design.

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Where does the name Mr. Bigglesworthy come from?

Dan was trying to create a user name for a Trade Me account, but all the obvious names had been taken. He had just watched the movie Austin Powers which had a cat called Mr. Bigglesworthy.

What is it about mid-century modern design that you love?

It was an optimistic time, when designers embraced new technology and materials to create visually striking and thoughtful objects. The best furniture has a lightness of form, and an honesty and quality that is evident in the craftsmanship and construction.

What’s your advice for people wanting to turn their passion into an income-earning business?

Make sure that you enjoy what you are doing, as it can be a lot of hard work. A business plan is important to understand and ensure that the business will be profitable. And be prepared to take calculated risks.

How do you know when you’ve spotted an amazing piece of furniture?

Spotting a rare and iconic design classic is always a great moment; often it’s the pieces that are unique, clever or just interesting that really make us excited. Good design has a timeless quality and the best pieces still look fresh even after 50 years.

Could you recommend a good book/documentary/reference for those wanting to learn more about mid-century modern design?

A book that we really enjoyed is At Home: A Century of New Zealand Design by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins. It’s a great reference book on New Zealand design and architecture over the last century. It also looks at the point when New Zealanders began to ask whether a distinctive, uniquely New Zealand home might be possible and how this idea was embraced.

What are your individual roles within the business?

Emma has a degree in fine art. When she isn’t busy coordinating the business, she is making sure that everything looks great. She designed the website and branding, which has helped the positioning of Mr. Bigglesworthy as a premium, destination design store.

Dan mostly searches 24/7 for cool pieces of furniture for the store, and comes in handy with any accounting and financial functions. He’s our in-house photographer too.

Buster’s role is to look cute and remind us that there is lot of fun to be had outside of work.

Dan, how do you balance being an accountant and all the work involved with Mr. Bigglesworthy?

In some ways, mid-century modern design is very similar to accounting – the best designs can often be very rational and planned. Good accountants can communicate complex ideas in a simple, practical manner, which makes it easy for the user to understand and embrace – similar to good design.

Is there a piece of mid-century modern design, perhaps sitting in a museum or hugely expensive, that you’d love to get your hands on?

We’d love to have a Garth Chester Curvesse Chair. This is one of the most iconic New Zealand-made chairs and has a place in the permanent collection of Te Papa. It’s a groundbreaking design made in 1944 from a single piece of plywood pressed into a stunning curved, cantilevered form. As you can probably guess, these chairs are rare and very expensive.

Surf, design, travel – these are the things that gets Leigh out of bed every morning (those, and a piping hot cup of milky tea). She holds qualifications in both fashion design and communications, and has written a bunch of fashion, beauty, food, travel and design stories.

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