Meet Bas van Wel, a 22-year-old Cantabrian who's got polish - or at least glass cleaner - and a technique to make him possibly the best glass cleaner in the world.

That's according to artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney, the Australian duo who recruited van Wel for one of the toughest cleaning jobs in New Zealand.

He and assistant Brooke Painter are now responsible for keeping each and every one of the 105 mirrors — 3.6m tall and 2m wide — in the Auckland Arts Festival's House of Mirrors spotlessly clean for the next 19 days.

It is not a job for the faint-hearted.


Some 2000 people will visit daily, getting their fingerprints all over the mirrors — and bumping into them while posing for the ultimate selfie — as they puzzle their way through the 400sqm carnival-style attraction.

Wagstaff and Courtney say one cleaner in another country was using a water filtration cleaning system — not the best because it tended to flood the floor — and declared she needed to leave and re-fill her truck. She told them she would be back in ten minutes; they never saw her again.

They say van Wel's attention to detail is second to none.

"He's so particular as a glass cleaner that he's as mad as the maze is," says Wagstaff.

House of Mirrors window cleaner Bas van Wel is the best the festival manager has even seen. Photo / Jason Oxenham
House of Mirrors window cleaner Bas van Wel is the best the festival manager has even seen. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"He's the best glass cleaner we've had," says Courtney, noting that House of Mirrors has appeared in eight cities around the world.

Van Wel says the key to sparkling and streak-free mirrors lies not in the cleaning solution — he won't reveal what he uses — but in the technique itself. Armed with a variety of squeegees on long poles, the secret is to work side to side and keep the squeegee moving.

"Never let the squeegee stop," he says.

For the House of Mirrors, van Wel also needs to get to the maze before sunrise so he can clean without the sun's glare distorting his vision. Not to mention getting overly hot in the open-aired structure where temperatures can soar when the sun shines.


Van Wel, who founded Maximum Cleaning three years ago, says he got a call from the AAF asking if he'd be interested in the job and to send a quote. Intrigued, he did so and landed one of the more novel contracts he's done. He claims to love cleaning and the satisfaction derived from a job done well.

House of Mirrors window cleaner Bas van Wel.
House of Mirrors window cleaner Bas van Wel. "Never let the squeegee stop," he says. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"I've always been quite entrepreneurial; I started the business to help my mum out when she needed a job but, a week later, she got one and I had $2000 worth of cleaning work booked in," he says. "It just went from there and has never really stopped."

That was three and a half years ago and van Wel is now based in Auckland because, he says, there's more work than in Christchurch. Ever the diplomat, he won't comment on what that says about attitudes to cleanliness in the two cities.

He agrees a job like House of Mirrors makes life more interesting than routine cleaning of homes, businesses and commercial sites but says it's not actually the biggest job his company has tackled.

That could well be preparing for the opening last year of the seven-floor, 25,000sqm $216 million Rutherford Regional Science and Innovation Centre at the University of Canterbury.

Reflecting on his new assignment, van Wel doesn't doubt he'll soon be able to find his way through the maze without getting too lost or caught up by its extraordinary optical illusions; he doubts he'll be in a hurry to look in a mirror anytime soon.


What: House of Mirrors
Where & when: Auckland Arts Festival Playground, Silo Park; until Sunday, March 25; weekdays 4-10pm and weekends 10am-10pm
Tickets: $12.50 at the door. Children under 4 free.