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This historic Wellington apartment’s eclectic style brings it to life

A passion for the beautiful and eclectic reflects the occupants of this historic Wellington apartment

Meet & greet
Andre Afamasaga (human rights advocate) and flatmate Paul Whiting (Ministry of Education lead).

The old Aulsebrooks factory in the middle of Wellington hasn’t been making iced animal biscuits in years. Instead, the historic building is now an apartment building with smart, spacious apartments featuring soaring ceilings and period details.

Andre Afamasaga and civil servant flatmate Paul Whiting have lived in one of the complex’s light-filled two-bedroom rented apartments for seven years. There are shades of Monica and Rachel’s New York pad from the ’90s sitcom Friends to it, with its tall bank of colonial-style south-facing windows and their eclectic mix of furnishings and decor.

The apartment is solid concrete, which is warm in winter and cool in summer, and the recent earthquake strengthening is apparent wherever one looks with large steel beams unapologetically poking through walls and midway through spaces. This only adds to the heritage feel of the space and provides comfort to its tenants who were living here during the Wellington quakes of 2016.

Andre is a human rights advocate and former pastor who hit the headlines with his coming out column in the Sydney Morning Herald and several other international publications, which went viral at the end of 2019.

He told his story about coming to terms with his sexuality, faith and self-acceptance to send a clear message to young rainbow people in the Pacific community that they don’t need to live in shame or fear.

Andre’s life has been built on a strong foundation of faith, family and culture. The Kiwi-born gay Sāmoan man grew up in a proud and vibrant, faith-filled family and migrant home where his late parents always put first the needs of others.

“We weren’t rich but my parents also made sure our home was open to all. They loved to serve and cook for people. My sister Shalleen and her husband Geoff have carried on that tradition also.”

His love of style was apparent from a young age as he followed his father around markets and auctions, delighting in sourcing beautiful and unique objects for their surroundings. He began collecting fashion and interiors magazines as a 12-year-old in the ’80s, cataloguing the culture, clothes, people and decor, well aware that the people in these glossy publications looked nothing like him.

“I hope a young brown kid will be inspired when they see this spread of my family and I. That’s why representation matters, it gives people hope and something they can relate to,” says the senior manager at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. “Above all, I want my home to be a place where people can feel joy, beauty and acceptance.”

Bookshelves are filled with Architectural Digest and collections of international editions of GQ and Vogue magazines. There are also plenty of other hallmarks of his style and personality, which includes carefully selected curios such as Pacific ula given as thank you tokens for his community work, or his collection of theological books that have been colour coded, and other memories from a life well lived.

“I had lots more books, magazines and items dating back to the ’70s, but they got accidentally thrown out in the decade I worked abroad as pastor in Sydney.”

For some that would be disturbing but Andre puts things in perspective, “I don’t believe that style and substance are mutually exclusive, while I love stylish things, they’re a bonus – not an essential. What truly matters are loved ones and relationships.”

Style is also about finding solutions for the not-so- great. Take the imperfect carpet in the open-plan space. It’s effortlessly disguised with a well curated selection of rugs, a mix of sisal and vintage Persian styles, and follow a common rule in good interior design – that there are few spaces that don’t benefit from an area rug.

Everything in the apartment has a feeling of place, such as the hall table with fresh flowers, a well-curated collection of shells and an antique model sailing boat alluding to the maritime environment on the wharf close to the apartment block.

Andre will happily find treasure everywhere, from the auctions his father introduced him to early on to hardware stores. The vintage French dining table is surrounded by ’80s-style rattan dining chairs found on sale at Bunnings. “The dining table doubles as my desk in a working-from-home Covid environment. But sometimes I blur my Zoom screen because I don’t want people to think I’m too ‘extra’ or to be distracted by all the objects in the background.”

Recently, he’s taken on the care of several indoor plants and it is clear to see he is keen to approach their care with as much love and empathy as he does everything else in his life. His favourite is a heliconia, a lush tropical beauty that sits alongside a kentia palm, both framing a large mirror against the brick wall.

The ’90s zombie-yellow and brick-red palette used on the walls and ceilings wouldn’t be his first choice if he owned the space, however it matches the warm, rich tones of his aged leather and vintage French furniture. In fact, it works so well with yellow and red that one would almost be forgiven for asking the question, “Wow! Are these colours back in style again?’

The curse of many inner-city apartments is a lack of natural light – something both bedrooms suffer from. Although his bedroom has no windows to the outside, Andre has created an inviting retreat with soft linens, artworks and lighting. This is also the space where his love of fashion and style are most evident and a glance in his wardrobe could well make the most style-conscious gentleman green with envy at the beautifully curated blazers, shirts, and other classic pieces. “I like to mix classic with casual. But an ’80s- or ’90s-style navy blazers with jeans, and a white tee or oxford shirt, and Ray-Ban sunglasses are my go-to uniform,” he laughs.

After many years of serving others and his community, Andre has become more comfortable with the value of having a space to recharge, relax and reflect, surrounded by things that bring him joy. His family and friends appreciate the central location and hospitality, too, often congregating here. It’s a testament to the welcoming space Andre and Paul have created.

Words by: Michael Mansvelt. Photography by: Gina Fabish.

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