These textile recyclers balance a lot of the old with a little bit of the new
Peter Thompson and Bernadette Casey in their eclectic Wellington home. The back door once sported a pink 90s stained glass window and no one was sad when the wind caught the door and shattered the glass. Thompson put a temporary board in place of the glass. While they were deciding on a new door, Casey spray painted the plank as a temporary measure. Thompson stripped the door naked and found a layer of bottle green, which matched quite well with the flowers she had painted. So they left the door as it is until they found a replacement. “Ten years later, we haven’t found a door we like best,” says Casey.
Bernadette Casey and her husband Peter Thompson live in a 1920s house in Wellington with their dog George, 14. They are co-founders of Usefully, a textile reuse company.
BERNADETTE: Peter owned this house before we met. My thoughts were that this was his home and that there was a story.
When you get together as a couple, you might want a place that is new for both of you. But when I moved in it was such a lovely family home. There is a park across the road, it’s zoned for everything and close to town. It was just ideal. We’ve been here together for 17 years now.
I have always loved textiles and fashion. My grandparents were sheep and milk herders in Taranaki, and mom occasionally received a sack full of wool. I’m one of six, and she made jerseys for all of us and taught us card and yarn and knit and crochet.
* The company wanting to transform your old T-shirts into roading
* An architect-designed house going against the grain
* The little house is a “cozy sanctuary” for the teacher of Tokoroa
Back then, if you wanted a new dress, you would go into town, buy some fabric, buy a pattern, and make it.
Now in the house, if we are going to buy something that we are still thinking about, is it already available? Every now and then we buy something new, but overall our house is a mixture of very little new stuff and mostly old stuff.
We have this very long room which is a dining room at one end. It’s just a huge rectangle, and we had been looking for ages for a room divider and just couldn’t find what we really liked. Years ago I had seen an amazing knitted wall in the Amsterdam public library. So that was my inspiration to make the macrame room divider.
I used disused mooring ropes and thought my husband could just pop them up. But it weighs 65 kilos, and we had to hire a builder to install it.
We lived in Milan for a year when we were looking for ways to make fabric from rice scraps. We came back in 2015.
Recycling textiles is not something an individual brand can tackle.
We designed a circular clothing system for New Zealand. For example, cotton can turn into cellulose, which can be used for road construction. It really is a pragmatic solution, and we are doing our first installation test this summer.
We generally work from home on Mondays and Fridays. When we go to the office, we ride electric bikes. What better way to start the day? It’s a bit more of a homecoming as we live on top of the hill.
In the evenings we make dinner and maybe watch TV, but most of our time is spent in the kitchen / cozy nook. I love to read and love to listen to podcasts – from science to economics to storytelling.
Before Covid, we were only home a few nights a week. I would go to yoga, Peter is in a running club, we have a lot of stuff. And we are quite sociable.
I love to cook and have a few local Kiwi cookbooks and I really cook anything – we love meat and we love veg.
Peter makes the most fantastic baked pastries – cannelés. They are from Bordeaux, like pastry cream. They have these special molds and I had them years ago when I was in France. I introduced Pete to the cannelés. He likes to perfect them and they’re for special occasions – birthdays, that sort of thing.
The kitchen door is now part of the personality of the house and, honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be changed now. There is an old cat flap on the door. Peter had a cat called Squeaky who slept in the fruit basket.
We use the hot tub all the time. It’s nice out there under the stars at night.
The owners before us had built this huge west facing patio, so we have the sun until it goes down. And it overlooks the most beautiful valley, and we get all the benefits of Zealandia – all this fantastic birdlife.
We have a bunch of eclectic artwork – an impression of a car chase through the Victoria Tunnel, a lithograph of Paris, photographic works, artwork by my son.
My son is super creative. He now lives in London. I have his guitar here and started learning to play it while in confinement. I have a long way to go, but I know my chords now.
It was important to us that what is on our bed was natural – cotton, linen, silk. I didn’t want synthetic fibers. So I found this beautiful heavy pleated cotton for a headboard.
I don’t think our homes all have to look like they’ve come straight out of a furniture store catalog. Houses and buildings have their own personality. But they must also reflect the personality of the people who make them up.
I think this place reflects us.