We caught up with Dan Eagle, one half of the husband-and-wife team behind Mr. Bigglesworthy, as the pair celebrate five years in business and launch the New Zealand Modern Collection: a rare and unique collection of early works.
What do you think it is about mid-century design that appeals to so many New Zealanders?
In our complex world there is something enticing about simple, beautifully crafted design that functions really well. Mid-century furniture has a lightness of form and a refined elegance that is very captivating. It also ties into important values like sustainability and a respect for the past.
Tell us about some of your most memorable moments from the past five years.
Our most exciting moments usually involve finding a rare piece of furniture or organising a store event to share our passion for design with other people. Opening our Ponsonby store has been a real highlight as the previous space was about a fifth of the size!
What was the idea behind The New Zealand Modern Collection?
It’s basically the culmination of several years collecting rare and unique local design. We’ve always wanted to showcase some of the great pieces produced here in New Zealand but it’s been difficult to get enough good examples for a dedicated collection. Early this year we managed to get a very rare John Crichton mosaic table from Gisborne and on the drive home we decided the time was finally right.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite pieces from the collection?
The suite of pieces designed by Tibor Donner for the Auckland City Council in 1949 is definitely a highlight. These caused a major scandal when the mayor had them produced. A New Zealand Herald article from 1949 reads “Renovation of Mayoral Office described as ‘a monstrosity’ and ‘something that might have been produced by a member of a tribe in darkest Africa’ by members of the City Council”. They were just a little too ahead of their time for most conservative New Zealanders to appreciate.
Tibor Donner Council Chair, Executive Chair and Council Meeting Table.
What are some of the biggest challenges of collecting rare and unique early local design?
A lot of the early pieces aren’t labelled or signed and there isn’t a lot of reference material so people can often not know that they have a really special item. Another thing that can make it difficult is that a lot of the early pieces can be quite humble and utilitarian so they can be missed if you don’t have a good understanding of the context and history.
How do you know when you’ve found something special?
It’s usually in retrospect when we wish we didn’t sell it! We have a lot of early magazines and reference material so there are a range of early pieces we are specifically looking for. When one of these turns up it’s really exciting. We also love the experimental forms that emerged in the 1950’s when New Zealand designers were interpreting International Style modernism through a lens of local influences and materials.
Where do you see the next five years taking Mr. Bigglesworthy?
At the moment we’re in a reflective stage. It’s been awesome to make it to five years in business and it feels like it’s gone very quickly. Going forward we plan to stay true to our core values, plan more elaborate projects and photo shoots and continue to expand the narrative and awareness of great design, both from here in New Zealand and internationally.