Design: Start with art

Ben Crawford says choose your colours from your artwork.

Vudu Cafe and Larder in Queenstown. Photo / Ben Crawford
Vudu Cafe and Larder in Queenstown. Photo / Ben Crawford

How does that saying go? The hardest part of starting is starting. Is that truly a saying or have I just made it up? If so, I hope you know what I mean.

Often the most daunting part of a project is deciding where to start. But once you begin, the anxiety, reservations and reluctance ebb away and you find you're enjoying yourself. And odds on, it turns out to be a lot easier than you'd expected.

The mere thought of redecorating your home can be overwhelming, especially if you plan to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. No doubt, all sorts of questions will begin running through your head. Will I be able to do it? Will it look terrible? Where do I start?

Here's a tip.

Begin with a single piece of art, then decorate from that. Just like the team at Vudu Cafe and Larder in Queenstown did when fitting out their beautiful premises.

Nestled in a two-storey schist building along one of the lakefront town's ambling streets, the crisp mountain air is left at the large, iron-wrapped glass doors of Vudu Cafe and Larder.

Passing through the giant doors, your eye is immediately drawn to a huge aerial photo of Queenstown from the 1950s.

As I find out from design genius and part owner, Michelle Freeman, it's no coincidence that the photo's faded, aged tones have been replicated throughout Vudu Cafe and Larder to create a beautiful earthy palette of colours and materials.

The building is only 12 years old, but before Freeman's touch it was somewhat of an unnoticed space, housing a mixture of tenants from a clothing shop to a property development company.

It had bad light, a terrible laminate floor and there was nothing to draw people in. Plus it was such a narrow space that no one had thought a cafe could work in the area. But Freeman had other ideas.

Up came the faux floor, exposing the concrete below. The existing upstairs office was turned into a kitchen and a dumb waiter was installed for the wait staff below.

With the cafe's bare bones now in place, in came that giant image of Queenstown, taking pride of place on the entrance wall. From here, Freeman drew inspiration for all of the colours in the fit-out.

The fawny burned-alpine hills flow from the photo and into the old classroom chairs, custom-finished lab stools and brown leather banquettes. Lake Wakatipu's sun-blemished aqua tones splash down on the communal bench seating in the entrance and vintage school blackboards on the walls. Dashes of complementary tones throughout all of the paintings and decorations adorn the cafe.

Finally, lighting was needed to make those delicious colours pop. And lots of it. Rows of naked bulbs were hung over the service counter, preserving jars were turned into a cluster of pendants above the barista and vintage globes were set into newly installed industrial railing, providing ample directional light on to the photo that created the space.

The end result? A beautiful, relaxed and homely environment despite its commercial purpose. One that fits seamlessly into its surrounds and feels like it has been there forever. It's the sort of fit-out you wish you had the flair to create yourself. And you can by following Freeman's example.

Select your favourite piece of art, either something you already own or treat yourself to something new. It needs scale to provide impact on a highly visible surface in your home, so don't choose a postage stamp. Then set about crafting your renovation colour palette from its hues. Before you know it, you'll feel like a veteran interior designer and all of your friends will be wanting you to pop over for a bit of design advice. Now, what were you worrying about again?

Find it: Vudu Cafe and Larder 23 Beach St, Queenstown.

The Block NZ 2012 winner Ben Crawford is the author of home design inspiration book Built For Caffeine and runs creative advertising agency Libby & Ben.

- Herald on Sunday

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