Who made your local cafe look great? Probably George

By John Bristed
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #82.
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George Rose began to show his imagination and his talents way back when. He talks to John Bristed about his many projects.

When he was a teenager he found a piece of guttering which he bent, cut, and hammered into a neat dorsal-fin-shaped triangle. He stuck it on top of an old apple crate, added a bit of hose running from the top of the triangle to a mouthpiece as a snorkel, and painted the lot black. Then with some bootlaces, he attached it to his back, and swam, suitably weighted, round Seatoun Beach with the black fin just sticking out of the water.

People noticed, and somebody called the police. They gave him a good ticking off, but they must have laughed.

It’s 30 years since George Rose completed his first interior design project at Café L’affare. Customers over the years have remarked on the bits of broken ship on the walls, the aeroplane-propeller fans in the ceiling, and the remarkable water fountain. All of them look as though they might be genuine bits from old planes or shipwrecks, or industrial salvage from some 19th-century factory.

George actually dreams these pieces up, then he makes them in his workshop out of wood, old iron, and other materials, and paints them so cleverly that they look convincingly real.

Café L’affare has recently reopened after a “refresh”, and to celebrate the event he’s produced a construction which will stand among the tables. You might not immediately recognise it as a sculpture. Aficionados of Heath Robinson’s drawings will be immediately interested.

L’affare’s CEO, Paul Cockburn, commissioned the piece. George has named it Dark Vueccano as a paean to lost childhood (it might be an abandoned lost toy if it were not two metres tall). He refers to it tenderly as “the Beast”.

The Beast is made out of giant bits that could be oversized homemade Meccano. George has used lumps of steel, bits of brass, wheels, glass, cogwheels, two enormous mocked-up Eveready batteries and vast amounts of clever trickery with paint, lacquer, brass dust, and rust.

He’s made Dark Vueccano look like a complicated and once-useful gadget which has been salvaged and scrubbed up a bit.

But there’s more. This not a Steampunk prop. The sculpture is interactive, it has a use. You can step up to its eyepieces and view images in extremely good stereo on slides taken with some difficulty on an antique Russian “Sputnik” camera which George obtained from Czech Republic.

The Sputnik camera is interesting in that it has three lenses (one for viewing and two for capturing the stereo image). It produces images on medium-format 120-size film, which gives great resolution, and, more to the point, 6cm x 6cm slides, which give a much better picture than the tiny slides of the past.

The photos you can see (George took them with the fancy camera) include images of new and emerging artists who created the artwork on the latest L’affare coffee bags, and people who were involved with the redesign at Wellington’s L’affare. There might even be one of George there.

George’s touch is on show in various ways at a number of Wellington cafes and restaurants. His partner, Rebecca Hardie Boys, makes live ginger beer and sells it to many of them. The labels are beach drawings/cartoons; check the tide to find out if yours is sweet or dry. On the sweet ginger beer label, the tide is in. George drew them.

How did he get to be a man of so many parts? As a young man he was interested in producing films; he couldn’t afford to pay anyone so he had to use his imagination and abilities to design and make his own film sets.

To support his interest he became a cabinetmaker, and was soon making refectory tables for the Windsor Castle Company. Soon he was making tables, chairs, and bars for Wellington restaurants. Eventually, as George Rose Design, he became a restaurant designer. His work is still seen in many eateries and cafes round the city.

He has always delighted in making bespoke statement pieces: his wooden-block floor still stands out at Scopa, up the road Logan Brown has a spectacular “Etruscan” light, and there’s the big bar and mirror at Fratelli’s; there are plenty more.

But he’s done nothing else anything like Café L’affare’s Dark Vueccano slideshow sculpture.


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