For a cool Wellington family, work is an extension of home.
Working where we live is a concept many of us have had to get used to over the past few years.
But it’s second nature to Wellington hairdressers Sophia and Teal Mau, who’ve spent 14 years living behind their salon. The first place was in Boulcott Street, on the fringes of the capital’s CBD, where they turned a former office building into a boutique hairdressing salon in the front and a two-bedroom apartment with an interior courtyard to the rear.
Then, after 14 years of inner-city living, the couple and their daughter Lola, now 10, longed for a lawn and vege garden, so they decamped to an Eastbourne villa, which they then renovated over three years.
And that could well have been the end of their housing story. But Teal, who also works as a real estate agent, has an eye for property, and when a 200sqm space in the heart of Wellington came up for sale in 2017, they jumped at it.
“We loved living in a house but missed the buzz of the city,” adds Sophia, who has worked alongside her husband in their various ventures for 23 years.
“I’m always on the lookout for the next thing,” admits Teal, who came to New Zealand in 1977 as a Cambodian refugee, and stepped into the public spotlight in 2017 when he and Sophia appeared on TVNZ cooking programme My Kitchen Rules. They placed third overall, winning over judges with delicious Cambodian food based on Teal’s mother’s recipes.
When Teal spotted this compact space, it was in a less than ideal condition. “It had been a computer shop for years, and before that we think it was a furniture shop,” he says. “No one had ever lived here.” They could, however, see beyond the office-style interior and the lack of earthquake strengthening, both of which could be fixed. What appealed were the high ceilings, the warm interior and the location, across the road from Te Papa and a stone’s throw from Wellington’s waterfront.
Built in 1907 as a warehouse, the space also boasted thick brick walls, which meant that even though it was close to Courtenay Place’s party zone and tucked next to a busy restaurant, noise was kept to a minimum.
The couple signed on the dotted line in late 2017 and immediately moved into construction mode. The bulk of the work involved earthquake strengthening, which took around six months, and then they ripped into making the space their own.
“We had three weeks to get it done because we needed to get the salon open,” says Teal, who has owned five Wellington salons at various times.
The biggest challenge was opening up the space and removing several walls to create a workplace with two chairs, a basin and shelving for haircare products.
They then added a wall to separate their living quarters from the salon and carved out two bedrooms and a living room. Their builder, Junior Teau, constructed the wall from marine ply, adding detailing to the wood to provide texture.
It made financial sense to keep the kitchen where it was and renovate it, and this now serves as both the family’s kitchen and a refreshment centre for clients.
The couple also retained the original bathroom, adding a black claw-foot bath that Sophia bought from Plumbline. “It’s so heavy it took six men to carry it in,” she says.
Daughter Lola’s room is in the front, and behind that is the main bedroom. The couple decided to forgo built-in wardrobes in favour of contemporary open rack and shelving systems, which they bought from Nood.
The bulk of the remaining furniture and fittings have followed the family from previous homes. That includes a retro lamp that Teal found in a vintage shop years ago. “They told me it wasn’t for sale but I kept going back until finally they sold it to me.”
This is a couple who know and like good art, and they’ve filled their apartment with a carefully curated selection of works. An oil painting in the living room, for example, is by artist Elizabeth Janse and was bought at auction by Teal when he lived in Sydneynin the 1990s. One of the most striking artworks is a large photo of the couple in the dining room, above an extendable table from Nood.
Another of many artistic talking points is a striped black and white mural that adorns the entrance’s curved wall. Dutch artist Jan van der Ploeg, who has since returned to Amsterdam, spent several painstaking days on site completing it.
The marine ply walls in the salon create the perfect blank canvas for a collection of classic mid-century prints by Vladimir Tretchikoff, which are enjoyed by both the family and clients.
Patterned wallpaper from Resene provides a counterpoint to the ply walls, and a soft-as-butter vintage tan leather sofa came from Teal’s lawyer’s office. “I always said to my lawyer that if they were ever redecorating, I would love to have the sofa that was in their reception area,” Teal says. “As luck would have it, a few years later my lawyer called me and said they were getting rid of it and did I want it?”
Although they’re happy with their renovated home and workspace, this enterprising couple say it might not be their forever home.
“We’re always on the lookout for the next thing, so watch this space,” says Teal, laughing.
Teal and Sophia’s tips for working at home
We’ve done this for almost two decades now and our key learning is to have a disciplined routine every day.
Having a well-balanced schedule is also important, so we have work time and family time. Once we close the salon doors at night, it’s family time.
We also love to surround ourselves with beautiful and nostalgic things. Clients are often inspired and reminded of their childhood while they’re in the salon.