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Home base

The owners of some of Auckland’s freshest cafés get many of their best ideas in their suburban villa HQ.

They’ve gone above and beyond the call of amazing-cabinet-food-and-Insta-worthy-dishes-please duty with their Auckland cafés Little Sister, Hello Friends & Allies, Winona Forever, Major Tom, Rude Boy, Friday I’m In Love and Sugar, and recently opened their first restaurant, Fang. Fran Mazza and Aaron Carson clearly have a calling for both great food and great names for eateries — and here is where the magic happens.

How long have you guys worked from this Freeman’s Bay home away from home, Fran? We bought it in 2017. We needed a base that had a test kitchen, and after considering a lot of commercial properties, this just made sense, so rather than lease a space, we decided to buy.

What was the house like when you found it? It was a good canvas to start with; the bones were great and the previous owners had done a good job with the important stuff when they renovated. We replaced the lighting and repainted throughout before starting on the interior design. The kitchen was actually quite good, but we pulled it out and put a semi-commercial one in.

MAIN IMAGE Cookbooks are stacked high on the dining table that doubles as a workstation. The Tolix stools and rug seen here are from Madder & Rouge — as are the cushions that tie together these living spaces’ interesting combination of pastels and jewel tones. ABOVE The villa was built in 1911 and its original rimu floors still remain. Enlivening the home’s lovely bones are paintings by New Zealand artist Frances Hansen — her work can be spotted throughout. The quirky Monkey lamp is from Seletti.

What do you get up to here? We spend time here most days. The lounge and dining area double as a communal workspace for us and our head office staff, who come and go as they need to, and the kitchen is used to create and test menus for our eateries. Aaron and I have another house in Avondale and split our time between the two, so we’ve arranged this one so the work stuff can disappear quite quickly if necessary and we can stay here with our three kids when it suits.

What’s the most convenient thing about working here? It’s so central; it’s an easy walk to Ponsonby, the waterfront and the city, and the motorways in all directions are less than a kilometre away. It’s in the inner city, yet it’s so peaceful and we have a beautiful subtropical garden that you’d never know was there from the road.

How did you decide on the aesthetic for the interior? I’d describe our style as eclectic organised chaos. I love a welcoming space that makes people feel at home when they walk in, so that’s always a driver for any interior I’m involved with, whether it’s a café, a restaurant or a house.
Sometimes a piece of furniture or art will dictate the direction the aesthetic of the space takes, and I also love colour. For me, it’s important to be surrounded by vibrancy and life. Growing up in an Italian family and spending time in Italy definitely had an effect on how I see interiors. What I love about the Italians is that when they purchase furniture or art, it’s for life. My uncle still had his cool red retro plug-in telephone in his house when we visited him in 2014.

TOP & ABOVE Fran ensures flour, sugar, chocolate, Italian pasta and olive oil, Arborio rice, stock, olives, pecorino cheese, flaky sea salt, herbs and spices are always on hand in the fridge and vintage pantry from The Vitrine. “I work long hours and when I have to whip up dinner for our family of five, pasta is my go-to. I can do a lot with nothing, which is not a skill to be scoffed at.”

What are you drawn to when it comes to buying and commissioning art for your eateries? Art is obviously very personal and subjective, and you have to be prepared to stare at it every day for years on end if you invest in it. I love Frances Hansen’s work as she uses colours I’m drawn to and lots of domestic images that reference vintage New Zealand, and we recently worked with comic artist and illustrator Ant Sang for our new restaurant Fang in Parnell; he’s incredible, with really strong ideas. I like discovering new artists too.

From art to food — what dishes are you excited about for summer? I love all the amazing produce that’s available at this time of year, and always get excited about fresh berries and stone fruit and using them in sweet and savoury dishes. I love how feijoas pop up for about a month, and I’m obsessed with figs — I search out trees and pick as many as I can to use in salads and baking. Then, of course, there are tomatoes — there are so many varieties to choose from and they’re the basis of so many great sauces and salads.

TOP A table and bench seats from The Vitrine sit on the deck, where the couple also grows edible flowers to use to decorate and garnish baked goods and plated dishes. ABOVE “It’s still a great house to sleep over and relax in, even if work is staring you in the face,” says Fran. Some of the key items seen in the master bedroom include a hand-printed cotton light shade by Paris au Mois d’Août and Bed & Philosophy linen — all from Madder & Rouge. The throw is by Kip & Co.

Your eateries are known for their fabulous-looking food — how can we recreate that when hosting at home? For me, more is more. We always had family dinners with many different plates of food to share, and now I love seeing a table full of colourful food. Add edible flowers to salads, garnish with fresh herbs and serve meals on interesting ceramics — they can change how you feel about what you’re eating. Oh, and decorate the table with a big bunch of flowers in similar shades.

How do you take time out from work? Recently, we haven’t! When we do, though, it’s usually based around family and spending time together. Aaron is obsessed with cars and always has a project on the go, and I have a cushion-buying addiction. Music is a passion we share, as well as a love of art and various subcultures. We have a common interest in a sort of ‘anti-establishment punk-rock art-thug’ vibe that keeps us motivated to create new things.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Larnie Nicolson