Lifestyle

Making the old new in a house once owned by the Sultan of Brunei


Wistle + Co founder Gwenda Reece started out in fashion. After her big OE in London, she founded a fashion design and manufacturing company back at home, and through working with textiles and creating beautiful things “fell into decor and rescuing furniture”. Now she runs the Auckland store offering an eclectic mixture of vintage and new pieces, for folks with discerning tastes.

GWENDA REECE: From my very early childhood, I always liked vintage things, or things that were a little old fashioned.

I love hydrangeas and roses, sterling silver and beautiful glass and ceramics. So I’ve always had an interest in beautiful things rather than just decor or fashion.

Gwenda Reece says her personal style is “quite contemporary, but with a respect for older things”.

LAWRENCE SMITH

Gwenda Reece says her personal style is “quite contemporary, but with a respect for older things”.

I sold the fashion company about six years ago, and I renovated an old character home in Raglan as a “builder’s labourer” for a couple of years. It was great fun. We thought it was just doing a six-month project to get it all done, it took us 18 months to bring it back to life. Now, it’s really beautiful.

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During the last lockdown I thought, ‘I’ve got one more chapter in me, what am I going to do?’. That’s when the idea of Wistle + Co was born, a combination of new beautiful things, and old things brought back to life, and upcycled.

I’ve always done this. In my home I’ve got a couple of chairs that I purchased when I first came back from London, about 25 years ago. They’ve both been reupholstered twice, rather than buying new things. They’re comfortable and have history.

“I've always had an interest in beautiful things rather than just decor or fashion," says Reece.

LAWRENCE SMITH

“I’ve always had an interest in beautiful things rather than just decor or fashion,” says Reece.

I’m about buying pieces, rather than buying lots of things. I only buy new things that I love, that I know are quality, that feel nice, and use natural materials.

I do take my hand to most things. With the Raglan reno in particular, because I had time, I dug the piles and I put the Gib up, and I painted the walls.

But I also use experts when a good job needs to be done. For example, I wouldn’t re-upholster a chair myself, I would get a professional to do a beautiful job, so it’s respectfully done. Then it does last, and it’s the best version of itself.

Reece's gardens are quite formal, with hydrangeas, gardenias and hedging - she finds them calming.

LAWRENCE SMITH

Reece’s gardens are quite formal, with hydrangeas, gardenias and hedging – she finds them calming.

I would say my personal style is quite contemporary, but with a respect for older things. I am a busy person and I have a very busy head, so I like a sense of calm around me. Less is more in a way.

I like velvet. I like luxurious, tactile fabrics. I have some cushions in my house that have vintage prints. I like vintage books. I like plants and I like texture.

I’ve got lots of really beautiful pieces of art in my home, and I think every occasion is an occasion to buy art: change, lockdown, you name it.

Reece supports artists via her store, Wistle + Co.

LAWRENCE SMITH

Reece supports artists via her store, Wistle + Co.

Every occasion is an occasion to buy art, says Gwenda Reece.

LAWRENCE SMITH

Every occasion is an occasion to buy art, says Gwenda Reece.

In the store we support a couple of artists: Marika Jones, who does a really great job of painting old Kiwi topics in a really useful way; Rachel Foster, fun, quirky and bright and quite cheeky. Really nice Kiwiana. There’s one called Pure New Zealand Honey that’s so beautiful.

I think texture can replace bright colour, so if you want things to be calming, yet 3D-ish, texture allows it.

So a good example is having a cream sofa, and then you have a velvet cushion, or you might have a sheepskin, and it may be all tonal. There’s still interest, so it’s calming, but it stimulates you, it’s pleasing.

Gwenda Reece likes to bring different textures into her decor.

LAWRENCE SMITH

Gwenda Reece likes to bring different textures into her decor.

With having a really busy lifestyle, working in the store, which is my second home, my first home is a very lock-up-and-leave-space. It’s very easy to live in.

The gardens are quite formal, it has hydrangeas, gardenias and hedging. It’s very calming.

Last year, my husband bought me a record player, so we play vinyl all the time. I think that people are spending a lot more time at home. Now we’ve got this gorgeous drinks trolley, from Wistle, with whiskies and [other cocktail items]. Home is playful and fun, but also nice and calm.

Reece has a drinks trolly set up with whiskies, and has always loved vintage glass and ceramics.

LAWRENCE SMITH

Reece has a drinks trolly set up with whiskies, and has always loved vintage glass and ceramics.

We’ve lived here nine years. It’s a townhouse – actually it was one of the servant’s quarters when the Sultan of Brunei owned the big house across the street. My house was where all the cooks used to live. But it’s not really like a servant’s apartment.

The sultan never came to New Zealand. He owned all of this, had it all set up, but he never came and ended up selling it.

The home was once owned by the Sultan of Brunei for his servants - but it doesn't feel like servants' quarters.

LAWRENCE SMITH

The home was once owned by the Sultan of Brunei for his servants – but it doesn’t feel like servants’ quarters.

The house is where all the cooks used to live.

LAWRENCE SMITH

The house is where all the cooks used to live.

We love our community here in Herne Bay. We eat locally, there’s a great wine store, there are great little bars. We very much live in our village – I live in Kingsland village [where the store is] by day and I live in Herne Bay village by night. That’s just the way I like to live. We don’t really venture that far away.

I think the days of consumerism, of just continuing to consume, have gone, and that people don’t mind buying things that have had another life. I think that they really appreciate that, I certainly do.

Take the beautiful pieces that Granny gave you and mix them with the comfortable quality pieces of today, and then layer them with texture, plants, New Zealand sheepskin, all of those sorts of things.

People are very excited by that idea.



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