Its no secret that I am a fan girl of interior designer /stylist /writer /maximalist /teacher /shop keeper /colour nut /wife and mother; Alex Fulton. I connected with her years ago during the early days of design blogging in NZ, and then in person in the midst of the sweaty midnight mosh pit at Rippon Festival in early 2012. That night she ripped off her bracelet of rainbow coloured glow beads and forced me to take them – that was it for me.
I was hers !
Since then its not only been exciting to watch her creative world grow but to have her as my comrade-in-arms as we both try to navigate the seemingly endless opportunities and directions we can respectively take our ideas. In person she packs an epic amount of charisma while being extremely approachable and yes, I’m guilty of pretending she is my sister!
So, if personality could ooze out and morph into a space – then the family home that Alex has created with husband Jeff and girls; Isla and Violet is most DEFINITELY “Alex a la interior”. Yes! Much of what you see below might seem outrageous but I visited twice to put this feature together and the vibe of this house is more welcoming and relaxing than any pared back, monotone space I have visited. Why it works? Nothing is contrived and everything is a true reflection of this tight joyous team.
Now go check it out!
PS – check out the girls rooms’s and their AMAZING shared bathroom over on Junior’s now!
Despite her passionate repping of the South Island, Alex Fulton was actually born and bred in Rotorua. Her father owned American Sweatshirts and her mother; a creative and funky woman, for a time owned a local embroidery shop. Alex, industrious right from word go, used to make little kits of thread to sell to the girls at school during those regular “friendship bracelet making” fads. She remembers well, gazing with joy at the rainbow of thread on the wall, and the distinct realisation how each colour faded in brilliance when pulled out on its own. Creating mini palettes of colour for her kits is a favourite early memory.
She started off high school locally before heading to boarding school in Hawkes Bay where art and science subjects grabbed her attention in equal measure.
Despite her early penchant for colour, it was the world of medicine that she was gunning for. In 1991 she took on a nursing degree combined with stints in ski patrol at Ruapehu before graduating and heading immediately to Dunedin and pre-med study.
She LOVED the deep South ! Regular trips to the snow, re connecting and making new friends and university; particularly biology and maths all made for an awesome year…. a little too awesome however as she promptly failed it! The study/play balance had got a little off kilter….
So in 1995 she switched to a Science degree majoring in Anatomy Physiology which she thoroughly enjoyed, however once again her social life stuck up its hand and due to the fact all of her age group were graduating and leaving she decided to boost too. Auckland was on the cards and a position in customer service then selling medical equipment.
Fate also popped up its head and at 22 she first laid eyes on her future husband, Jeff Fulton. Alex openly claims that it really was love at first sight!
Despite that romantic notion, Jeff was on a mission to head overseas and went for it, leaving Alex to stew, be a terrible flatmate and revel in her misery. Not one to miss out however, she then laid her own plans and took off for a year of travel with a girlfriend before arriving in London sporting a mean tan to catch the attention of her man.
In London she worked in recruitment placing accountants (very often friends!) in great jobs. It took a while, but it soon dawned on her that she should be placing HERSELF in a great job! A banking role appeared and for 2 years she enjoyed the great income and was able to hatch plans with Jeff for a mega overseas tour before they chased visas in Dublin.
The holiday went extremely well with Jeff dropping a knee on a ski slope in France and after their year of work in Ireland they dipped home to marry and resettle in Auckland.
Here Alex went back to her science roots and worked for pharmaceuticals company; Roche – dabbling in marketing and the launch of a new drug. She vividly remembers the drug had colourful circles as a logo and it rang some bells in the back of her head. While colour and creativity were alive and well in her wardrobe she was just beginning to itch for something more….
The young couple bought their first home in Mt Albert, an apartment that had been the former display unit for the complex. In Alex’s words “…it was bland and dumb brown.” Being inexperienced they were easily mustered by furniture sales people to purchase a “dumb brown” sofa to tone in with their “dumb brown” walls resulting in what she could only describe as an incredibly “oppressive” space which she hated! It wasn’t all awful though – the brilliance of a small orange tiled back-splash above the stove made Alex’s heart beat a little faster and she was beginning to form a firm idea of what she didn’t like in a space.
That AND dear little Isla was born!
In 2003 Jeff and Alex moved into a bright white villa in Westmere where Alex set up her very first foray into creative business with a friend. Definitely early adopters of the opportunities of online sales they launched Pieces of Design which specialised in applying a library of graphics onto art, allowing for full customisation in colour. This was also Alex’s first time working within the interior design industry and contact with magazines which focussed on it. Her interest in interior design definitely was piqued, however business wise, the balance wasn’t working so well. Between them, Jeff and Alex were ready for a change of scenery and a change of career so with Isla and a very pregnant Alex, they relocated to their new home of Christchurch.
Jeff moved on from his recent work with Neil Finn to set up a charitable music trust called CHART which focussed on supporting emerging musical talent in the area. Alex juggled family life with the renovation of their first real house in Sumner. It was tiny but they LOVED it and on a tight budget she began to explore her gut feeling for design. Her penchant for splashes of unexpected colour vs pattern quickly caught the attention of visiting friends who encouraged her to pursue design further.
She looked into various courses but resisted going full time with her family still her main priority. She eventually settled on a part time course by correspondence from a Melbourne based institution which taught her some valuable drawing skills but she quickly realised the rest was perhaps more innate and experienced based then anything.
A great friend in Sumner then rallied behind her, demanding that she now call herself an “interior designer” – and so she did ! Channeling some serious positive visualisation!
A business card was thus needed and she contacted a local graphic design agency who, on learning what she did, promptly engaged her to design their new studio for contra. The word-of-mouth wheels began to turn and for some years this was her primary source of new clients. There was a lot of “faking it til you make it” and some serious backing of herself and her own ideas. As Alex said, “If you don’t have faith in yourself, who will?”
Commercial jobs followed residential which was joined by some magazine work and special projects. She also started her blog with no real idea except that she wanted to be able to easily share her ideas and finds with any like-minded souls out there (which included me!)
Then their whole world as they knew it changed with the Christchurch Earthquake in February 2011. Alex at that point had recently returned her studio back to the house and was also couch ridden due to a serious leg injury involving a severed hamstring (!)
Luckily the young family survived unscathed physically but everything else was not good. They lost a friend, their way of life, their city, local community and suburb was utterly turned on its head. They were planning to begin renovating their house which was then not possible due to damage (think no working toilet for 3 months) and the following lengthy process with EQC has caused many hairs to be pulled out.
In an effort to give the girls some normality they took off up to Marlborough for a few weeks where they had family and friends. It was on a return visit to Blenheim that Alex’s attention was pulled to the sale of a beautiful, sprawling single storied villa.
Once again those fate wheels were turning. The purchase was made and the Fultini’s were moving to Blenheim for good!
Jeff and his brother purchased the tired Vines Village complex which they have gone to work on wholeheartedly to revive as an interesting destination hosting food, wine, culture, fun and shopping for both locals and visitors to the area. Alex began to take on projects locally and relished working with established wine label Astrolabe to convert an old house on the Vines Village property into an rich and interesting office/hosting venue. This combined with the renovation of her own house were both finalists in the recent Australasian Dulux Colour Awards.
With one end of a building not leased, Alex and Jeff came to the agreement that it was a no-brainer to set up a design store and studio there, and so the AFD Store was born!
On my visit a few months ago, Alex and her team were still receiving stock from carefully recruited global stockists and the launch of an online store is imminent (watch this space!)
The idea of the store coincided with a massive rebrand that she undertook with the help of Hardhat Design as well as a dream realised in bringing her travelling “school” to life with Mini Master Classes in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in the last 6 months.
It’s practically impossible to sum up Alex’s story so far – mostly because she has such a roll on it doesn’t feel right to put a full stop or a summarising statement at the end of it!
Alex Fulton poses a creative example of someone well and truly out there cutting their own track, buoyed by the support of their family and the strength of their own intuition.All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM ALEX:
Your greatest potential will be reached out of staying true to yourself.
(plus all the other million nuggets of wisdom!)
CHECK OUT THE GIRLS’ BEDROOMS + AMAZING SHARED BATHROOM OVER HERE ON JUNIOR’S DESIGN BLOG!
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