The creative commune giving lofty living a go

By Karen Shead
Photographed by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #25
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The loft where Ian Hammond and his flatmates live in central Wellington could be one of the last of its kind.

It isn’t a swanky penthouse in a modern new-build, but it has views of the harbour, is close to the city centre, and has bags of character, which is perfect for its current inhabitants – six flatmates who all work in creative industries.

“This is one of the surviving loft spaces,” says Ian. “I don’t think you would find anything else like this in the city.”

With its great location – it’s in Wakefield Street opposite the New World supermarket – affordable rent, and welcoming living space, it suits the group of mostly late twenty-somethings to a tee.

It is a creative urban hub, a long-running flat that has generated many a party tale and many an urban myth. The flat’s history includes rooftop terrace parties and craft nights that were only a little bit competitive, says a former flatmate.

Ian is the longest-standing flat-mate. Originally from Raumati, he moved to Wellington ten years ago. As a design graduate from Toi Whakaari, he moved into the flat five years ago.

“My flatmates have changed over that time. People have come and gone, but that’s the way in Wellington – it is a really transient place. I’ve been collecting my friends along the way.”

Other current occupants include Chris Ulutupu, Emma Ransley, Daniel Whittaker, Jayne Paterson O’Connell and Meg Rollandi.

“Ian has paved the way,” says Emma. “The group is settling now, we’ve all been here for at least a year.”

The flat has a large living space, a small but functional kitchen, and five bedrooms off a corridor at the back of the living area. Couple Emma and Dan share a room, and have recently built in a mezzanine to give them more space. “We’ve done a lot to the place,” says Ian.

Some of the rooms are quite small (Ian believes that part of his bedroom used to be a lift shaft), but the flatmates spend most of their waking, non-working, hours in the open-plan living area, which has the typical loft apartment feel.

Thanks to three large windows at the front of the building, it is light and airy. It has wooden floorboards, painted brick walls and a high ceiling with exposed A-frame rafters.

The living area serves as a lounge, dining room and place for them all to work. It has eclectic furniture and a quirky, retro feel. Even with six people living there, it does not feel at all cluttered.

Ian and Emma made the coffee table from an old pallet they found on the doorstep. Another wooden table, currently serving as a desk for two people, was designed and made by Emma and Dan who are establishing their own furniture company, The River.

“The table will be part of our first collection, which we’ll launch in November,” says Emma, “it’s the prototype so it won’t stay here in the flat.” Emma studied business and design and Dan has been a builder, so it’s a perfect collaboration.

“It speaks to our ethos,” says Emma. “We don’t just work on one thing. We have our jobs which sustain us, but do lots of other creative things as well.” At the end of the large dining table, which is complemented by mismatched seventies chairs, there is a blackboard wall, which can be used to paint murals when the inspiration strikes. “We went through a phase of having a different mural a week, but haven’t used it so much recently,” Ian says.

All of the flatmates work in the same industry, but in different areas. Jayne is an account manager for Springload web design; Chris is completing his master’s in fine arts at Massey; Meg is an artist and designer; Emma is a design tutor at Toi Whakaari. Daniel, who is studying early childhood education, is also a musician – he’s a member of local band Glass Vaults – and a furniture designer.

Ian, who has built up quite a CV in performance design in the capital, including working as the audio-visual designer for the wearable art show, now plans to move into web design and is studying for a post-graduate diploma in graphic design at Yoobee while working part-time at TradeMe.

“One of the bonuses of working with people in the same area is that we all understand the industry and can help each other out,” says Ian. “There is always something interesting going on here.”

It has been known for all of them to come together to help out a flatmate on a project, and impromptu gig nights have also happened when Glass Vaults have needed somewhere to practice.

And, of course, it is an ideal space for parties. “We like to have themed parties and take the decoration quite seriously,” says Ian. He and Emma reel off a list of themes they have used, including a Doppelganger party, a British theme, cross-dressing, and Ian’s favourite, his dinosaur birthday party. “There were some amazing costumes,” he says.

Now that Ian is tiptoeing into his thirties, he says that people ask him when he is going to move out and live on his own. “I love living here, it’s great. I like being surrounded by other creative types – it inspires me. I’d be very sad to leave this flat.”

And when you live in a place which makes you feel good, with people who inspire you, and is a two-minute walk to Wellington’s waterfront, really, why would you?


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