canterbury’s own lifestyle magazine / a great local read

Inspiration can strike in the most unlikely of places. At least, this has been true for Georgie Kirkcaldie Inglis, who found treasure not so long ago on a back street in Java, Indonesia.

We are sitting at a booth at El Fogón Grill, Little High Eatery. The treasure Georgie found that day is fixed to the wall beside us: an ancient pair of weathered-looking doors, paint stripped by time to reveal layers of peeling burgundy maroon, pink, blue and grey.

“They were stacked at the back of this little shop, with a dirt floor, no lights or shop assistant,” Georgie recalls. “Finding them was a really big turning point – everything came from those doors, including furniture and bathroom colours.”

For example, the mustard colour of our leather booth seating was chosen to complement the doors. Their colours are echoed in the bases of decorative bird cages hanging at the booth’s end. The tasteful finish for the wall beside us came from an image she found called Pompeii Market, reinterpreted by interiors artist Brendan Ryan.

Opposite Thai Street Kitchen, just around from our booth, is an artfully detailed brick wall matched with a long row of blue leather seating and lit with distinctive hanging brass fittings.

“I found those in Java too, near the shop with the doors. They were really different – to me, they look a little Moroccan – and I knew they would suit the international feel of this place.”

Each little area here has its own distinctive style, linked to the whole through colour. “I worked in a very collaborative way with the developers where we didn’t want it to be uniform looking. To create atmosphere, we needed it be eclectic and authentic.”

Georgie’s inspired and detailed interior design work at Christchurch’s Little High Eatery has not gone unnoticed. Last year, it won Best Newcomer Food and Beverage in Hospitality New Zealand’s Awards for Excellence and it also gave her design practice a place as a hospitality finalist in the New Zealand Best Design Awards. It is also achieving what all good design should strive for – it just works so well. While we chat in our booth and the clock ticks round to midday, it is amazing to see how this popular eatery fills up. Even when there’s barely an empty seat left, the vibe remains cheerfully relaxed.

“We wanted it to be inviting, warm and interesting. You can sit in the thick of it or you can find your own little nook. We also wanted good acoustics so if there are 180 people here you can still hear what everyone opposite you is saying. I think that helps explains the breadth of life here, with people aged in their 60s and 70s through to teens.”

Considering she only launched Kirkcaldie Interiors two years ago, Georgie’s sureness of eye and taste seems nothing short of miraculous until we begin to chat about her extraordinary life and career that preceded this latest venture.

Georgie grew up on a farm in Mangamahu Valley near Whanganui and later, after her family had moved to Taupo, she attended boarding school at Whanganui Girls’ College. She says there is no shortage of inventiveness and creativity in her family. Her father designed yachts while her mother once danced solo as a ballerina with the Western Australia Dance Company. In the wider family, there are interior designers, graphic designers, artists and advertising executives.

“I’ve always loved clothing – that came well before my interest in design. Mum was a good sewer and I could sew too and chose what I would wear from a young age.”

At college, Georgie could not imagine being able to make a career from sewing so instead enrolled at the University of Otago, where she completed a degree in consumer and applied science. Lab work never particularly appealed to her though, so after graduation she took up a sales career culminating in her mid-20s with a national sales role with New Zealand Dairy Foods.

Around this time, Georgie met her husband-to-be, Kris Inglis. Both wanted to travel, so six months was spent backpacking in South America before they headed to Hong Kong in search of work. They landed, with their backpacks and little money, and Hong Kong still reeling from the 1998 Asian financial crisis. It took them nearly three months to find employment. Georgie eventually got a job looking after a portfolio of New Zealand exporters, which then evolved into a trade commissioner role.

After that, she moved to a sales and marketing research role for a start-up venture seeking to develop pine nut exports from Outer Mongolia. Once the business plan was finished, Georgie went to Mongolia to help get the venture up and running.

“It was an experience like no other. It would be a book in itself! No-one spoke English so we had a translator as we went around trying to set up these little factories. The idea was that we were going to create jobs for people.”

After eight weeks, though, following the breakdown of a negotiated tax deal, the venture was reluctantly shut down.

“So I came back to Hong Kong with eight weeks to go until Christmas and I was thinking about what I was going to do next. Some of my girlfriends were making baby blankets so I said let’s look at selling some of them at fairs leading up to Christmas.”

Georgie dusted off her sewing machine, made some cushions and put together some fashion clothing.

“I found clothing wholesalers and put some of my clothes on the rack, with a view to taking orders if people liked them … I sold two baby blankets, no cushions but I turned $10,000 into $80,000 through taking orders for clothes!”

This was the start of her fashion label, Zeaki, which became very popular with the expat community in Hong Kong and served as a manufacturer and wholesaler for Christchurch-based Soeur Design, (co-founded by her mother-in-law).

After 12 eventful years in Hong Kong, Georgie and Kris, along with their three children, decided to return to New Zealand in 2013. Their children – Jonty, 13, Lucia, 10 and Max, 8 – are now well-settled in Christchurch. Georgie continued to operate the clothing venture for another three years but says trying to do so remotely became too hard in the end.

On returning to New Zealand, Georgie, Kris and family swapped their Hong Kong apartment for a suburban bungalow in Christchurch. Georgie has transformed their 1920s Heathcote Helmore home, where her impeccable instinct for colour, art and form is obvious at every turn.

Kirkcaldie naturally evolved as the next step for her. While in Hong Kong, Georgie had become interested in the 5000-year-old practice of Feng Shui and did a number of courses with Feng Shui master and teacher Raymond Lo. While this is not something she formally incorporates into her interior design work, it does inform her thinking on spaces. This thinking has been honed too through her completion of a Diploma of Interior Design with the New Zealand Design Institute.

Not long after launching Kirkcaldie in 2016, Georgie got her first commercial interior design job.

“I was lucky enough to be engaged by Christchurch property investor Richard Peebles to do three lobbies, stairwells and bathrooms in his commercial buildings. One of these was a lovely Art Deco building, [West Avon]. It was such a lucky break.”

The high standard of her work for Richard led to Little High Eatery’s interior design, with Richard also one of the investors for that development alongside Mike Percasky and Georgie’s husband Kris.

Her latest project is the interior design for the Club House at Christchurch’s Lady Wigram Retirement Village. The Club House is a centrepiece facility, boasting a restaurant, bar billiard room, movie theatre, hairdresser and library.

At the time of our interview, Georgie was a finalist in the 2018 Dulux Colour Awards for her gorgeous work at the Club House and was excited at the prospect of attending the awards dinner in Melbourne.

“It’s a pretty big deal. They received a record breaking number of entries and I’m one of only 15 finalists from New Zealand!”

Next up, Georgie will be turning her talents to the Riverside Farmers’ Market. Construction of this large-scale development, bordered by Cashel and Lichfield Streets and Oxford Terrace, started in March and is due to take a year to build.

Two years at the helm of Kirkcaldie has been the steepest of learning curves for Georgie, who admits to having had her share of sleepless nights.

“Yet the more you do, the more confident you become. Hong Kong was an exciting place but I find Christchurch equally exciting because there’s so much going on. It’s a really cool city.”

[ WORDS Kim Newth, IMAGES Lucy Hunter-Weston ]