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Roaring success – quirky retail space by John Mills Architects

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A playful spirit embodies this retail space by architect John Mills

Roaring success – quirky retail space by John Mills ArchitecTs Discover this article's resources


You know your next architectural project will be outside the square when your client specifically requests a new showroom that doesn't look like a showroom at all.

This was the rather open brief given to architect John Mills when he was asked to design the new display spaces for Wellington Fireplace. So rather than placing the wood or gas fires in static settings, the concept was to create light-hearted slices of New Zealand home life, says Mills.

"We wanted to create theatrical vignettes and other more abstract associations that would amuse, and evoke home settings, and how a fireplace would work in them."

To start with, the concrete floors were refinished, windows and doors replaced and the walls rebuilt, making the project quite close to a new build.

John Mills often plays with the expectations of indoor-outdoor and this is evident from arrival at the new fireplace display space.


"Upon entering the building you first come to a staged outdoor area, complete with open-air fire, stacked timber, decking and the worn weatherboard cladding of a classic Kiwi bach – all evoking the look of a fireplace in a casual backyard space

"The bach has a playfully contrasting plush interior, with fires in situ. This area is also a gateway to the central space, known as the Courtyard."

Because the premises is essentially one large volume, Mills designed a bright, multicoloured lighting element, called the Cloud, to help anchor and organise the space. This floats above the reception desk, signalling where visitors can find information, and bringing an air of intimacy to this area."The reception desk comprises two overlapping wood elements shaped to represent the sections of an opened mussel shell – a favourite food at backyard barbecues. Another cultural nod is seen in the suspended lighting elements. These reinvented oil drums make an oblique reference to their traditional use as rough-and-ready backyard incinerators."

The reception is positioned so that staff can take in all areas of the showroom at a glance. To the right is the entrance; straight ahead a row of more understated showrooms displaying various fires; and to the left there is a living room and kitchen space with a fire. Each vignette has different wall hues, trims and fascias, all helping to evoke personal home settings. Even the meeting rooms at the end of the space have differing window and door treatments.

This project uses recycled and repurposed materials at every opportunity, from the preloved weatherboards to the suspended oil drums. And some spaces have a secondary purpose – a weatherboard element in the Courtyard leads the eye up through the volume and also conceals storage. The display kitchen is used by staff to make afternoon tea, or as a relaxed, informal workstation.

Credit List

LocationWellington Fireplace, Wellington
Architect and interior designerJohn Mills FNZIA, John Mills Architects (Wellington)
Project managerAxiom
ConstructionSpice Building Solutions; Martin Goulden Builders
FlooringConcrete, existing, refurbished and polished; recycled rimu by James Henry; carpet by Floorstore
CladdingWeatherboard, new cedar and recycled
Reception counterCustom, by John Mills Architects
LightingReception light fitting, custom by John Mills; recycled oil drums; other lighting by ECC
Wall and ceiling treatmentsPlaster moulds
FireplacesStovax, Heat & Glo, Warmington, Metro Fires, Escea, Gazco, Jetmaster, Pyroclassic, Living Flame
JoineryGoldmark Joinery
GutteringCopper by Capital Continuous Spouting
Additional furnitureBoConcept Awards NZIA Local Award, Wellington, 2012

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