Life as a hunter

By Kelly Henderson
Photographed by George Bowler

Featured in Capital #13
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“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure;” these words come to life in George Bowler’s Miramar home. Adorning each room with collectables and antique fair finds, he’s used what others saw as junk to create a very special mid-century design for his home.

“I’ve always been drawn to mid-century design, particularly that from New Zealand–partly due to my beer budget, but mainly because it’s a little bit trashy,” explains George, who at time of publication was manager of WORLD Beauty on Victoria Street. George has since recently returned to Wellington after a period in Sydney as a fragrance expert for Louis Vuitton.

“Don Sofas and Formica cocktail cabinets have always held more appeal to me, over Eames Chairs and teak Danish sideboards.”

Mid-century design is the term used to describe furniture, interior design, graphic design and architecture from the mid-20th century (around 1933 -1965). George traces his fondness for this kind of styling right back to his grandparent’s Waikanae bach.

“The bach had remained relatively unchanged since it was built in the 60s, with faded gold carpet, plastic wicker bar stools, pictures of the Pope and Wombles wallpaper in the downstairs toilet,” he remembers. “The master bed had a candlewick bedspread, and next to it was an old rum bottle in the shape of a nude lady reclining against a palm tree. My grandfather had converted it into a lamp and I thought it was the best thing ever.”

The time spent at the bach clearly left its mark and George has been creating his own mid-century interiors ever since.

“It made a lasting impression, as you can see in my home’s ‘everyman’ aesthetic, which I like for its accessibility, inclusivity and familiarity,” he says.

Discovering his eye for design at a young age meant that George began accumulating bits and bobs early on. He remembers tagging along to antique fairs at the former Overseas Terminal (now the newly completed Clyde Wharf apartments) with his parents. 

“Art Deco was my thing back then and I’d spend whatever pocket money I had on Depression Glassware and Bakelite,” he says.

When George moved out of home and went flatting in 1997 his penchant for mid-century design continued to grow, spurred on by the convenient location of his first flat, a rundown Victorian apartment on Cuba Street. His bedroom window looked directly across the street and into Simon Manchester’s second hand store, Trash Palace. The store, which George describes as “resplendent in its garishness,” was filled with all sorts of “trash” that was perfect for decorating his new abode. the best part? It was all within the beer budget.

“Although mid-century design was gaining in popularity at the time – the recently re-opened Matterhorn celebrated its 1960s vintage – most people saw it as tasteless junk, meaning that it was still incredibly cheap to buy,” George says.

And so he set about turning his new room into a “seedy motel unit,” including Lynch ladies, Gaylite lamps and a drinks trolley.

George recalls the day he purchased the room’s “crowning glory” from Trash Palace: a three-piece veneer and white vinyl bedroom suite, complete with bedside lights. He enlisted store owner Simon Manchester to help him carry it across Cuba Street and up the “near vertical” fire escape to his flat.

“Most of the swear words I know I learnt from him on that day,” says George.

Eventually George headed off to Auckland where he lived for seven years. It was upon his return to Wellington in 2011 that he began looking to purchase his first home.

He was looking for a 1960s style apartment close to the city, but when he came across this Miramar property with its stunning views and grand garden, he decided the suburban life was for him.

“Mostly thanks to the film industry, Miramar had turned from a sleepy suburb into a vibrant community, with local cafés, restaurants and even its own cinema,” he says. “Plus, it has the only supermarket I know where they check your eggs for you and help old ladies to their cars on windy days.”

The location got the nod, and so did the house itself. The previous owners had retained a lot of the property’s original character, from the kitchen cupboards and fixtures, to the doors, hardware and joinery. They had also opened up the kitchen, created an earthy interior colour palette and developed a beautiful native garden. George did some extra renovation work before he moved in, polishing the matai floors and adding mid-century light fittings throughout the house. And he’s not finished yet.

“I have big plans for the bathroom involving pegboard and hospital-grade linoleum,” he explains. “All I need now is a 1960s bathroom suite to incorporate into the design.”

Most of the furniture has come from George’s years of collecting, however he does have a couple of newer pieces as well. His 1940’s lounge suite was on its last legs and was too large for the compact space, so he had Eleanor Steel of ES Design source the New Zealand made Don sofa and wingback chairs.

“She then helped me select fabrics and had them restored to their full mahogany glory,” he says.

With a home so full of interesting pieces (that come with equally interesting back stories) it is hard to choose favourites. For George though, some of his most treasured possessions are the artworks that friends have done for him.

“Above my cocktail cabinet hangs ‘Lola’ a pastel by Melbourne based artist Kelly Thompson,” he begins. “Facing her is ‘Otso’, an oil of a bear in a Swandri by Auckland artist Ross Hamilton. Above my bed (to reinforce the seedy motel aesthetic) is a cross-stitch by Angela Myer-Blacksmith entitled ‘Are You Disrespecting Me Slag?’”

For George, it’s the small luxuries like being able to hang these paintings wherever he pleases, that make living in his “very own bachelor pad” so enjoyable.

“I love being able to hang my own pictures and rearrange the lounge to my heart’s content—just because I can.


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