When Italian design house Cappellini bought the rights for David Trubridge's piece' 'Body Raft', in 2001, not only did his fortune change but in doing so, he paved the way for fellow designers.

Since then he has entrenched himself in the industry, creating furniture and lighting pieces throughout the world, contributing to notable causes, and mentoring New Zealand's emerging designers.

It seems fitting that nearly two decades after the Milan trade show, the award-winning designer would be made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to design.

But it came as a "complete surprise" for the man himself when he was asked about a month ago.

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"I've never really thought about that. You think of it as more for people in the public sphere, doing stuff, rather than doing your own thing. I mean of course I've done a lot for other people along the way but I never expected that."

While he has been sworn to secrecy before the announcement today , his wife Linda and son, world-renowned freediver William, were let in on it too.

His other son, performance artist Sam, who graduated with his PhD last week, was yet to know at the time of this interview.

"We're on our way down to Wellington now, and I said to Sam, I've got a secret to tell you tomorrow, so we're going to go out and celebrate and I've got something to celebrate as well but he doesn't know what it is yet."

Despite his success, Trubridge, a self-proclaimed "country boy from a small town in New Zealand" has remained true to his passion and calling.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Trubridge trained as a naval architect before teaching himself to make furniture.

He arrived in New Zealand in the mid-1980s after spending five years sailing from the UK with his young family and quickly developed a national reputation for the quality of his designs that were influenced by the nautical techniques and materials he'd come across on his Pacific travels.

In 2002 he initiated the establishment of the Hawke's Bay Design Trust and set up the Cicada Studio's Design Incubator in Hastings to foster and promote New Zealand's emerging designers.

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He has also been on the advisory panel of Auckland University of Technology and also had advisory roles for the Eastern Institute of Technology's design course.