It was love at first when a British interior stylist first clapped eyes on this inner-city apartment
The first time Shelby George saw the Auckland downtown apartment she now calls home was through her work. Her cousin Kate Alexander, founder of styling and interior design company Places & Graces, had been asked to stage it for market. Having just arrived in New Zealand from her home in the UK, interior stylist Shelby was put in charge of clearing it.
“I walked in and thought ‘Oh my god, it’s gorgeous, I want to live here’,” says Shelby. “Even though it’s really far away from home, it transported me to somewhere in Europe. The parquet floors, Juliet balconies, exposed beams – I was bowled over.”
Hunting for a flat nearly six years later, she couldn’t believe it when best friend, Celine Le Couteur, sent her a link to a rental property on Trade Me. It was the same apartment, and what’s more, the ad for the property included the original styling Kate had done for the photographs. Situated in the 1912 Carlisle Building, a former auction house for goods including kauri gum and wool, the two-storey, three-bedroom home has a soulful ambience and is flooded with natural light, thanks to skylights, high ceilings and dramatic arched windows.
At the time, Shelby was living a beachy lifestyle in Bayswater on Auckland’s North Shore with Kate’s brother, her cousin Elliot Alexander (owner of Endemicworld gallery). She wondered how she’d adapt to the commute as her office was in Devonport, not to mention life surrounded by buildings and people. There was also the looming anxiety of Covid-19, as the friends moved in not long after the first lockdown, a time when change felt even more unsettling. But these fears were soon allayed by an overwhelming sense it was all meant to be.
“I never thought I’d move out of living with my cousin, I was very much in my comfort zone,” says Shelby. “I felt really proud Celine and I had done it, we’d moved in together. Despite going through the ups and downs of last year, here we were living in our dream apartment.”
“It’s completely different, much noisier,” she adds, of her city neighbourhood. “You learn to live with this constant sound.”Shelby loves that her place is walking distance to everything – art galleries, in particular, and the workday commute is a leisurely wander to the ferry. “It’s nice, because coming from a seaside town half an hour out of Bristol, I’m used to having more things going on, people around me. That’s what makes me feel closer to home.”
Rest and relaxation
There are certain rituals that ensure this inner-city space remains a restful retreat. In the upstairs bathroom, there’s a deep bath to soak in, and each of the flatmates’ bedrooms are thoughtfully styled spaces where they can enjoy quiet time.
Every Saturday morning, the friends throw open the living room doors, put the radio on and sit down to enjoy coffee and brunch together. “It’s my favourite part of the week,” says Shelby.
Sunday mornings are often spent with her nose in a book on the balcony. From here you can look down onto Customs Street, and the hubbub of downtown Auckland.
“Celine and I will pretend we’re living in New York or Paris. Sometimes we’ll sit out there with a martini for a good hour or two. I’m always amazed people don’t notice us – you’d think people would know we’re snooping on their drama.”
Shelby and Celine met when they both worked at The Ivy House designer rug showroom, bonding over their shared love of interiors. Since moving on to work with Kate at Places & Graces, Shelby often calls on Celine’s expertise in sourcing rugs. Likewise, the friends are both keen bargain hunters whose shared collection of vintage pieces adorns the apartment.
The long kitchen island and Tolix stools came with the apartment. Elsewhere, much of the vintage furniture belongs to Celine, alongside items Shelby has picked up through work or from Elliot’s gallery.
The friends’ complementary tastes have made it easier to go in on pieces of furniture together, and to display their pieces in the same room. For instance, Celine’s repurposed Singer sewing table has pride of place near the front door, while Shelby’s two Singer sewing machines are displayed on the corner nook shelves. The sofas were a combined purchase, as was the corner lamp – and the art deco-style rug was, of course, found through The Ivy House. The statement Picasso print came from one of Celine’s former flats, and many of the other art pieces Shelby has collected since moving to New Zealand.
“I’m a fan of nudes, illustration, abstract art. Textiles are my big love. I studied traditional textiles at university,” she says. “I used to do my own dyeing and learnt techniques to do print making and big wall hangings. But I didn’t bring any pieces over from the UK so I’m always hankering after something.”
A place for everything
While there’s an intrinsic elegance to this apartment, part of that is down to Shelby’s love of “pottering”.
Even when she’s not working, she’ll be artfully arranging items together on a shelf or clearing a space and starting again. “There are loads of nooks and shelving everywhere here so there are lots of places in which to style.”
When Celine went on holiday, the self-confessed styling obsessive couldn’t help herself. What started when she casually picked something off the floor near her flatmate’s room soon spiralled into a complete makeover. “I hung art, restyled the shelves, hung a kimono on the wall, remade the bed how I wanted it to look. I’m lucky Celine is a patient woman and didn’t consider it an invasion of privacy!
Words Rebecca Barry Hill. Photography Helen Bankers.