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Bryony Puketapu and Woody Hay live in a cute two-storey home in Brooklyn. Upstairs is a curated collection of curios, antiques and handmade creations. Downstairs are boxes full of “treasures”. Francesca Emms visited these self-confessed hoarders.
Bryony and her husband Woody sit in their sunny, open plan living-dining-kitchen area. Floyd, a six-year-old French bulldog, is napping (and snoring quite loudly) under a tapestry depicting himself. A two-year-old human, Hendry, is also napping. He’s in his little toddler bed with sheets and duvet made by his mum, snuggled up with Marvin the monkey and Billy Pig Pig. The door to Bryony and Woody’s bedroom is open, affording a flash of hot pink down the hinge stile and a peek at a metal bed frame (an auction find of Bryony’s). The two bedrooms and bathroom are on the same level as the large living area. Off to the side is a steep staircase leading down to a “rabbit warren” of storage rooms and a guest bedroom.
Since moving into their Brooklyn home three years ago Bryony and Woody have done some superficial work on it, though they originally planned more. “We had a full kitchen drawn up, ready to go and then all of a sudden − Hendry. So that put a little bit of a spanner in the works,” says Woody. The bank on the western side of the property had been used as a dumping ground, so they’ve cleared away all the rubbish and planted native trees and shrubs. They’re looking forward to having some privacy from the road once it all grows a bit higher. There are a number of potted plants inside the house. Bryony gives them names: “If they have a name, they’ve got direction, they can grow.” Mortimer the monstera hangs out by the front door; apparently he’s pretty chill. But the peace lilies, Lilly Wane and Lilith Crane, are quite competitive – “they have flower-offs.” There’s a staghorn fern called Bambi in their bedroom, and an unnamed snake plant. “I’m not that keen on him, that’s probably why I haven’t named him. He creeps me out, that one.”
All the flat surfaces have something precious on them; a bear-shaped tobacco jar, an oosik (walrus penis), a row of Crown Lynn, Woody’s granddad’s binoculars from World War II. “I could never live in a modern, minimalist, white home because I like things, I like clutter,” says Bryony. The items on display are only a fraction of the couple’s collection. Downstairs there’s “literally boxes and boxes” of storage. “We’re an episode of Hoarders waiting to be filmed,” laughs Bryony. “It’s cool because you forget what you have and then you pull out a box later on – you start unpacking and all of the sudden it’s like, oh look at these tiny little ceramic things that no one else would care about, but we do.”
A lot of the items have come to the couple via Woody’s parents, who used to own auction rooms in Nelson. While other kids were getting Play Stations, Woody was given antiques for his birthdays and Christmas. “Which back then was kind of lame, but in retrospect, it’s awesome.” Bryony has always obsessed over “old things” so marrying the son of antique dealers is “kind of perfect.” Woody says his mum, Di, has found an outlet in Bryony: “a kindred spirit to, you know, basically offload a whole bunch of random weird things onto.”
Everything they haven’t bought brand new has a story, “which is partly why we can’t let stuff go,” says Bryony, “We’re stupidly nostalgic about it.” Woody’s mum records notes about an item and sticks them to the back. On the wall by the front door hangs a painting of Woody’s great-grandfather. “So that’s Hendry’s great-great-grandfather and his name is Hendry,” Woody says, and he takes it off the wall to reveal a note saying it was painted on a footpath in Venice in 1918.There’s also a hand written message, dated 2000. “That’s my dad’s writing on it: ‘Di says my eyebrows look like this when I’m pissed.’ And to be honest, Mum nailed it, they did look like that.”
Bryony is Te Atiawa, and grew up in Waiwhetu, on the marae. She points out the two kete above their bed, both made by her grandfather, John Puketapu. “That’s a family weave, so only our extended family does that particular style.” One was made for Bryony’s grandmother 30-odd years ago. The other was a 21st present. “My granddad, he was known for making hīnaki nets, which are eeling and crayfish pots. He was one of the only people left who knew how to make these particular things. When I was in high school he traveled the world quite a bit with Te Papa, sharing his skill. The family is known for weaving. A bit of carving as well, but mostly it’s our weaving work.” Also hanging by the bed is a ceramic mask made by her aunty, Christine Fagan (or Aunty Teene). “She hates it, but I love it. She’s like, ‘Why would you have that in your room? It’s creepy!’ I think he’s awesome. I like that he’s dramatic. He’s the god of wind, Tāwhirimātea. So his lips are blowing and the flax is meant to look like his hair is being blown in the wind as well.”
Bryony has definitely picked up the artistic genes. She’s been upholstering for about seven years and has reupholstered the cream couch in the living room, the armchair in Hendry’s room and a stunning deep blue, velvet footstool. “I’ve got a mentor that I work with, Lloyd McIntyre. I go and see him regularly, and hang out with him, and learn all his secrets.” While she was pregnant she couldn’t do much due to complications, so picked up crocheting. “That became an obsession for a while. Mostly baby-related paraphernalia like blankets and beanies.”
Hendry’s playhouse, which sits in the corner (“It’s Inception, house within a house,” jokes Woody), was a kitset Bryony put together and added to over time. “I got a bit carried away probably. But also I’d say, it’s a prototype – if we ever paint our house, maybe we’ll paint it these colors.” The hanging doorbell, with frog atop, is from Woody’s parents. Bryony made the dining table from floor boards that came out of Kings College in Auckland. “I randomly found an auction on Trade Me for their flooring.” She also made the cushions and squab on the Edwardian wooden church pew that runs along the wall – another gift from Woody’s parents. “Look how it’s all chewed by someone’s dog. Don’t know the dog, don’t know the story, but I like that it has that history.”
Bryony is currently learning how to make tivaevae. Aunty Teene is teaching her. “It’s all done by hand. It’s cut out by hand and then stitched on using traditional techniques. They say because the women do it together and usually gift it to someone then it’s all made by love,” says Bryony, pointing to a quilt in progress. “My grandmother was Rarotongan. Her favorite flower was a Tiare Maori, and that’s what this flower is.” She’s also making a solar-system-themed quilt for Hendry. The planets are done and now she’s doing the tiny gold stars. “Apparently, it’s called appliqué. I didn’t know this when I was starting. I had no idea at what I was doing!”
Bryony keeps all her crafting supplied and projects downstairs, and we have to peek into a few boxes and cupboards while we’re down there. We find a very old tape measure, a mini harmonica, a smoking monkey, antique chairs, pottery and art and… “Doing this interview, it’s kind of like we’re 80,” Woody says as he pulls out a vintage tricycle. “Can you imagine when we’re 80?” laughs Bryony, “Poor Henry’s going to be like, ‘Oh, God, my parents have died and I’ve gotta go clean out their stuff. What the hell was wrong with them?’”