At cabinet-making school, Queenstown furniture designer Ed Cruikshank said his goal was to open a design studio in a ski resort. He explains to Philip Chandler how he got there, and plugs his new book
Queenstowner Ed Cruikshank left one of the best furniture design jobs in London, “everyone thought I was mad”, he says.
That included his employer, British royal David Linley, son of the Queen’s late sister Princess Margaret, who jokingly gave him a boomerang.
Queenstown, however, has been the making of the English-born 52-year-old, and now a lavishly-illustrated book, The Furniture of Ed Cruikshank, has been published with a foreword by the former Viscount Linley, now Earl of Snowdon.
Cruikshank first discovered Queenstown on a day trip after visiting Auckland for the launch of a yacht whose interior design he’d done for a Linley client.
“I remember sitting on the wharf, having a coffee, looking up at the Remarkables.
“I just had that feeling, this place is going to play some part in my life.”
Back in London, he hooked up by email with a former skiing buddy, Tonya, who’d taken a break from her doctor’s job at an English hospital to move to Sydney.
“We decided to catch up in Hong Kong, because it was in the middle, [we] had a date, and the rest is history.”
After quitting his job and spending about a year in Australia with Tonya, the couple decided to spend a ski season in Queenstown, where Tonya took a skifield doctor’s job.
“I just bummed around.”
Having not worked for about a year, and despite thinking there’d be no design work “in a tiny ski town in the middle of nowhere”, he found there was potential to renew his career.
“Before I knew it, I had a handful of customers, and then [my business] got bigger and bigger.”
For 10 years he operated a studio in Arrowtown’s main street while taking on more and more commissions.
An interesting early client was art dealer David Teplitzky, whom he ended up designing a whole house and adjacent art gallery for, at Arthurs Point.
“That led to all sorts of other things,” he says.
His biggest commission, about 10 years ago, was assembling about 2000 pieces of furniture, from 34 designs, for the developer of Queenstown’s The Rees Hotel, Lindsay Singleton.
“His whole intention was the hotel would last a long time and that everything he put in it would last a long time.
“Most hotels change their furniture out every three to five years, but as they’re well made, there’s no reason those pieces won’t carry on for another 100 years.”
Another highlight was organising an art auction after the disastrous 2011 Christchurch earthquake, which raised about $100,000 for the relief appeal.
“If you’re a furniture designer, you can’t exactly jump in a car and design furniture for people there, so I thought I’ll build something and sell it to raise money.
“I mentioned it to a few people and before I knew it, within one week I had 25 amazing pieces of art.”
One of his more recent commissions was six pieces for luxury retailer Louis Vuitton’s new Queenstown Bay store – including two display tables made from 40,000-year-old kauri wood.
“That’s what’s incredible about Queenstown – if you were anywhere else in the world, you wouldn’t get a look-in with Louis Vuitton unless you were a celebrity designer.”
Cruikshank recently set up shop in a room in Queenstown’s oldest house, Williams Cottage, after earlier closing his Arrowtown store and retreating to his Dalefield home studio.
“I’ve got a real affinity with the place,” he says.
“In London, I was often designing new pieces for very old houses and buildings.
“Some of my more traditional customers say, ‘your pieces are a bit too modern’, and I say, ‘no, no, I design them so that they will sit anywhere’, so having this space allows me to show that it does work.”
His book’s co-created with Kingston photographer/publisher Patrick Dodson and Glenorchy writer Leslie Van Gelder.
“It’s been a two-and-a-half year project, but it’s really been worth it – it’s been fascinating really digging down into what you do, and why you do it.”
He says the book illustrates about 10 per cent of the pieces he’s created over the past 12 years, several photographed for the first time.