Kiwiana: New Zealand Design Inspiration

Traditional New Zealand jewelry using wordcarving and paua shells.  Source

Traditional New Zealand jewelry using wordcarving and paua shells. Source

When I think of New Zealand design, I think of Maori illustrations, silver ferns, green stone, paua shells and woodcarvings. While I appreciate their historical and cultural significance, I’ve had a hard time finding a place for these things in my home without creating a tribal vibe in the place. If I’m being completely honest, it’s not all particularly my style (I hope I'm not offending anyone!) Sometimes I yearn to find unique items that make me feel inspired and that truly fit my style. When I leave New Zealand, I want to bring home pieces that are significant to New Zealand culture and remind me of time here, but that also compliment my personal style.

So after weeding through countless paua jewelry and greenstone necklaces, I’ve begun to uncover artists and artwork that have a unique take on Kiwi Culture and interpret it in their own ways.

These are a few of my favorite ‘Kiwiana’ things

House of Aroha

Aroha, meaning ‘love’ in Maori, is hands-down one of my favorite places to get inspired here in Hawke's Bay. Rakai Karaitiana creates amazing Maori-inspired designs and produces them as letterpress and screen prints on just about anything you can dream up.

This pair of Huia birds has been silk screened onto ‘his and hers’ pillowcases, which are my on my wish list. Not only are these prints super cool, but they’re also something very unique to New Zealand. (Let me go on a quick bird nerd rant for a moment…) New Zealanders pride themselves in their native birds, as the island was once populated almost entirely by birds before settlers brought mammals over.  The Huia are endemic to the North Island of New Zealand, but sadly became extinct in the 20th century. They are known for having the most pronounced sexual dimorphism in the bill shape of any bird species in the world, meaning the male and female have completely different beaks. The Huia is one of New Zealand's best-known extinct birds because of its bill shape, its sheer beauty and special place in Māori culture and oral tradition.

Felt Maori Dolls
I love this crafty take on the female Maori traditional dress. These dolls can also be found at Aroha & Friends. I’d love to place them on my shelf at home.  

A bit of Maori Legend

I love this shirt because it will always remind me of my time here, and it is particularly significant to the Maori culture here in Napier.

I love this shirt because it will always remind me of my time here, and it is particularly significant to the Maori culture here in Napier.

This is my newest purchase, also from Aroha, and it's officially my new favorite t-shirt. This t-shirt features a bit of Maori Legend. This little lady is Pania the sea maiden who is said to have swam ashore at night and hide at Hukarere cliff in Napier. She married  Karitoki, a chief in the area, and they had a son. Karitoki worried that he might lose his son and wife to the sea people, so he placed cooked food on the mother and child while they slept, so they would never return to the sea. Unfortunately, the spell reversed, and Pānia was turned into a rock, forever in the ocean, and her son was turned into a shark.

Kina is the Maori name for a sea urchin that is endemic to New Zealand. They have been a traditional component of Maori diet since before European settlers. Today they are used in more artistic ways, and you can find them on the menu in New Zealand restaurants. I’ve tried Kina, and it’s not too bad. It tastes a bit like the ocean, but I think I prefer it for decoration.


Llama Prints
Since I’ve moved to New Zealand, llamas and alpacas have found a way into my heart. You don't see many alpacas back home in New Orleans, but here they’re not hard to come by. And boy, are they cute! I couldn’t resist these prints and cards by graphic designer Alice Berry. Made in New Zealand.

Hand painted lamps
There are a lot of wooden crafts and lighting around New Zealand, but these lamps are a very modern take on that concept. The lamp shades are constructed from ply and hand painted with bold geometric patterns. I spotted these in the window at Art & Enterprise in Napier months ago and they’ve been on my mind ever since.

Hei-tiki Tea Towel
The hei-tiki is an ornamental pendant of the Maori, which is typically worn around the neck or displayed as a woodcarving. It represents the first man in Maori legend. While I’m not really into wearing the greenstone necklaces, I thought this funky tea towel was a colorful and fun way to bring a little Maori culture into the home.

One of my favorite things about traveling is getting inspired by new design, food and culture. What cultures and countries inspire your style?