This feature is an all time favourite.
My visit to Balquhidder House in Napier, the headquarters of the artistic, fearless and creative Culy family was meant to be a relatively fleeting one. Gunning to be there for about an hour and a half I was forcing myself to leave out of politeness after five….
Despite it being a year on (Time! Where did you go!), revisiting my notes and screes of photos had me once again dreaming of being a resident and member of their crew.
There is an amazing warmth and casual determination about Leanne and Brian Culy, a partnership that has been bought about no doubt through their many adventures, homes and self starting approach to life. They simply have always done it their way and as a team.
I invite you to sit back and enjoy this rambling magical home and the story of those that call it their own.
A young, artistic Leanne left school at 17, boosting quickly out of her regional New Zealand home of Palmerston North direct for Wellington. Having excelled in art she found work in the art department of Wellington Newspapers, Spectrum Illustrating and as a graphic designer at Mike McCulloch Design.
This was the 1980’s. Graphic design was a labour intensive industry creating type by using wax, scalpels, epidiascopes, development in darkrooms and screens. Leanne relished this work and by the age of 21 she was an in demand freelancer working hard in the advertising industry.
At 25 she launched her own business based in a terrific old stone, cubist building. Specialising in corporate identities led to an extension of her design work and invitations to develop corporate spaces as well. This naturally progressed and soon enough Leanne was squeezing in set design, weddings and event styling!
Around this time she was asked to offer some interior advice to the film company based upstairs from her own studio owned by one; Brian Culy.
It was love!
A world adventure and marriage followed with the arrival of their daughters Jacobina and Billie in 1990 and ’93. It was only natural that Brian and Leanne would begin combining their creative talents, allowing for great collaboration and projects within the film industry. However a change was on the horizon and when the opportunity to purchase a grand old homestead in the Wairarapa popped up – they grabbed it, heading away from their city base and straight for country life.
The 5 years they spent Pounui Homestead offered them the unique opportunity to start Homebase Films, a pared back production company aimed at doing simple, beautiful work without huge budgets and the resulting logistical pressure of crews, food and the rest. Work included ads for Wade house, Ansel Adams for the city art gallery, some beautiful black and white milk advertisements for the national dairy board amongst many others.
But the family weren’t done with their exploration as next on the cards was a move to sunny Kerikeri. It was here in a brightly painted house and balmy sub tropical climate that Leanne began painting her now iconic oars.
She had painted on wood before but distinctly recalled the beauty she saw in their slender length and patina. It seemed like they had led “a good life” and in so many ways reminded her of totem poles.
It was 2004 and off the back of another sell out show of her oars at the Hawkes Bay based Black Barn Gallery, Leanne and Brian discovered the incredible Balquhidder House, perched high on a leafy ridgeline on Napier Hill.
Kerikeri was put up for sale and by the end of the year they were Napier based – well almost! The girls had decided that Havelock North High School was the one for them so until 2009 the family based themselves in a special beachhouse in Haumoana. ( This is a WHOLE nother post!!) Leanne continued with her oars which were gaining huge notoriety across the country and by 2009 they were finally at Balquhidder House.
By this point, Homebase Collections had been born.
It was a singular “brand” that the family could use to encompass all of their creative projects. Brian was able to share his brilliant largescale photographs and Leanne, with her catalogue of prints could apply them to textiles – both available on the roll or as lampshades, cushions and more. They developed and added products and furniture to their range as they saw need, using Brian’s photography skills and their own home as a backdrop.
Their art, aesthetic, design, personalities and way of life gave a distinct vibe to Homebase Collections that rapidly gained peoples attention. There is something so uncontrived about what they do yet completely covetable and easy to relate too. For instance they were the first to re-engage the retro material of pegboard in their sideboards and spaces long before it shot to its wide popularity over the last couple of years. A focus on honest, simple, natural materials was both a conscious choice and one that matched their personal style.
In 2013 they opened a small store beside Balquhidder House in their leafy no-exit street, pausing it for a time to “pop up” on Auckland’s, Ponsonby Road for the summer of 2013/14.
When I visited and got lost in their world on Easter Sunday last year, Leanne talked of their want to focus more on creating art and collaborating with like minded souls. After spending hours chatting away at the kitchen table, poking around their sprawling home and picking Leanne’s mind on many of my OWN topics of conversation – I left thinking “Pick me! Pick me as your collaborator!!”
Currently NZ based fabric company; Hemptech are slowly releasing some of Leannes designs in new colour ways on a selection of beautiful base cloths. This is helping the family acheive their goals of pursuing more personal creative projects and I can say there are more than a few on the boil that will be of interest to you!
Rambling and romantic Balquhidder House which has served as HQ for many a creative Culy endeavour has now quietly been made available for sale. Youngest daughter Billie has made a return back to the Bay, working with a local beekeeper and growing her own portfolio of art, but with Jacobina based in Wellington and opportunities on the horizon the family feel it might be time to down scale and return back to the seaside, allowing a new tribe have their turn in the home.
Photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM THE CULY FAMILY:
Whenever possible, find inspiration in your lifestyle and loves as they stand now.
It is likely the results will be filled with a passion, integrity and authenticity that will strike a chord with others.