Jodi Newnham’s mingling of hand-picked mid-century gems with her own textural art is a joy to behold. She takes us through her incredible new showroom and reveals which famous designer inspires her style
Something special is taking place in a former pizza joint in urban Auckland. Artist, interior designer and mid-century modern furniture dealer Jodi Newnham has transformed the space into her new Mid Century Swag showroom – a world where everything is very, very beautiful. The richly layered look featuring bold artworks and groupings of unique furniture comes together seamlessly, thanks to her artist’s eye for creating elegant compositions from these incredible pieces.
Opening the doors to the public last year in the hip hub of Grey Lynn village has been a long and twisting journey for Jodi. “The showroom finally allows me to have a creative space that encapsulates everything I’m passionate about,” she says.
The strands of her creative life began coming together a few years earlier. It was when she started importing mid-century modern furniture from America (for her business, Mid Century Swag) that she discovered that the people who wanted the sofas and sideboards were also falling in love with her paintings. “In the early days I had the business set up at home and clients would come around to view the furniture and they’d see my art and want to buy that, too. I was rapt.”
The synergy between the two is obvious. Individually each element is strong but when the art and furniture are combined the force is powerful. Jodi’s obsession with abstract expressionism and texture is a repeated theme in her artwork and her passion for both can be seen in the furniture and objects she is drawn to.
It was a decade ago that she found her path in life. “As soon as I started studying interior design it felt right,” says Jodi, who was pregnant with her first child at the time. “It was so good doing something I was genuinely interested in. I thrived on it.” She soon noticed the interior style she favoured was different from that of the other students in her class. “I have never followed trends or fads. I like classic interiors where everything is balanced out. It’s combining the elements of colour and texture that makes a space visually interesting and makes a room feel inviting.”
I don't want to conform to one style. I like mixing it upMy house is a real mix of pieces that I've made, acquired, been given or imported. I like that
After her daughter, Niamh, was born she began looking at ways to make a career from her newly discovered passion. In the meantime, Jodi flexed her design skills on the family home she and her husband, Paul Barry, had just bought in Te Atatu. Jodi could immediately see how a few cosmetic changes would make an enormous difference.
“It had a weird entrance through a sliding door around the side of the house. We completely reconfigured the entrance, moving it to another side of the house, and built an elevated deck. When it came to selling, we staged it well. It was more about styling than any major structural changes.”
The sale of that property allowed the couple to buy their current home in Pt Chevalier, where Jodi has her art studio. The mother of two (son Stafford was born in 2010) juggles her busy schedule so she can be in the studio as much as possible.
It’s not always easy. A lot of her time is taken up sourcing pieces for Mid Century Swag, mostly from the States, particularly New York, Philadelphia and Florida. Last year she spent time on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, developing new connections closer to home. “It’s much easier flying to LA to source than it is getting across to the other side of the States,” she says.
“I love mid-century design but I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I’m drawn to things predominantly from the 1950s to the 1980s but when I’m sourcing I’m looking for anything that catches my eye. I love art deco pieces and Italian pieces – there are a lot of beautiful Italian mid-century pieces in America. For me, it’s all about the function and the form. I like to visualise something in a space and picture what could work with it.”
In addition to Jodi’s gift for composition, what makes it all work so well together is the skill, craftsmanship and creativity that has gone into each piece. “Nothing here is mass-produced,” she says. “Each piece is unique because it’s handmade. I know the energy that goes into designing and creating these pieces from my own work as an artist and from restoring some of the imported furniture myself.”
Her formative years at art school have also given Jodi an appreciation of the technical demands that some creative work requires. “In my foundation year at art school I was exposed to a lot of printmaking, metal casting and working with tools, and that experience completely changed my artistic direction. I realised I wanted to be able to play with material. I need to have that tactile nature in my work.”
For her, making art is a sensory experience. “I love using my hands. I often have a beautiful candle burning while I’m painting and a lot of my work is about exploring touch, just as much as it is about the visual connection.”
As a painter, Jodi has a powerful attraction to colour, composition, texture and layering. More recently she has begun creating wall sculptures with shiny, metallic surfaces that play with light. “I love experimenting with materials and different styles. My approach to my art and interiors is very similar. I don’t want to conform to one style. I like mixing it up. My house is a real mix of pieces that I’ve made, acquired, been given or imported. I like that.”
Constant evolution is a theme that runs through her life. After art school she worked in fashion for a while. It was during this period that she discovered and honed her personal style, always favouring classics over fads.
“The colours that I’m drawn to are dark and moody. I love those expressive colours. I also like a bit of bling and leopard, but always toned down. You can see all these elements in my clothing.” Just like the pieces in her wardrobe and the art she creates, there is a tactile quality to what she selects for the showroom. Plush velvet fabrics, glass, chrome, marble and the warmth of wood are among the many different surfaces on show. “I like mixing hard and soft materials like brass and chrome with velvets and furs.”
Most people would struggle to make everything that she puts in a room work.I aspire to be as successful as she is one day.
Jodi’s style icon is American interior design star Kelly Wearstler, a self-professed mixologist. Wearstler’s signature style draws on the juxtaposition of contemporary and vintage, masculine and feminine, raw and refined, all backed with a thorough understanding of historical reference points.
“Everyone always talks about her originality and I admire the success she’s achieved through her creativity,” says Jodi. “She’s incredibly talented. Her selection process and the way she can put things together is amazing. Most people would struggle to make everything that she puts in a room work. I aspire to be as successful as she is one day.”
In the latest chapter of her own creative journey, Jodi’s multiple talents are weaving together beautifully. “It is hard getting the mix of work, kids and downtime right but I’m working on it. To be honest, I never feel like I’m getting it perfectly right but it makes for a rich and interesting life! I love what I’m doing so much that it’s quite hard to pull myself back. But that’s a good problem to have, right?”
Words by: Leanne Moore. Photography by: Helen Bankers.