Interior's love affair with faded glamour
Amanda Linnell talks to Redcurrent co-founder Rebecca Kain, and finds good taste runs in the family
Within minutes of meeting Rebecca Kain, she feels like an old friend. She talks a mile a minute, her conversation spilling over with family stories, intriguing tales and home truths that - as I am soon to discover - lie at the heart of everything she does.
Rebecca, a dynamic mother of three, is the co-founder of Redcurrent - the design store that started out in her equally dynamic mother's Havelock North shed 15 years ago and is now a multimillion-dollar business with stores across the country.
Rebecca is about to launch a book, Faded Glamour - Nostalgia Revisited, and the only way to fully understand her, her story, her company, her book, I'm told, is to come and experience a slice of her life. And to hear the stories.
So it is that I find myself beetling along the roads of Hawkes Bay with Rebecca behind the wheel of her Dad's clapped-out BMW.
Our first stop is Redcurrent national headquarters. In the middle of a paddock, old farm sheds are packed to the gunwales with boxes of stock - Christmas decorations, candles, kaftans, children's toys, vases.
From around the world, more arrive each day.
At the very heart of it is Rebecca's mother - 76-year-old Audrey McHardy, the visionary force who started it all.
Audrey is not the sort to accept the status quo. After raising their four children, she and husband Hamish were on holiday in Bali and, not being the types to lie around on sun loungers, went exploring the hill country rice growers.
Spotting some locals making wooden chickens and pigs, Audrey had the entrepreneurial idea that she could sell these at home.
Borrowing $20,000 from Hamish and, at the age of 65, she set up an importing business there and then, and began selling the animals to friends and family from a small shed in the garden. The business grew at a great rate of knots, and soon Audrey had a store in Havelock North.
When Rebecca, at 32, decided she wanted a change from the corporate world and moved home, it wasn't long before she joined her mother on buying trips around Asia.
"When I look back at it, we had no idea what we were doing. But we seemed to buy what people wanted. So Audrey said we'd better open a shop in Auckland, and so it all began."
Rebecca put her life savings, $75,000, into the business - "We had to be partners. Can you imagine working for your mother?" - and 15 years later they own 11 stores, with plans to open another, in Queenstown, next year, and a flourishing online store.
"There are two key components to Redcurrent's success," explains Rebecca. "Firstly, the buying. We have a good eye, we know what we're doing. We buy direct, we buy different things and we price them how we decide, not because [of] how someone down the road is pricing it.
"Eighty per cent of what you find in Redcurrent you can't find anywhere else in New Zealand. We are really two businesses in one - a wholesaler and the stores. So we double the amount of work. My mother runs all the warehousing and I run the business. And it's a great combination.
"The other thing is the 'essence' of the business - how it feels in a store. It's all about the senses - how it smells, the visual impact, customer services - it's built on something that is almost intangible. Our brand is all about 'living beautifully'.
"A lot of women want to escape out of their lives - we're all so busy with careers, children, grumpy husbands, houses - the modern woman's lot is really full-on.
Redcurrent is somewhere beautiful to escape to.
"It is a very unusual business. My mother is 76 and she's down at the packhouse. She is really inspiring. At the end of the day we are both doing what we love."
Good taste, it seems, courses through the blood of this family. Rebecca and I jump back in the car and head to Black Barn Vineyard for lunch. It so happens her uncle, Andy Coltart, is one of the driving forces behind this Hawkes Bay landmark and many others.
He designed the vineyard's buildings, the luxury retreat's accommodation, along with a host of stylish dwellings around the region, in the far north, Wanaka, Sydney and the US.
His homes are big in proportion. Designed for living life large, they reflect a pioneering spirit and are unique to their individual environments.
Rebecca and I jump back in the car and weave over the hills to Waimarama Beach to see two of Coltart's designs - a beach house that belongs to Rebecca's brother and her parents' neighbouring holiday home, the White House - which capture beautifully the families' generous, welcoming spirit.
Rebecca's own passion for interiors, for creating homes, not show-homes, her sense of values and, most importantly, her sense of family all stem back to her grandmothers - Lady Kit Acland and Betty Coltart.
"When I started out to do the book, I had no idea what it was going to be about," explains Rebecca. "I just knew I wanted it to be about beauty, and the best place to start was the houses that I grew up around, and that I loved."
The homes include some of the finest private residences in the country. Sir Jack and Lady Kit Acland lived at Mt Peel Station in the Canterbury high country where the homestead was built in 1865. With its gabled roof, ornamental brackets, lattice-pattern verandah posts and cream limestone window dressings, the Aclands' aim was to recreate the English countryside and they planted numerous exotic trees. Protected by the Historic Places Trust, it is today the home of Rebecca's cousin.
Back in Havelock North, Rebecca's family home, Tauroa, which was designed by leading architect William Gummer (who was also responsible for Auckland Railway Station and Wellington's Dominion Museum) proved to be another great source for the book.
It is here we next roll up to in our tour.
Built in the Moderne style and completed in 1916, its size and modernist approach caused quite a stir. Today, it sits with ease in its elegant surroundings, a rambling home that is truly lived in and loved by its owners.
Hamish makes a pot of tea and we sit around the kitchen table while Rebecca reminisces about family life in the house.
Hamish heads off to check on the painters - maintaining a house this size is an ongoing project - while Rebecca leads me up the sweeping staircase on a tour of the endless rooms.
"Not all the houses we photographed were old and grand," she says with laugh. "A couple of the homes were brand new. One was a shack on the beach; my house in Christchurch, where I currently live, is quite modern. We shot in villas in Auckland, my uncle's house was built in the 1970s. That's the whole point. Faded Glamour is purely about acknowledging the past, not throwing things out, conserving things, and not just going out and buying a whole look. It might just be one or two special pieces or a whole house.
"I worked closely with photographer Florence Charvin and the images in the book are, in many ways, from a child's eye; my memories of visiting my grandparents' homes. To me they capture an emotion: the dining room and large, noisy dinner parties, the lights hanging from the ceiling that we would look up at in wonder as children, the nooks and crannies in these houses so large they were perfect for playing games, my grandmother playing the piano.
"My grandmothers wouldn't have called their lives glamorous, but to me it was. That era was very glamorous. They took pride in how they looked, and their family and homes were central to everything. This is where they entertained. And this was after the war so, even though they lived in big houses, they didn't have a lot, so they really took care of everything, repaired things, sent clothes to the tailor to be mended. And, in a way, this is what Faded Glamour is all about. You can't just go out and buy it. It's about layering, layering, slowly, with time, loving the past.
"What we have done, which is fantastically ambitious, is created a whole new style, really.
"It's all to do with nostalgia, because I am a hopeless romantic. Everything I love is faded - the linen, the cushions. It's worn with time and full of stories.
"What I love is that their homes were a lifetime's work. My parents have been at Tauroa for over 30 years. I personally want a home that my family will spend the next 20 years slowly growing into.
"Faded Glamour captures the essence of the homes, where they had time for their contents, to find them, and that reflects a belief that things get better with time.
These were created by people who had confidence in what they loved and allowed their homes to evolve. It's not about copying a look in a magazine.
"It's so important that people feel comfortable and tell their own stories in their homes.
That is what gives a place personality and soul. It's about not following the rules."
That evening, we nestle into big comfy couches and over numerous glasses of wine Rebecca regales us with more stories of her family and their penchant for not following the rules. The essence of Faded Glamour, it seems, is a generosity of spirit and this Rebecca carries with her innate sense of style.