Show & Tell with NZ Interior Designers Material Creative

Can you imagine going into business with a good mate, doing the creative work that you love, and becoming rather in-demand and recognised by your contemporaries for it? ehmergerd, I am quite jealous of Liv Harper and Toni Brandso. 

Tell me the story of how you came to create Material Creative together - how did you get the confidence to make the move? 
We met at Victoria University in Wellington, were we studied together for four years. We went our separate ways after Uni and eventually both ended up moving to Auckland and reconnecting. Liv began working on residential interiors at Leushke Kahn Architects and Toni was at Francis Group Architects, then RCG concentrating on retail design. 

Liv was approached by a friend, one of the owners of The Piha Cafe, to help out with their exciting new project, but then headed overseas and handed it over to Toni, who soon followed, who handed it to Harley Dalton Architects. We both managed to travel the world and return to pick up where we had left off, and complete the interior of the cafe. Neither of us realised at the time that it would turn into such a high profile cafe that would lead us to launch our own company during a recession.

Piha Cafe -  design in the details

What’s the biggest business lesson you’ve learnt over the past few years? 
Relationships are so important and form the back bone of our company. Between us and our clients, suppliers & contractors - we value them all. Oh and also get XERO accounting! It has changed our lives!  

What’s been the highlight of the Material Creative journey so far? 
We won two Red Awards (Retail Design Awards) last year for Marbecks Palmerston North, and Sutcliffe Jewellery which were completely unexpected and exciting. We had never entered a competition before and thought we didn't stand a chance! It was a great feeling, as such a new company (only 2.5 years at that point) to get recognition from our peers.  

Scalloped wooden walls!!
(Marbecks Palmy)

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to people wanting to follow a similar path? 
Dream large! There are many great opportunities in NZ, but starting your own business is a huge commitment so you have to be willing to make some big sacrifices for a while. 

There are lots of romantic notions that having your own company means you can take time off whenever you want to, but just be prepared that your business becomes like a small child, it needs constant nurturing in order for it to grow successfully.   

Curate - at Auckland's Britomart

You've been nominated for a number of awards in the recent past. What do you think has made your work so strong and so well-loved? 
We like to see ourselves as storytellers, looking for every opportunity to create something completely unique for each client. We draw on the inspiration from the project, not current trends, and try to create spaces that are thoughtful, and inspirational.  

Little Nuffield, which won the girls a 2012 Best Award and a Red Award.
Toni & Liv designed not just the space, but the logo and other identity elements too.

What was the last thing each of you saw, did or experienced that got you really creatively inspired?
Toni: I (Toni) just went to Uganda, Africa to build concrete water tanks with The Village Project, for an orphanage, where I met so many amazing people and saw some incredible things! The soil over there is bright red…and when it rains it turns fluro orange! AMAZING! I also went to a traditional Maasai wedding. We drove into the middle of nowhere past giraffes, zebras and ostriches that were on the side of the road, to the most decadent marquee with all the woman all adorned in hundreds of beaded colorful necklaces. It seemed so surreal to be in the middle of nowhere surrounded by such beauty!   

Liv: I recently got married, and was lucky to go on a very inspirational honeymoon! We found ourselves in New York City for a week, where it is hard not to be inspired by all the incredible places around you! We ate our way around the city, from cheap and cheerful holes-in-the-wall to meticulously designed eateries that have been around for years. 

One thing that struck us is that New York is not a city that compromises - the materials, detail and thought that goes into every inch is inspiring, especially the High Line! We then ventured down to Florida, Miami and Key West, where the amalgamation of Art Deco meets Colonialism meets Cuba is something like I've never seen. I was in complete awe, everything is about colour - pastel houses, water colours, gardens - it is just beautiful! 

A corner of the Material Creative studio. 
This image (and the one of Liv & Toni) by Jeremy Toth for Urbis Magazine.

Where would you like to take Material Creative in the future? Any dream projects?
We would LOVE to travel for work and spread the Material Creative love around the world! How about design a Chalet in France? A boutique hotel in New York? A restaurant / bar in London? All of the above!


  1. Oh I loved this article, so informative and lots of swanky pics. Two very clever ladies indeed. Enjoyed!

  2. absolutely gorgeous, super well done, LOVE the article


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