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Inside the co-founder of The Hello Cup’s wonderfully whimsical home

Co-founder of The Hello Cup, Robyn Mclean’s modern Hawke’s Bay townhouse is filled with wit and whimsy, and a reflection of its fun and colourful inhabitants 

‘Impulsive’ is one adjective that might be used to describe Robyn McLean and Jol Bates. They’ve heard a few others too – reckless and radical, as well as instinctive, imaginative and quick-thinking. Robyn says they all apply.

“We never do anything by halves,” she laughs, settling onto the sofa alongside Jol as the family dogs wrestle a rainbow-shaped toy beside her.

They certainly weren’t in the market for a home in late 2018 when they saw this double-storey townhouse for sale in Havelock North, just a few minutes up the road from the lifestyle block they’d lovingly tended for nine years. But, as it happens, swapping just under 1.2 hectares for a postage-stamp section was the perfect move for Robyn, Jol, their son Enzo, and Robyn’s daughter Harper.

“I remember coming to look at the place and thinking it was so well designed, with a lot of natural light, and really easy-care, which appealed straight away. We both run businesses, so life is busy enough – and this was the sort of place where you wouldn’t need a lawnmower,” explains Robyn.

The lawnmower matters because Robyn says garden maintenance – in fact, anything related to the upkeep of the homes she and Jol have owned – is strictly her domain.

“I’m not allowed to use the mower because I’m a health and safety hazard,” admits Jol. “I’m extremely uncoordinated and accident-prone. In our wedding vows, Robyn promised that she would never let me climb up a ladder.”

“He’s a handy lawyer, but not a handy-man,” chips in Robyn. “But he is a great cook, and this house has a wonderful kitchen.”

Art & collectables

Although it wasn’t the kitchen that sealed the deal on this purchase. Avid modern art collectors, they saw the simple white walls and polished concrete floors of the townhouse – a builder’s own home that had been lived in for just six months – as the perfect blank canvas for their collection of paintings, sculptures, and assortment of vintage and retro collectables.

Robyn, who had worked as the Dominion Post’s arts feature writer prior to moving to Hawke’s Bay, fell in love with the often humorous works of Wayne Youle when covering an exhibition opening held at the Dowse Art Museum. “He was showing some little skull sculptures on sticks that were his take on a Chupa Chups lollipop and I thought they were so cool.”

Hooked, Robyn purchased the couple’s first piece – a bullseye peppered with slug-gun pellets, closely followed by a work featuring an excerpt of Youle’s childhood report card. “Wayne shows an interest and flair for arts and crafts” it reads. “His skill with macaroni and glitter is excellent. He has papier mache ability beyond compare.”

A further 10 works have ensued including a sinister Robert Muldoon who peers down on them from the couple’s living room. “It reminds me of what New Zealand once was and how we’ve progressed,” says Jol. And there are two interpretations of the iconic Dame Whina Cooper, a photograph shot by Michael Tubberty that adorns the wall and dining table. “There’s so much to love about that image,” says Robyn, “but my take on it is that it reminds people of a special grandmother or grandmotherly figure they might have in their life. It is, says Jol, a matter of “love Robyn, love Wayne Youle”.

“I have no choice in the matter,” he says, cocking his eyebrow at his wife. “There are definitely three of us in this marriage.”

So much so that Wayne recently popped over for a quiet drink with the family, while on a short visit to Hawke’s Bay. “Robyn was like a schoolgirl meeting The Beatles,” recalls Jol, going on to describe how Wayne was so shocked at how badly she had hung all the artwork, he’s since vowed to return and straighten everything up.

Holidaying outdoors

Once they’d filled their new four-bedroom home with all their favourite things, it was time to tackle the outdoor space. A trip to Bali in 2017, where the couple had stayed in a villa surrounded by lush vegetation, became inspiration for a tropical paved patio full of flair. Robyn’s former partner and Harper’s father Tony Weinberg – very much an integral part of the family – owns Superior Pool Co Hawke’s Bay, and turned his attention to designing a compact plunge pool that would fit neatly into the section’s tiny footprint. “We wanted to create a holiday vibe so that when we were at home, we could truly unwind,” says Robyn.

Jol had a hand in choosing the bamboo palms that line the pool area, while Robyn selected edibles – makrut lime, lemons, lettuce, chilli and tomatoes. Although she hadn’t planned it that way, a large order of plants arrived just as the country headed into level four lockdown, the byproduct of which was ample gardening time. “We’ve put in birds of paradise, potted figs and jasmine as well,” she says, while keen cook Jol, whose signature dish is a lamb curry sweetened with bananas, is still lamenting the absence of banana trees.

Humour and heart

Inside, the house oozes warmth and wit. Robyn, aside from being impulsive – she started The Hello Cup with best friend Mary Bond on “a bit of a whim”, quickly growing it to a multi-million dollar company within just two years – also loves the unconventional. A Devoney Scarfe embroidery flips the middle finger. A vintage Japanese Pachinko machine (the name, Jol explains, is onomatopoeic – the sounds the small balls make as they race around the set) graces the living room. A huge ‘charcuterie’ tin sign bought from local importers So Vintage defines the entrance to the open plan kitchen, while below, a set of seed drawers from France holds all of life’s paraphernalia – a spare pair of sunglasses, house keys, painkillers, safety pins. “But it’s become an abyss – you’ll pop something in there and never see it again,” laughs Robyn.

The family’s latest impulse purchase is a 1980s Paris Magdalinos-designed beach house in Waipataki, a 20-minute drive south of Napier – so these days, their time is split between the two properties, with their Havelock North townhouse rentable on Bachcare. It’s exciting to have a new project, says Robyn, who has already spent the last few months scouring Trade Me and Facebook Marketplace for just the right Fibrella sunloungers in shades of green, yellow and orange.

While they might look kitschy to some, Robyn adores them. “I actually didn’t really love colour until Jol came into my life,” she admits. “I was more into neutral tones – but he exploded into my world in his red Alfa Romeo dressed head to toe in bold and bright hues, and I’ve never looked back.”

Words by: Fiona Fraser. Photography by: Florence Charvin.

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