People are beginning to lighten up in the way they choose to leave us.

An increasing number of people are shunning sombre send-offs and opting to put the fun in funerals, undertakers say.

Aucklander Tracey Maule-Cooper and her sister, Deane Butt, organised colourful goodbyes for their Remuera parents, who died within a fortnight of each other.

When artist Jacqueline Maule died in July, aged 84, she was buried in a coffin decorated with pictures of lush native ferns. Her husband of 63 years, Derek, 87, who built the maternity and babywear retail chain Lady in Waiting, was farewelled with a special service written and conducted by the family at home.

"Mum chose the casket herself because she thought the ferns were gorgeous," Maule-Cooper said.


"We all thought it was fantastic and during the service she was also surrounded by some of her favourite paintings. We wanted a highly individual touch for our parents' funerals and we were really pleased with the way they turned out."

The casket was supplied by established Kiwi company Dying Art, whose coffins are personalised by transferring selected images on to a vinyl sticker that is "shrink-wrapped" on to the casket. Popular ranges include animals, flowers and treasured family photographs.

Demand is such that a Sydney-based firm offering a highly unusual collection of coffins will soon start up in New Zealand.

The LifeArt company's range includes caskets with the silver fern, the New Zealand flag and the Warriors rugby league team crest. Customers can have any images they like printed on to the caskets, made from an eco-friendly product called enviroboard.

"There has been enough demand for our coffins from New Zealand to justify a more direct move into the market," LifeArt operations boss Craig Morrison said.

"People are less religious than they used to be.

"They want to be more involved in the planning of family funerals and we are happy to provide them with what they want."

Morrison said his favourite order was from a fitness fanatic in Australia who ordered a plain coffin with the words "All things considered, I'd rather be running" emblazoned on it.


About 28,000 people die here every year and the Funeral Directors Association has valued the funeral market at $225 million.

The association's vice-president, Gavin Murphy, said: "Traditional funerals are still very much the norm but boutique coffin-makers are certainly becoming more popular as people see what can be done with new technology."