The Cusp – Graceful Furniture Designs

Close up of The Cusp's logo: a washer engraved with The Cusp.

Something delightful about all the people I get to interview for Time of my Life is the way their faces light up when speaking about their work. After all, we’re discussing their dream, and their passion shows. And no one communicates that delight more clearly than Kim Patterson and Stephen Counsell. It was a real pleasure to meet them at their little workshop and to learn more about their dream business, The Cusp.

Step Inside The Cusp

“Would you like to see the workshop?” asked Stephen. “I’d better warn you, it’s a little bit cold in there.”

What an understatement!

In fact the little, one-car garage where Kim and Stephen work their Cusp magic was actually more like an icebox and I quickly understood the wisdom behind Kim’s winter work uniform of thick fleecy jacket and sturdy overalls.

But the temperature was soon forgotten, as they began to show me around their fascinating Aladdin’s cave of a workshop and to tell the story behind their business and their dream.

How It All Began

Kim and Stephen met in the busy Customs department of Queenstown’s International Airport. They started work about the same time, and recognised in each other a kindred spirit. The two quickly became friends and supporters in what can — at  times — be a crazily stressful job. Their personalities, complementary strengths and weakness, and most importantly their shared love of “tinkering in the workshop” made for a firm friendship.

In those days, of course, there was no talk of a business. But the idea was sparked in mid-air as Kim leafed through a magazine and a page caught her eye. It was only a small article about a woman who upcycled and restored furniture, but as she read, Kim’s imagination took flight. By the time the plane landed she was convinced they should give it a go.

And that’s exactly what she said to Stephen next time she saw him. “Read this,” waving the article under his nose. “We could do that!”

New Life To Old Furniture

Kim and Stephen began by rescuing, restoring and upcycling furniture. It was a hobby that gradually began to take on a life of its own. Their first piece was a chest of drawers rescued on its way to the dump. Battered, bruised and topped with an indelible ink stain, the poor thing was sorely in need of some TLC.

Stephen and Kim worked their magic and brought it back to life. The ink was never going to come out, so they painted a bright, simple geometric design over it and voila! Problem solved. They put the piece up for sale on Queenstown Trading and it sold within an hour. Exciting stuff — and even more so when the new owner came back and asked for more.

But when you’re restoring furniture, each unique piece presents its own set of problems to solve. It takes time and skill to think, design and source materials — not to mention the actual physical work of restoration. Then, once that project’s finished you move onto the next, which presents a completely different set of problems. Those hard-won solutions are often not transferable to the next piece of furniture. It seemed, that with just two people, furniture restoration wasn’t sustainable as a business.

From Restoration To Design

The Cusp Strata Coffee Table
Coffee table from The Cusp’s “Strata” range.

However when Kim and Stephen began designing their own furniture that issue was suddenly resolved, especially when Stephen learned how to use CAD — Computer Aided Design — software.

Of course it still takes hours and hours, with many problems to solve when designing the prototype of a new line. But once that’s done other, similar pieces, can be made in a fraction of the time.

An easily recognised example is the stylish Cusp coffee table. Like many of their reproducible pieces, the table is made out of plywood used in a rather special way.

A New Way To Use Plywood

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plywood

If you know as little about working with wood as I do, you’ve probably seen plywood, and even heard the term, without knowing much about it. Usually you would see the large flat surface on walls and furniture. But The Cusp furniture uses plywood turned on its side, so that you see the plies (layers) in all their work.

I found the method truly fascinating.

Once a piece is designed, the design is then broken down into shapes and those shapes are etched into sheets of plywood by Winton-based Nigel Molloy Joinery. They’re delivered looking rather like giant model aeroplane sets.  Stephen and Kim then finish cutting out the pieces and glue them together. The result is a distinctive piece of furniture. You’d recognise The Cusp style anywhere.

Cutting out the pieces is painstaking work. The leftover frames – neatly stacked in the workshop – immediately reminded me of model aeroplane cutouts.

Bespoke Furniture

The other side of The Cusp’s business comes from commissions for bespoke solutions to their customers problems.

Arguably their breakthrough commission came from the Remarkables Start Early Learning Centre when they commissioned a “seat with a wow factor” to grace the foyer of their (then) brand-new centre.

This was the seat that led Stephen to learn about CAD — a huge learning curve that required hundreds of hours hunched over his laptop; learning, searching for advice and practising until the designs in his head appeared on the screen as intended.

When they finally unveiled the seat plans to the clients there was a pause then both ladies breathed “Wow!”

Kim and Stephen decided they’d met the brief.

Kim Patterson and Stephen Counsell on the seat with the Remarkables Mountain Range in the background.
The remarkable seat that transformed The Cusp. Notice the outline of the Remarkables on the seat and in the real mountain range.

Problem Solving

Clients often come to The Cusp because they have a problem that off-the-shelf furniture won’t solve.

Stephen and Kim have designed sturdy furniture for airbnb houses, solved a lighting dilemma for an electrician and filled many problem spaces with made-to-measure, elegant furniture.

The smallest commission to date was for a soil sieve but their largest — apart from the seat — is one currently in design.

The brief is definitely impressive: a desk, with filing-cabinet-drawers that pull out as steps which lead to a sleeping loft with tatami mats (Japanese sleeping mats). Oh, and can you make it feel like a treehouse?

The Cusp motto kicked into gear: “We can do that!”

Help and Encouragement

Kim and Stephen are highly appreciative of all the help they’ve had along their journey so far. Their respective partners — Gary and Lisa —  are right behind the venture.

What’s more, it is rare for a client to commission only one piece. Their happy customers keep coming back for more, which means The Cusp now has a waiting list.

Stephen can’t speak highly enough of Nigel Molloy Joinery for the help and encouragement they’ve given over the past year, especially with their generosity and aid while he was learning Computer Assisted Design.

Their “can do” attitude and “Give Great Service” values resonate with Kim and Stephen, who have a similar ethos at The Cusp.

What’s In A Name?

When I asked where the name came from they laughed because Kim’s original suggestion — Funky Fufu — now seems so impossible and absurd.

It was Gary Patterson who came up with the breakthrough name and the more you think about it, the better the name seems to fit this unique little business.

  • On the cusp of something great
  • Counsell US Patterson – an amalgamation of names
  • Cusp – in geometrical terms the “intersection of two graceful curves.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Connect With The Cusp

You’ll find many more photos and videos of The Cusp’s graceful and elegant furniture designs on their Facebook page

Email: create@thecusp.nz

My own little memento from The Cusp.

From Manila to Garston – Connecting Kids

In Cathedrals and Connections I wrote:

Building connections between people young and old —  between countries, cultures and religions — is vital. It’s the way that we will move the people of our world towards peaceful acceptance of each other. It’s the way to build trust.

Today I have another story – this time about connecting children and cultures to share.

Overseas Travel: The New Norm

When I was young very few children travelled overseas. Certainly I didn’t know anyone who had even set foot on a plane, let alone travelled to another country.

How different it is today. Even from faraway New Zealand, families regularly head overseas for holidays and adventures. In tiny Garston School all of the staff and 65% of the students have travelled abroad — many more than once. Some have family in England and Australia and travel to connect with friends and relatives there, and to learn something of their history and culture. Others return with tales of theme parks, shops and sandy shores.

Destination Garston

Garston School: A small rural school in the heart of Southern New Zealand.

But some lucky youngsters get to move out of their comfort zone and experience cultures that are very different from their own. And that was certainly the case for the group of Chinese-Filipino teenagers who visited Garston School recently. Their visit opened a gateway between the Philippines and New Zealand and created connections on a very personal level. It’s a visit that the students in my class will long remember.

The seven teenagers and their teacher were in NZ to learn about our culture, but also to learn about themselves.

One of the many reasons schools at all levels organise Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC) is to give their students the chance to be independent. From day outings to school camps; Duke of Edinburgh tramps to overseas sporting or cultural trips, a key purpose is always to foster growth and self reliance. This sort of trip gives youngsters a chance to gain skills and confidence in their own abilities, while still enjoying the support and safety that traveling with a group brings.   

Laugh, Learn, Love.

So Joseph, Nicole, Christine, Joanna, Jim, Cheska and Haslie came to Garston School. (Their only visit to a NZ primary school, in fact.)

It was a chance to discover part of our culture and to share a little of theirs. The teens wanted to interact with children, and that’s exactly what happened when they joined a technology lesson about buildings with my 5 – 7 year olds.

My students loved the chance to work in a small group with their chosen teen. They talked about their own homes and found out about the houses of their new friends. What a contrast – from tiny Southland villages to Manila, one of the most densely populated cities on Earth.

Of course there was a practical task too, as they experimented with blocks to build towers which would stand up in an earthquake. The room was buzzing with conversation and the occasional groan as another tower bit the dust.

I’m Longing to Visit the Philippines Now

All too soon it was morning tea time, and our newfound friends disappeared to visit another class. But that afternoon they returned to give a presentation about the Philippines to the whole school.

El Nido Island, Philippines
El Nido, Philippines. Photo by Cris Tagupa on Unsplash

I was impressed by the care they’d taken to introduce their culture to younger students, connecting with meaningful images, songs and games. We loved the slideshow pictures of beautiful islands, and animals so different from those found here. Every pause for questions brought a host of hands waving in the air, as the children begged to know more.

When a Chevrotain — or mouse deer — appeared on screen, Alex’s hand shot up in the air. I knew immediately the delighted connection he had made because I’d made the same one: on separate trips, we had each been amazed to see the tiny mouse-deer in the Singapore Zoo.

All too soon the special day had finished. My children rushed to exchange goodbye hugs and selfies.

Our new friends were heading to Invercargill for the weekend and then to Blue Mountain College. We hope they had a lovely time there too.

21st Century Education: Knowledge…

A vital facet of 21st-century education is learning to make connections. We teach this from the very earliest days in school.

We want our children to see the patterns… connect the dots… make links between what they know and whatever they’re learning about. Nowadays we don’t just teach facts. Instead our emphasis is on:

  • How to find out what you need to know … and
  • How to apply that knowledge to solve future problems.

These are essential skills needed to function in the modern world.

… and Communication.

But we also need to understand where other people are coming from. Why their ideas might be different and how differences can enhance rather than threaten.

We live in a global society where communication skills are rated as the top priority in many jobs. Therefore social and cultural connections are just as important as knowledge.

Student exchanges and visits like this are one way to foster understanding. My children have fond memories of this visit and the lovely people they met. I’m sure that Christina, Joseph, Jim, Haslie, Cheska, Joanna, Nicole and their teacher do too.

Who knows what may come of this brief connection?

Dwane Herbert – A Spearfishing Legend

When Cobey Herbert arrived in my class as a skinny five-year-old, I sent home the usual note asking about food allergies etc. Back it came, duly filled in: Cobey can eat anything except paua.

“Paua?” I thought. “Who would give a little kid such an expensive shellfish? We won’t be cooking paua here, at the most inland school in New Zealand.” That was certainly way out of my comfort zone.

It wasn’t until Cobey’s dad arrived with undersea treasures to show the kids that I understood, because it turns out that Dwane Herbert, is a 7-times National Spearfishing Champion of NZ.

Dwane and a student inspect a kina.
Garston kids were fascinated with Dwane’s underwater treasures.

I had no idea what spearfishing was, so I went to visit Dwane, and his wife Annie, to find out.

Dwane’s Day Job

He may live near the most inland village in NZ, but in his day job Dwane Herbert is the skipper of a kina and paua fishing boat, working off the southern coast. If you’re thinking dredge nets or fishing lines stop now. There’s none of that in this niche industry — it’s all diving. What’s more, the divers only wear snorkels and masks. No oxygen tanks allowed.

The job is tough — and so are the crew. You have to be, in a job that’s weather dependent and involves a fair amount of danger. It’s certainly not for everyone but Dwane loves it. As he says:

“I’ve  done it all my life. I started at age 7, up in Whitianga, going out on the boat with my Dad — who’s one of the best in the business.”

But much as he enjoys the snorkelling and fishing, they are the daily routine stuff. Dwane’s real passion lies with spear fishing.

“Growing up, we’d always have to work first, then we got to play. The rule was fill your sacks with paua or kina and then we’d get an hour of spearfishing. That’s the hour I lived for.”

What is Spearfishing?

Spearfishing is a technique that’s been around for centuries. Simply put, it’s throwing a spear at a fish, but of course there’s a lot more to spearfishing than that.

Forget those movie images of spears hurtling towards far-off leviathans. You have to get in close to the fish with spearfishing. There’s a 3-4 metre rope which attaches the spear to the speargun so that’s the maximum distance you can shoot from. And once again, it’s strictly snorkels, masks and flippers in this sport.

It actually seems more like hunting, than fishing.  

Dwane says it’s important to identify the fish before you shoot. Each species has its own characteristics, and a good spearfisher has to know how a particular fish will react. If you know which way the fish is likely to dodge, you have a good idea whereabouts to aim for a quick, clean kill.

Spearfishing is an environmentally-conscious sport too. “We eat everything we catch,” Dwane explains. “That’s the rule. There’s no indiscriminate hunting and you don’t get the damage to other species that net fishing can cause.” Even the competitions don’t allow waste, with all the fish being auctioned off for charity.

“In NZ the fish still aren’t used to being hunted. Sometimes they’ll swim right up to you and take a good look.” That’s because spearfishing is a relatively new and small sport in NZ.

But in Europe spearfishing has been going on for centuries. It’s a big sport with big money involved. In European countries you can sell the fish you spear, so the top divers actually are spearfishing for a living. They do it day in and day out.

“The competitions over there are at a whole ‘nother level.” says Dwane.

Spearfishing Championships — New Zealand…

Spearfishing New Zealand Nationals are held in various locations around the North Island each January.

Competitors are likely to be swimming, diving and contending with wind, weather and waves for up to 6 hours while they hunt for specific fish on the competition list. One boat takes everybody out, and they all hunt within the same boundaries. It’s demanding and dangerous, which is why the NZ nationals are a team competition.

Divers work in pairs as a team, and both catches are weighed and judged together. They take turns at diving so that one is always watching to check the other’s safety.

Dwane and his family are regular attendees at the NZ Spearfishing Nationals. As he explains, “I’ve been to them for most of my life; it’s just what we do in January.”

Spearfishing Grandfather, sons and grandsons.
Spearfishing goes through the generations in the Herbert family and most summers you’ll find them at the New Zealand Spearfishing Nationals.

… And Beyond

But his passion for spearfishing has taken Dwane well beyond the New Zealand competitions. He’s a regular competitor in the Inter-Pacific championships and has even been the Australian Champion. Biggest of all, is the chance to compete at the World Championships, and 2018 will be Dwane’s third — and hopefully best — experience of that heady event.

“I haven’t had the best luck at the World’s,” Dwane admits ruefully.

His first competition was a sobering experience — or rather a non-experience.

“I had surgery on my ankle two days before we were due to depart and turned up on crutches. I thought I’d be fine.”

The team leader had other ideas, and Dwane spent the next fortnight as a reluctant bystander

Taking on the World

Competing at the World’s is a huge step up. It’s a completely different set-up to the NZ and Inter-Pacific competitions because divers work solo with a specific area assigned to each competitor. Each diver has a team on a support boat, who are responsible for his safety and catch.

Because the Competition is usually held in Europe, the list of fish is different and includes far more fish species. That’s partly because there are far more edible fish species in European seas. We don’t have that many edible species around NZ so the lists in our competitions are small compared to overseas ones.

Dwane has to memorise what each fish on the list looks like. He has to know their behaviours and likely reaction to being hunted.  European fish are used to being hunted. They understand that humans are dangerous and will scatter or hide as soon as the spearfishermen appear.

The sea presents a new challenge in Europe, as well.

Coastal waters around NZ are very tidal and can be rough, with less visibility, but they are also shallow by comparison. In Greece, for example, spearfishers dive to far greater depths without an oxygen tank. And of course the fish are very shy and hide away in holes and crevices, so you spend longer underwater looking for them.

So when Dwane took his family to the World’s in 2016, they found that the clear, deep water presented a new danger.

Scary Experiences

When I asked Dwane about his scariest moments, he couldn’t really say, but Annie was in absolutely no doubt. The deep waters of the Greek Islands provided a huge shock.

Two weeks before, while practising for the big competition, Dwane got the bends (decompression sickness.) Because he was diving for long periods in water far deeper than he was used to, nitrogen bubbles in the blood were trapped and caused a blockage in his brain which led to a stroke when he came up to the surface.

Dwane says “I wasn’t really scared”
But Annie counteracts.  “That’s because he couldn’t see himself — the rest of us were terrified.”

Fortunately a nearby Greek diver had an oxygen tank. Dwane was given aspirin to thin his blood and relieve the blockage, taken 10 metres down underwater and pure oxygen pumped into him while slowly bringing him up little by little. Once back at the surface, Dwane was rushed to hospital. Amazingly, there was no lasting damage and Dwane was fit and ready to compete by the time the Worlds began.

But then disaster struck when Dwane got a lung squeeze. He says…

“The lungs get compressed at those depths and a sharp turn or twist can cause a tear. You don’t feel it — it doesn’t hurt, but when you get to the boat you start coughing blood and breathing is hard. I knew immediately that was it and I couldn’t go on.”

Portugal

Dwane Herbert with a large fish caught in Portugal.
Dwane with a fish caught on the 2017 recon trip to Portugal.

This year the biannual World Championships are in the south of Portugal. Once again, conditions will be different, but this time around Dwane feels much more prepared. In 2017 he, and other members of the NZ team, travelled to the competition area to check out the water conditions and fish.

They discovered that Portuguese coastal water is not as deep as in Greece, so the fish stay shallow. On the other hand, the seas are quite murky so visibility can be very poor, making the fish even harder to find.

Hopefully Dwane’s luck changes this year and there are no nasty accidents waiting in the 2018 competitions.

Family

One of the best parts of Dwane’s spearfishing lifestyle is the opportunity to travel. It’s even better when his family can come too.

They love to travel with him and experience the lifestyle of different places.

“The Greek islands were so much fun,” says Annie. “We could have stayed much longer.  Everyone was very welcoming but what we found the most strange was how everyone was out and about at night. Even the little kids were out way past 11pm.”  

Just like Dwane, his boys have been in and around boats and fish all their lives. During spare weekends and school holidays it’s the family’s joy to take the boat away to remote waters and enjoy the peace away from daily chores. Cobey and Eli love spearfishing and have taken to it with a passion. They would love to follow in their father’s footsteps.

Dwane with sons Eli and Cobey in wetsuits with their fish.
Eli, Dwane and Cobey – a spearfishing trio.

I love learning. My favourite saying is “you learn something new every day.” So I found it fascinating to listen to Dwane and Annie’s stories of spearfishing and to learn a little about the fishing life.

Their life and experience is so different to mine, and yet we live in the same little New Zealand community. Thanks, Dwane and Annie, it’s great to know you a little better now.

Follow Dwane on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DwaneHerbertSpearo/

Sponsored by Beuchat NZ                 

 https://www.facebook.com/BeuchatNZ/

More Dreamers and Doers…

Loved learning about a family who follows their dreams? Find out about other Southern Dreamers and Doers in:

A Hand-Built Home Infused With Love

Living the Dream at Craft Keepers

10 Tips For Success When Using Your Bread Maker

Bread maker machines are advertised as easy to use — and they are, once you get to know them. But your first results can be disappointingly deflating. Small, dense and under-cooked loaves are often a problem for new machine owners. You can, of course, go with a bread mix, which has all the ingredients in one bag. Just add yeast and water and you’re ready to go.

But if you’d rather start from scratch, here are ten tips to make sure your loaves are the best every single time.

Flour

Use high grade flour

In some countries, you can buy “bread flour” which has an even higher gluten content (12-14%) but New Zealand’s high grade usually works well enough.

You’ll have noticed many different types of flour on the supermarket shelves, and each is best-suited to a particular use. In New Zealand, high-grade flour is the best for bread making because it has the higher gluten content (11%) needed for elasticity in the dough. Standard flour has a lower gluten content and bread simply won’t rise as well if you use it.

Warm The Flour

It’s a good idea to make sure the flour is at least room temperature before it goes into the bread maker. My flour lives in the pantry, so in winter I make sure I bring it inside for a while before I need to get started. I often pop the bag down by the fire if I need it to warm up in a hurry.

Measure The Flour Correctly

Bread maker recipes will give you two ways to measure: cups and weight. Using a set of scales will give you a consistently accurate amount of flour each time. The amount of flour in a cupful can vary quite considerably, depending on whether you heap it or not. Some people pour the flour into the cup, others scoop it out of the flour bin. Each method will result in a slightly different amount of flour in the cup.

Be Generous Measuring Other Ingredients

The standard ingredients for an ordinary loaf of bread are flour, sugar, salt, oil, milk powder and yeast. I find that the amounts stated in the recipe in my bread maker book are a bit small. The amounts I use for a loaf made from 450g (1lb) of high-grade flour are:

  • 1 ½ tbsp olive or rice bran oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp milk powder (1 ½ tbsp of liquid milk works too)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (white sugar or coconut sugar both work well)
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Yeast (see below)

Tbsp = tablespoon (15 ml in NZ)        Tsp = teaspoon (5 ml)

Your machine is probably not made in New Zealand, and the measurements given in its recipe book may be using Australian or US tablespoons, which are actually a different size to NZ ones. An Aussie tablespoon, for example, is 20 ml whereas a NZ one is only 15 ml.

To be on the safe side, I use the largest tablespoon in my set which is actually NZ1½ tbsp.

Warm Water Is Important

Use water that is warm to the touch but not hot. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast, but cold water will take too long to activate it, and your bread is less likely to rise properly.

Yeast

Use a Yeast With Added Improvers

In New Zealand, you need to add flour improvers to your mix, because of the comparatively low protein/gluten content in our flour (even high grade.) The easiest way to do this is to use a yeast with improvers already added.

I use Edmonds Surebake Yeast — look for the jars with red tops in the baking aisle — but I have seen at least one other brand which also offered a yeast+improver option.

3 tsp is a good amount to add.

Breadmaker recipes vary as to the amount of yeast to use. Some will break it down into a yeast measurement and an improver measurement.

I’ve experimented with amounts over the years, and have found that 3 tsp of Surebake Yeast has given a well-risen loaf every time.

Check the date on the yeast jar.

If you’ve done everything else correctly and the bread still doesn’t rise properly, check the date on the yeast jar. If it’s a long way past the “best before” date then stale yeast could be the problem.

Add the ingredients in the order listed for your bread maker.

Your bread maker machine recipe book will have a list of ingredients and the order you should put them into the bread pan. Some start with the water, and add the flour and yeast last. Others list the yeast first. It’s probably best to add them in the order recommended for your machine.

Check the crust setting

Not all bread maker machines have a crust setting. If yours does, experiment with the setting that works best for you. On my machine, dark is the best option to use.

Yum — Fresh Bread

Bowl of soup with a slice of bread fresh from the bread maker.
Soup and fresh, homemade bread is such a treat, especially in winter. I often put a big pot of homemade soup on the slow-burning wood burner and let it cook all night. Next morning I pop bread ingredients into the bread maker and hey presto! By lunchtime, we have a delicious meal ready to eat.

I’ve made many mistakes with my bread over the years, but if a loaf doesn’t rise properly then it’s usually because I haven’t followed my own tips.

Farm Recipes on Time of my Life

Food is such a part of farming culture. The first thing you’re likely to hear when you walk into our house is “have a cuppa.” 

Apart from fresh bread, I’ve got some go-to recipes for keeping my farmer and guests well fed. Cheese scones are another perfect accompaniment to soup, or a quick snack to whip up when your farmer suddenly turns up with guests in tow.