Julia Atkinson-Dunn of Studio Home. Photo / Supplied

Work Smarter, Not Harder: How These Creatives Make Their Work Day Work For Them

Ever wondered how successful Kiwi creatives run their businesses? We got the inside scoop

Oh to be a fly on the wall of some of the biggest names in New Zealand business. Despite our small population, Aotearoa punches well above its weight when it comes to the number of independent movers and shakers that seem to appear out of nowhere and quickly rise to entrepreneurial success.

Two such creative ventures are Studio Home and Mark Antonia. Julia Atkinson-Dunn of design blog Studio Home has built for herself a diverse offering that fuses the worlds of interiors, arts and horticulture, while husband-wife duo Mark Seeney and Antonia de Vere have built quite the impressive reputation for their contemporary floral studio, Mark Antonia.

Viva chatted to Julia, Mark and Antonia about their ascent to entrepreneurial success, how they channel their creativity, and how working on the new HP Spectre x360 allows for greater flexibility in their work day. 

Julia works from her home in Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

Julia Atkinson-Dunn 

Talk me through your career trajectory to date - how did you end up working in the position you're in now?
As a pre-teen I had a major passion for writing, interiors, flowers and art. These are the things that make up Studio Home today. Following a student exchange in Canada, then a sidestep into ski instructing straight out of school, I did a short fine arts course before studying interior design in my early twenties.

In 2008 I was based in Queenstown with my own small consultancy business. It was then I discovered my first design blog (called Design Sponge) and had the idea that I, too, could share my design discoveries. I focused solely on New Zealand and Australian creators and brands that weren't easy to discover.

Over the next 12 years I continued to regularly publish features on my design blog, Studio Home, and rode the exciting connections and opportunities paved by the arrival and growth of social media. During these years, I was lucky to collaborate with designers I love, write for publications and brands, travel, host a workshop on harnessing social media for small creative businesses and work as an independent brand and strategy consultant.

It was my move back to Christchurch in 2016 (and into a lovely property) that opened the doors to what my business looks like now. I banked on my positive connections with artists I had made over the years and combined this with my art-loving audience by launching an online art gallery as well as hosting regular group exhibitions and artist workshops in our villa.

My husband has converted our little shed to offer a picture framing service we work in together. The opportunity to experiment in the garden has led to a really exciting new avenue in sharing and connecting novice gardeners with local suppliers and newfound gardening knowledge.

What does a 'typical' workday look like for you?
It’s typical in that is never typical! Working from home allows me to balance my time. I can do my laundry while answering emails, spend a few hours in the garden before going into the office and create a mess packaging artworks for the courier in a room I can close the door on!

I regularly rush out to take photos when the light is right and can hold appointments for art or framing when it suits customers best. After 12 years of self-employment, I have learnt when I work best and appreciate that I don't have to conform to office hours.

When do you feel your most creative?
Mid- to late afternoon seems to be the productive hotspot for me, but I find my best ideas arrive either when watering the garden or at 4am!

How does working on an HP Spectre x360 allow for greater flexibility in your work day?
The HP Spectre x360 is essentially my business partner. The online nature of my work makes it my connection to the rest of the world. While it’s a super handy-sized laptop, I love that it docks to my monitor and printer to create a really efficient workspace, tailored to the way I like to work. I'd have to say its reliability is the key to achieving my goals.

What functions or features do you love most about the HP Spectre x360?
I love its slim size for travel and how easy it is to convert into tablet form for planning and sketching! Plus, it helps that it’s also very good-looking...

Whereabouts are you based? What do you love about the lifestyle living in this area offers?
I grew up in Canterbury and after several stints of living in Auckland, Queenstown and Wanaka I was surprised to find myself back here. With that said, post-earthquake Christchurch offers a phenomenal lifestyle and is a welcoming place to grow a creative business. We are able to afford a lovely villa in the central city, so we’re close to the endless openings of new businesses, restaurants, shops and the many public events our city hosts.

Canterbury offers easy access to the mountains for skiing as well as the sea, seeing us spend lots of time on Banks Peninsula and easily whipping 15 minutes into one of the little bays in Lyttelton Harbour for after-work swims. I couldn't be more in love with the life we get to enjoy here in the south and am so excited to be part of Christchurch's rebirth.

How do you stay connected to your business even when you're not physically in your office?
I'm lucky that my business matches my personal interests, so I never feel disconnected from what I am doing. While I've made the rule to never check my emails on the weekend, social media allows me to still feel connected and maintain a forward propulsion in finding my audience even when I’m not sitting at my desk.

What excites you most about 2020? What projects do you have upcoming?
I feel like 2019 was spent creating momentum to hit my goals for 2020! Next year I will present seasonal group art shows both from home and online, each offering diverse collections of New Zealand art. I'll also be filming a series of short films over summer, featuring magical South Island gardens.

I’ll be hosting various panels of experts on stage as the Beginner Gardener Ambassador for the new GROW - Ō Tautahi, Christchurch Garden Festival, in March. In addition to all this, I have a rug collaboration with a local brand launching soon, am hosting more artists workshops and have two ideas swirling around to publish in print.

Mark Seeney and Antonia de Vere. Photo / Supplied

Mark Seeney and Antonia de Vere

Talk me through your career trajectory to date - how did you end up working in the position you're in now?
Antonia: I first worked in fashion retail, and then studied jewellery design, followed by floral design and aromatherapy. This combination of colour, form and detail study essentially culminated in the dried floral work and fragrance development I do now.
Mark: Originally I studied design and worked in fabrication of furniture. This structure and system-based work naturally led to taking care of the logistics, design and manufacturing of our homeware collections.

What does a 'typical' workday look like for you?
Antonia: I start off with a few emails in the morning with coffee, then get straight into my scheduled work. I’ll grab a late lunch, answer a few more emails and then wrap up my work day around 6 or 7pm generally.
Mark: I get to work early and plan the day. I’ll run through a few emails and do some admin and scheduling. Then it’s straight into fulfilling orders or running production for one of our products (other than flowers). This will keep me busy until we call it a day.

When do you feel your most creative?
Antonia: That’s a hard one. As a creative couple, our most creative moments are quite different. Ultimately it’s our responsibility to understand our clients’ needs and be creative with the execution. I work best when I have the trust from a client – a rigid schedule and tight brief has never been my strong suit! Freedom makes me feel the most creative, whatever that may be. I feel I achieve the best results when I am left to my own strengths and skills by a confident client.
Mark: I feel my most creative in the morning, before lunch. I seem to get so much done in that time, although new product concepts usually keep my mind working well in the evening.

How does working on an HP Spectre x360 allow for greater flexibility in your work day?
Mark: We’re often in and out of the studio on any given day, so being able to use the HP Spectre x360 as both a laptop and tablet allows for greater flexibility and client interaction wherever we are.

What functions or features do you love most about the HP Spectre x360?
Antonia: I like to use my HP Spectre x360 like a sketchpad, I draw what is hard to describe in words for clients, or for myself to visualise how a job will look. I’ll do this by drawing over photos of the spaces where my work will be featured. It allows me flexibility by showing my clients directly how my work will integrate into a space. It also saves me time by not having to describe in emails how everything will look. I can literally sketch what I’m visualising, which means there aren’t as many back and forth emails. I’m known to be terrible over email!
Mark: The 360-degree flip feature is great for me. It’s a time-saver and allows me to keep all details in one place. I can go from doing admin work in laptop mode, to then making notes in tablet mode for upcoming jobs with Antonia on the other side of the studio.

Whereabouts are you based? What do you love about the lifestyle living in this area offers?
Mark: We live on the Matakana Coast in Leigh. Being out of the city allows us to focus, plus living and working in such a beautiful place so close to the beach is pretty inspiring.

How do you stay connected to your business even when you're not physically in your office?
Both: When we’re out of the studio we’ll generally have one of our HP Spectre x360s with us, as they’re running all the apps we use for everyday business. Otherwise we work fairly long hours so tend not to take work home, although that doesn’t always work out.

What excites you most about 2020? What projects do you have upcoming?
Both: There are a few super exciting, potential prospects we’re currently working through, both locally and internationally. Other than that we’ve got some new offerings lined up for 2020.

For more information, visit Hp.co.nz/spectrex360 

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