Chalk and cheese is the way Invercargill designer Sally Davies describes her partnership - in life and art - with sheetmetal engineer husband Chris Nutter. But there's no denying they work well together, with a 2011 WOW honourable mention under their belts and now the September show to look forward to with their piece, Korowai. Gwyneth Hyndman gets a look at what makes this relationship work so well on the catwalk.
Sunlight warms the front room of the south city house Invercargill designer Sally Davies has spent the past three years sanding, painting, scrubbing, carpeting and dreaming a fourth fresh future in with her husband, Chris Nutter and their three children.
It is mid-morning and the couple's latest renovation is looking to any outsider like a project in its final stages.
Art books, Al Brown's cookbook Stoked, and hardback design literature are stacked in perfect dishevelment on the coffee table at the centre of the room. A mirror that Nutter has framed in white, painted over pressed tin, reflects the light from the mantle.
A church pew - rescued and repainted - is just visible around the corner in the wooden-floor hallway. A handwritten chalkboard description of Villa - one of Davies' passions - hangs on the wall. A chandelier catches the morning sun in one of the back rooms.
And above all of this is the tin roofing the couple have a shared love of. Looking up, Davies recalls how hours went into the careful painting of the ridges and tiny hills and bumps, as though it was the Sistine Chapel.
But the 120-year-old house - this is renovation number four - is just the stage for a series of recycling projects that have landed both of them in the WOW Awards for the past two years.
Last year they got an honourable mention in the Avant Garde section with Iron Maiden.
And this time they've impressed the judges once again - using the rest of the pressed tin from the year before. Hours and hours - six months of evenings - have been spent burning back the paint on the recycled pressed tin they picked up in a demolition yard years ago and cutting it carefully into 500 pieces so it can be wired on to wool fabric and draped over a model who will showcase it in the South Pacific section.
They named the entry Korowai, and it is, once again, a labour of love.
"A lot of patience, a lot of time," Nutter says.
Renovations were in full swing last year and yes, Davies, says, there was stress and the agreement they'd never do anything like that again.
But like many wild projects the couple have taken on, the satisfaction of seeing it finished at the end was hard to resist a year later.
"We make a good team," Davies says. Her husband is very hands-on, making wine tanks and milk vats ("he's very clever"); she is a visionary.
They are both perfectionists in one way or another. And what makes it work is that both have a clear sense of their roles going into a project, whether it's a lampshade or a complete re-carpeting of a bedroom.
"I just say what I'd like to do and Chris does it. But we are very different. Like chalk and cheese."
A sheetmetal engineer for about 30 years, Nutter's practical skills complement the ideas Davies dreams up in her head, she says.
A creative partnership hardly crossed her mind when the couple met at the Waikiwi Tavern 15 years ago. They fell in love, Nutter followed her to Europe and the two travelled before returning to Southland to start a family.
Although it wasn't until they began renovating houses together - a project that often kills a romance - that Davies realised they worked surprisingly well together under pressure.
"We already knew how hard this was going to be," she says, referring to getting their entry in on time.
Nutter agrees. "It's a bit of a sacrifice. But it is rewarding."
Getting recognition around town from last year's honourable mention was good for morale - and good to keep in mind if the couple decided to put an entry in three years in a row.
Though unfortunately, they're now down to half a sheet of metal.
"And now that we've run out of tin, what would we do?"
But she admits there's always something brewing in the back of her mind. They might just have to make another trip to the demolition yard.
"I do get ideas," Davies says.
The Brancott Estate WOW Awards show will be held in Wellington from September 27 to October 7.
- The Southland Times