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Taking it to the sweet: Neil McLachlan is taking his operation global

He has always crossed oceans to satisfy clients but with so many asking for ever-more-exotic and hard-to-source materials, he is finding New Zealand an odd mix of paradise and remote outpost.

“Locally, I can usually find tradesmen with the necessary skills, but not always the luxuries and little treasures that complete a picture.”

Hulbert House in Queenstown is a perfect example. New Zealand builders were familiar with what is required to meet the Historic Places Trust strictures, but to create a vibrant atmosphere both inspiring and intimate Neil needed to cast a wide net.


French antiques and chandeliers, English wallpapers, custom carpet and tiles all marry to complete the look, and Neil’s hands-on approach meant the travel required was a little exhausting.

Recognising the need to establish a northern beach-head, he has chosen London, a city he knows intimately.

“I have a great attachment to London. It’s one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the world. And it has everything, from bespoke to bargain bins, so if you know the outlets well enough you can always find what your clients want.”


It is also a lot closer to the continental European and American markets, those catchments for quality that cram his databases. As time and distance are New Zealand’s only real disadvantages, he is excited by the chance to feel less hurried.

And a global perspective is in his blood.

“I was raised by a pair of international travellers with friends and contacts all over the world. My father worked for the British Colonial Service as an architect in Africa and London, then for an important New York architectural firm.”


He also enjoys the challenge of commercial developments. “Modernist”, “industrial”, even “functional” – typically such trigger words are euphemisms for “sterile” and “homogenised” but need not intimidate the confident designer.

Colour and scale are keys to a good result and occasionally need a disregard for convention. Having just created a spectacular environment for showcasing a collection of classic motorcycles, Neil is still fizzing and grateful to the open-minded owner who green-lighted an opportunity for the designer to think outside the box.

“There are few things more rewarding than working closely with builders to solve construction details, but on-site decisions need a developed understanding of how complex engineering must balance with practical requirements.”


Metal racks and stairs create crazy, unexpected close-up views of the bikes, and a Jackson Pollock style paintjob on the polished concrete floor is a classic McLachlan touch to help bring the whole heavy metal Disneyland together.


Many designers specialise but Neil’s education and globe-trotting DNA allow him to tackle all briefs with an open mind and broad expertise. He completed a liberal arts degree in Wisconsin, played in Parisian piano bars, launched his own clothing label, presented a television show that highlighted New Zealand’s coming of age in interior design and currently manages his own lighting range.

He is just as comfortable recreating period authenticity as he is with rewriting the commercial rule book.

“Designers can help with that sweet home feeling but only if they treat rooms like they live there too.”


Families on the move often wish to recapture fond memories but the subtleties are rarely outside Neil’s scope because so few places are unfamiliar to him.

“I now travel the world constantly, getting inspired, attending trade shows and sourcing the latest products available. My upbringing – and my genuine belief that design styles need to reflect the clients’ taste first and foremost – make my non-prescriptive approach to design unusual in the industry.”


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