Design: Colour your world

Clicks are now bricks for an online store, finds Ben Crawford.

New Zealand artist Flox is one of many printmakers whose work is for sale at endemicworld.com.
New Zealand artist Flox is one of many printmakers whose work is for sale at endemicworld.com.

Kiwis are renowned for their unadventurous spirit when it comes to colour. But we can't be blamed for our nationwide penchant for black and white. They're our national colours, built into our DNA and passed on from generation to generation, wardrobe to wardrobe and home to home.

A monochromatic colour scheme within the home can ooze sophistication, opulence and serenity. On the other hand, it can be soulless and dreary if executed too clinically, devoid of any personality and points of interest.

It's lucky then that New Zealand is blessed with some mighty fine purveyors of coloured wares, allowing the introduction of a spot of vibrancy into our homes. That's the beauty of a neutral base palette; you can add layers of colour through art, linen and furnishings, then when you tire of "the look", you can switch items to complete a cost-effective redecoration.

This week, I caught up with one such colour curator, Elliot Alexander, the co-founder of endemicworld.com, my favourite online source of art and design prints.

The business began in 2008 as the country's first online design store selling New Zealand-only products. However as the fledgling concept began to gain traction, many me-too operators entered the market and physical design stores joined the online retail game, saturating the niche endemicworld.com had created.

Alexander realised he needed to innovate once more so, in 2011, the company decided to focus solely on one category, art prints, and to deviate from the New Zealand-only model by asking international artists to contribute.

And a mighty fine catalogue it is. Alexander and the team are constantly curating a selection of exclusive art by hand-picking works from the freshest artists, illustrators, typographers and graphic designers in New Zealand and abroad. The styles are varied and the price points reasonable.

Then in August 2012, endemicworld.com opened a store in Ponsonby, turning their clicks into bricks by creating a headquarters for the public to come into and experience the brand. While I was in-store, a customer commented on how refreshing it was to meet the people behind the website and touch the products.

I love this concept of taking an online store offline. It mirrors the trend in restaurants where chefs are no longer hidden, their skills and craft placed on show for diners to enjoy as part of the dining experience. In fact, Alexander lives by the philosophy of an open-kitchen approach to creativity, where nothing needs to be hidden and customers are invited to observe the artistic process first hand.

As you'd expect from this trendy, innovative company, the store is one of those spaces you wish was yours. The long, light-filled room has a chic, basement-like vibe, full of colour and personality. Hundreds of I-want-you-right-now-prints adorn almost every surface.

To keep things fresh, the studio is restyled seasonally by Alexander's sister, interior stylist Kate. When I visited, the siblings had finished painting two walls in a beautiful bright yellow capable of lighting up even the drabbest of winter days.

So what's next? Alexander has now started to sell original works of art. One-off $2500 pieces sit for sale beside $20 open edition prints, either online or in-store, blowing wide open the concept of an art gallery. Gauging by the interest and sales so far, this disruptive behaviour within the art retail sector is proving to be a hit with New Zealanders.

Which is awesome. I think it's exciting that young entrepreneurs like Alexander are dedicated to innovation and excellence within the design world. It's also fantastic to see New Zealand consumers matching their enthusiasm, brightening up their homes and workplaces one print at a time.

Climbing the half flight of stairs back up to Ponsonby Rd, fighting the urge to run back down to buy the dozen or so prints that had caught my eye, I felt inspired by Alexander and his team. Not only from a design perspective, but by their vision for the future of retail in New Zealand.

• Find It: 62 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland or online here.

- Herald on Sunday

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