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Toni and Liv’s Story

Anyone who knows them or has worked with them will tell you, they’re in business for the relationships as much as anything else. In fact, a recent business retreat got them to reassess the ‘why’ of what they’re doing, and they realised it still comes back to the same thing.

‘We are officially 10 years in May,’ says Liv. ‘We started the business because we just wanted to be creative and we just wanted to create great spaces. We didn’t really know the why, and that’s when we figured out that spaces bring people together for interaction.’

‘And we had to reassess what we are doing as well,’ says Toni, completing Liv’s thought. That’s something else people who know them will tell you. They’ve been friends and business partners for so long, they complete each other’s sentences.

‘We haven’t fully figured it out,’ continues Liv. ‘But again, it comes down to hospitality—our hospitality clients love to create spaces that bring people together. Hospitality is all about giving …’

‘And serving,’ says Toni.

‘Yeah, and serving,’ says Liv. ‘Retail is very different, and commercial office spaces are different. But we keep getting drawn back to hospitality because it has that heart and that core that we love so much.

‘Hotels seem to really get us excited because it takes hospitality to the next level. They’re not just places you sleep, it’s the place you work, interact, eat at the restaurant. So our five to 10-year plan is to push more in that hotel direction, and go internationally.’

We’re talking for Under the Hood At Crave because Toni and Liv have a long association with the cafe and the hood — particularly Toni, who lives in the hood and has been grabbing her morning coffee here for a long time.

They’ve also played a significant role in the new Morningside Precinct, having designed the interior of the Morningside Tavern. They’ve known and worked alongside the owners and developers of the Precinct for years and following a series of smaller projects with them at the Auckland International Airport, they were called in by the guys to work on ‘something really fun’ — the tavern.

Like the developers’ experience in Britomart over the past 10 years, the Material Creative business flourished in the years following the global financial collapse, precisely because suddenly ‘people were willing to give the little guy a chance rather than going with the more established designers’.

‘One of the greatest things that’s come out of (the GFC) is that we are amazing at knowing the value of products and materials,’ says Liv. ‘It actually took us about two or three years to get out of the mindset of looking at the cheapest option and not charging enough, because you’re always worried about the budget and the client. We’ve been pulling ourselves out and valuing the work that we are doing more, and valuing ourselves more.’

That value is reflected in the prominence of Toni and Liv (and Material Creative) at the annual design awards, such as the Interior Awards and the Best Awards. To get industry recognition for their work is their best advertising, they say. It’s how their current design work for the Naumi Hotels (in Auckland and now Wellington) came about.

‘From being finalists at the Interior Awards and winning a Best Award, having that presence, our client went through all the winning interior designers of the time and had them all pitch,’ says Toni. ‘Somehow he saw our creative vision through our very naive pitch. He could just see that our design had a different spin on it than everyone else. Which is our tagline …’

‘Unexpected design,’ says Liv. ‘Then we realised that’s what we want to do … hotels.’

‘Hotels,’ says Toni. ‘Hotels mixes all of our passions.’

And passion is the key to their work. Out of the passion comes soul, and that’s what stands out in the designs they dream up and the spaces they create.

‘The more bizarre the more exciting, right?’ says Liv.

Toni says that’s also what gives Morningside its unique character.

‘I remember when Crave was over the road, and this (the new Crave) was being developed. I’ve always lived around here, and I thought, Weird—will that ever work? It’s huge. And then they did it and the people came. Then the Precinct opens, and the people come. Miann opens, and the people come. There’s enough people to fill that. Then KIND. Then the tavern. You do it and you do it well, build something people are craving, and people will come.

‘If you do it with no soul, people won’t come.’