Inside New Plymouth’s coolest new hangout

There isn’t a concrete plan at New Plymouth’s Bleached, a work-in-progress concept that has the freedom to be whatever its owners want.

Florist Lucy Houghton of Lu Diamond Flowers and her partner Benny Connolly, director of surf-brand management business Hippie Slang Agencies, moved from Auckland to Benny’s hometown of New Plymouth in 2017 when expecting their twin daughters Delilah and Goldie, now two. Several years, some big dreams and plenty of hard work in the making, they’ve since opened Bleached, a showroom for their businesses and interests, complete with a coffee bar that’s become a new local hangout.

TOP Teamed with stools from Whangamata’s The Other Half, the solid oak table that separates the showroom from the café was a Trade Me score. “It’s unbelievably heavy,” says Lucy. “One of our team members nearly lost a finger relocating it.” ABOVE Lucy’s botanical works become installations while also being for sale. “I didn’t want a traditional floral retail store,” says Lucy. “I love using flowers to build installations, placing less focus on creating individual floral works and more on spatial awareness. This space is a great canvas and I’m lucky to be able to use it whenever my creative juices are flowing.”

What a great building you’ve got to work with — how did you find it? Benny: I looked for a long time. I felt it was important to choose a building we could give a new identity and that didn’t have the hangover of a pre-existing business. We wanted to be at the west end of town, get morning sun and have shelter from the prevailing south-west wind. We were hoping for  something with an industrial aesthetic; this was a basement carpark but we saw great potential and were lucky that our landlord understood our vision.

PUBLIC x PRIVATE The café and retail areas at the front of the space are Bleached’s main public zones, with the office and wholesale showrooms separated by twin walls (pictured above) that pivot open, giving the couple the option to create dedicated working environments according to what they have on. The mixed-media print seen above is by Tin Ojeda — “The image is a scan from his film Free Jazz Vein,” says Lucy.

Did you have to do much to it before you moved in? Lucy: This place is built on DIY spirit. It was an empty carpark, but we pulled it off with the help of our friends and family.
B: The list is long, but they’ve all contributed and continue to contribute in their own way. I worked closely with my friend, photographer Luke Kerr, on the general plans and aesthetic of the space. I had a lot of visual references and we nutted out a lot of it on site.
We also couldn’t have done it without my builder buddy Jake Vanderfits. He did the entire fit-out, and his attention to detail and workmanship is incredible. Another friend, Leon McKay of metal fabrication and design company Saint Leo, did all the steel fixtures. 

What sort of mood have you created here? B: The aesthetic is a modern take on coastal living. It’s basically a physical representation of all the things we’re into. It’s a pretty high-energy environment, and we have a great sound system and the music turned up, which defines us and sets the mood.
L: We wanted to honour the original building, so there’s a lot of raw concrete, steel fixtures and crisp lighting. We’ve offset this with oak and whitewashed pine timber, and hits of warm yellow dotted throughout. 

What were some of your best décor finds? L: Benny found the green and pink Namco chairs on Trade Me. He could seriously have a full-time job as a treasure-hunter; he has the patience and the eye for it.
B: Speaking of finds, when we removed the old water cylinder, we discovered a rolled-up nudie mag from 1969 behind it with an empty cigarette packet inside. It’s such a classic find and archive to have from the building’s previous life. 

What’s a regular day like at Bleached? B: We serve coffee from 7am and by mid-morning, it’s humming. There are a lot of moving parts across our brand-management business, retail and café. I divide my time among them all.
L: My days are spent working on Lu Diamond Flowers and the visual representation of product in the store and showroom. I also look after relationships within our network of people and brands.

ABOVE The large entry ramp creates a relaxed atmosphere that encourages visitors to come and go as they please, and is often busy with people gathering to enjoy the sun as it beams in. Lucy’s dad, Terry, is an upholsterer and made all the cushions and furniture covers. The squabs in Plush Turmeric fabric from Warwick are an on-trend pairing with the Resene Golden Tainoi paint used throughout the building. The kentia and bangalow palms and creepers the couple carefully planted are also successfully establishing themselves.

As working parents, what helps get you through the week? L: Lots of coffee! I try to start each day with feel-good tunes and Benny prioritises surfing whenever it’s good. I should probably get myself a daily/weekly wellness ritual.

Where do you guys chill out in your downtime? L: We like pottering around in our house and backyard. Like Bleached, our home is a work in progress, so there are always things to be done, but if we’re not trying to tick off a to-do list, we’ll probably be at the beach.

Can you recommend any hotspots for people visiting New Plymouth? L: We love going to Snug Lounge for the yum food and great service. Gamma Ray’s does the best burgers in town, and we actually serve a Waken Bacon breakfast burger in the weekends, so you’re sorted morning to night if you’re a burger lover. Travelling the Surf Highway and popping into all the thrift stores is a must when you’re here, as is a stroll through the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Pukekura Park. I take the girls to the park at least once a week and I’m always blown away by its beauty.
@bleached_coffee_and_company

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Matt Quérée

 

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