“In this noisy market being ordinary won't do anymore”
Wonder Group puts it’s stamp on Commercial Bay
A Q&A with Buster Caldwell, Creative Director
Wonder is a concept and interior design studio based in Auckland. They create 3D environments for New Zealand brands, working mainly within the retail and hospitality industry but dabble in other areas from time to time.
Their process mixes both art and architecture to deliver character environments with a unique edge. Providing a full-service means we work on pretty much everything from concept creation, master planning, detailed design documentation, building consents, branding and graphics, material selections and fit-out management.
They help businesses find their antidote to the vanilla.
Can you tell us about the projects you were involved in at Commercial Bay Auckland?
Commercial Bay is a new precinct in Auckland that opened in April 2020. It brings together the largest concentration of high quality retail and hospitality to the downtown area. It is made up of over 120 high end retail environments and eateries. Wonder worked on a number of spaces within the complex, including Ecoya, Papinelle, Asuwere, Aotea to name a few. Our approach to each brief was always the same - make remarkable interiors that cut through the clutter.
Boutique retailers often embed thoughtful narrative within their product, and so the approach to their interiors is no different. Ultimately, the spaces become a conversation between the brand and the customer and our response to the brief needs to communicate the brand's message using form and material.
Our process is relatively straightforward, we spend time at the beginning of our journey together unpacking their unique approach to business - and use this existing DNA to drive the direction of the interior. The retail experience we create is to embody the story of the brand. For example, Papinelle are the leaders in their category of luxury silk sleepwear and their customers are fiercely loyal for the feeling of their product.
Our spatial response was to shroud the interior in this feeling of luxurious tactility. Within the space we used a number of delicate, low contrast surface textures and all were dusted lightly with their signature blush colourway – for the dressing room drapery we used James Dunlop velvet Palacio in colourway Cameo.
Similarly, with Asuwere menswear flagship store, the concept focused on the dream male wardrobe, creating a space that should feel deep, dark and handsome. When selecting finishes and addressing fabrics we knew we were looking at something that had a lot of weight visually, we didn’t want it too velvety, light or floaty. We choose Lucidity Charcoal from FR One, a tactile sheer that has a rich weave and textural surface.
Were there any challenges and how did you resolve them?
There are numbers of challenges on every project. For Commercial Bay, we were a part of making a giant environment from scratch, we were working with wildly different stakeholders across the journey, working with budgets, timelines, and all the time we found ourselves inventing new processes and objects for each of our projects along the way.
As a studio, we are always trying to find that balance between reaching the design vision whilst respecting the project boundaries, this is the basis of most challenges. There is usually an easy or cheap way to do most things and because of this, you have to constantly remember what you're fighting for so you can make clear decisions.
An example was the Oamaru Stone used throughout the Yu Mei fit-out. It was an incredibly complex material to work with, in the sense that it has to be quarried at source to size, is very difficult to handle at the scale and prone to crumbling during transport. There were consistent road blocks. We hit that brick wall so many times, and were always offered alternative suggestions or easier 'solutions' to the issues.
At Wonder we believe little things make big things happen. You must consider all of the details and fight like hell for them.
Why did you choose James Dunlop fabrics? How did they answer the brief?
There are so many different ways to use fabric so across the course of a project we appreciate James Dunlop’s variety, quality and expertise. Given that we were mainly working across retail at Commercial Bay, the scope was all drapery and upholstery.
In the case of our projects such as Aje, Papinelle and Asuwere, we had a clear idea of what we were looking for so that is where the quality becomes helpful. We used the likes of Lexicon and Lucidity from FR One in Aje and Asuwere spaces to achieve the look and feel of a textural linen as well as ensure we meet the building code standards.
Other times, we would be looking to consider a range of different options - and so here the variety and expertise comes to play.
Who were the key people involved in the project?
We have Rach, Susie, Mel & Katrina in our Wonder team - all superstars that were involved in each of the projects. Then there's everyone else involved, from the clients, developers, contractors. It is a huge crew, it takes a bloody army. Harriet is our wizz from James Dunlop Textiles - an essential character in the pack.
Best part of the project/fit out?
Seeing the guests walk through the door with eyes wide open. Always.