A new life

AFTER: The sofa after Moana Mutscheller’s TLC. Pictures by Paul Rickard
BEFORE: The sad-looking sofa when it arrived at Bella Casa.
RELAXING: Moana reclining on her ‘new’ sofa.
AT WORK: Moana working at her sewing machine.

German-born interior decorator and designer Moana Mutscheller talks to Justine Tyerman about breathing new life into old things. . .

Moana has a look of ecstasy on her face as she caresses the crushed velvet fabric from Italy.

“I love the feel and the texture of the fabrics I work with — I always have, even as a child,” says the German interior decorator with a distinctly Maori name.

“How did a woman from Stuttgart get a name like Moana?” I ask as she casts her expert eye over a rickety, ramshackle old sofa, her next restoration project.

“The name was given to me by a Maori lady I met in Hawke’s Bay 20 years ago. I was pregnant at the time and the name was intended for my unborn daughter . . . but she turned out to be a son, and then I had another son . . . so I took the name myself.

“That’s how Brigitte became Moana . . . and I love my name.”

Moana detaches the tatty cover of the ancient sofa and removes the flax stuffing, laying bare the frame and webbing of the venerable old piece of furniture.

She smiles as her fingers trace the woodwork.
“I love the sturdy way old furniture was made. It tells a story. It reveals a lot about the technique of the craftsman who made it long ago . . . unlike modern furniture which has no soul, no history.”

Furniture from a bygone era reveals other things too.
“When I dismantle an old sofa or armchair, I come across all sorts of things.
“Knitting needles, keys, photos, old coins, letters and cards that have slipped down the sides or back.
“When I hand the items back to the owners, they are surprised . . . and delighted to discover where these things had disappeared to.
“It’s like finding old treasure.”

Moana often finds herself advising people on fabrics.
“Some clients need to be guided in the right direction. For example, it’s not a good idea to use a striped fabric on a chair with a curved back or a busy pattern on a chair with beautifully carved woodwork.
“They welcome my input.”

When Moana finishes a piece, she gets a huge sense of satisfaction — having transformed something ugly and broken into a thing of great beauty.
“It’s like a rebirth, imparting new life into something old and decrepit.”

Moana says she’s happy with every piece she’s ever worked on.
“I’ve never had a customer who has not been thrilled with the end result. My customers often give me flowers and even tips. They tell me I don’t charge enough!”

Moana’s love of interior decorating goes back to her childhood.
“I always loved art and making things with my hands — knitting, sewing, craftwork, painting flowers with bright colours.
“I remember when I was 13, we lived in a house with no wallpaper or painted walls. I had a vision of what the place could look like and decided then and there to become an interior decorator.”

When she left school, Moana became an apprentice in a family business learning the art of “raumausstatter” meaning to decorate.
“My boss Manfred Hutter was a wonderful man who taught me all about interior decorating — from curtain-making and carpet-laying to understanding fabrics and doing upholstery.
“I worked as an apprentice for three years and stayed on for two years after that. I enjoyed the work because it was so varied and interesting. It’s a beautiful trade.”

In her 20s, Moana travelled around New Zealand with a girlfriend and fell in love with the country. She settled in Hawke’s Bay for a while but came to live in Gisborne two years ago. She loves the lifestyle here, especially the beaches.

In December 2017, Moana established an upholstery business called Bella Casa at Scope in Roebuck Road.

She shares premises with other artisans including Jason Akuhata Brown who owns English Cottage, a furniture restoration business.

“I’ve never had a day I didn’t want to come to work. I get really excited when I start a new project . . . and even more excited when I finish a piece. I just love it,” she says, standing back admiring the sofa she’s been working on for five or six days.
“Are you telling me that’s the same sofa you were pulling apart when I first met you? I ask incredulously.
“Yes . . . but reborn,” Moana replies with that same look of ecstasy on her face.

German-born interior decorator and designer Moana Mutscheller talks to Justine Tyerman about breathing new life into old things. . .

Moana has a look of ecstasy on her face as she caresses the crushed velvet fabric from Italy.

“I love the feel and the texture of the fabrics I work with — I always have, even as a child,” says the German interior decorator with a distinctly Maori name.

“How did a woman from Stuttgart get a name like Moana?” I ask as she casts her expert eye over a rickety, ramshackle old sofa, her next restoration project.

“The name was given to me by a Maori lady I met in Hawke’s Bay 20 years ago. I was pregnant at the time and the name was intended for my unborn daughter . . . but she turned out to be a son, and then I had another son . . . so I took the name myself.

“That’s how Brigitte became Moana . . . and I love my name.”

Moana detaches the tatty cover of the ancient sofa and removes the flax stuffing, laying bare the frame and webbing of the venerable old piece of furniture.

She smiles as her fingers trace the woodwork.
“I love the sturdy way old furniture was made. It tells a story. It reveals a lot about the technique of the craftsman who made it long ago . . . unlike modern furniture which has no soul, no history.”

Furniture from a bygone era reveals other things too.
“When I dismantle an old sofa or armchair, I come across all sorts of things.
“Knitting needles, keys, photos, old coins, letters and cards that have slipped down the sides or back.
“When I hand the items back to the owners, they are surprised . . . and delighted to discover where these things had disappeared to.
“It’s like finding old treasure.”

Moana often finds herself advising people on fabrics.
“Some clients need to be guided in the right direction. For example, it’s not a good idea to use a striped fabric on a chair with a curved back or a busy pattern on a chair with beautifully carved woodwork.
“They welcome my input.”

When Moana finishes a piece, she gets a huge sense of satisfaction — having transformed something ugly and broken into a thing of great beauty.
“It’s like a rebirth, imparting new life into something old and decrepit.”

Moana says she’s happy with every piece she’s ever worked on.
“I’ve never had a customer who has not been thrilled with the end result. My customers often give me flowers and even tips. They tell me I don’t charge enough!”

Moana’s love of interior decorating goes back to her childhood.
“I always loved art and making things with my hands — knitting, sewing, craftwork, painting flowers with bright colours.
“I remember when I was 13, we lived in a house with no wallpaper or painted walls. I had a vision of what the place could look like and decided then and there to become an interior decorator.”

When she left school, Moana became an apprentice in a family business learning the art of “raumausstatter” meaning to decorate.
“My boss Manfred Hutter was a wonderful man who taught me all about interior decorating — from curtain-making and carpet-laying to understanding fabrics and doing upholstery.
“I worked as an apprentice for three years and stayed on for two years after that. I enjoyed the work because it was so varied and interesting. It’s a beautiful trade.”

In her 20s, Moana travelled around New Zealand with a girlfriend and fell in love with the country. She settled in Hawke’s Bay for a while but came to live in Gisborne two years ago. She loves the lifestyle here, especially the beaches.

In December 2017, Moana established an upholstery business called Bella Casa at Scope in Roebuck Road.

She shares premises with other artisans including Jason Akuhata Brown who owns English Cottage, a furniture restoration business.

“I’ve never had a day I didn’t want to come to work. I get really excited when I start a new project . . . and even more excited when I finish a piece. I just love it,” she says, standing back admiring the sofa she’s been working on for five or six days.
“Are you telling me that’s the same sofa you were pulling apart when I first met you? I ask incredulously.
“Yes . . . but reborn,” Moana replies with that same look of ecstasy on her face.

Ayur Well . . .

And now for something completely different . . .

Moana has opened a second business entitled Ayur Well based on the Ayurvedic lifestyle.
“Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word — ayur meaning life and veda meaning knowledge. Together they translate as the ‘science of life’, ” says Moana.

“I found my passion for Ayurveda five years ago while travelling in Sri Lanka. I was fortunate to be a patient as well as a student working alongside Dr Kumara who treated a skin condition I had suffered for over 35 years.

“The healing came about through Panchakarma which uses a combination of freshly-picked herbs, medicated oils and diet.”

Moana continued to study online through the School of Ayurveda and Panchakarma in Kerala, India including three months of practical study with Dr Rajesh and Dr Sapna.

Twelve months later she completed a two-month internship at an Ayurvedic hospital working alongside Dr Raveendranath. Dr Vasant Lad has also had a major influence on her learning.

“I believe Ayurveda is an endless journey into the study of wellbeing to prevent disease and enable us to live long and healthy lives. It’s all about keeping things in balance. When something is out of balance that’s when disease or ill health develops.”

Ayurveda is not well known in New Zealand but in Europe it is widespread and even practised in the biggest hospital in Germany, Moana says.

“And now I want to bring Ayurveda here to the people of Gisborne.”

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