Everything’s pretty, useful or pretty blimmin’ useful in this new store in Warkworth’s Riverside Arcade. The budding venture is by dried-floristry darling Antonia de Vere of Mark Antonia, who relocated with her designer husband Mark Seeney to the area a few years ago after moving on from their retail space/studio in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland.
Antonia, was there an a-ha moment that led you to start Pretty Useful? I was working from home and had no separation of work and life, so I knew I either needed to get a studio built or find a different option. I really did miss working in retail — I missed talking to humans rather than our pet cats Louis and William, and possum Medea Romulus — so I thought there was no harm in looking into retail spaces that I could also use as a studio in which to make my dried floral creations. This space is perfect for both. We still run Mark Antonia, but this is different, direct to customers.
What do you have on your shelves? Pretty Useful stocks all of our Mark Antonia products, including our candles, vases and prints, as well as a range of floral supplies, so if customers want to have a go at creating their own work based around what I do, they can find the things they’ll need.
With a focus on ‘made’ and trying to be as local as possible, we’re stocking my cousin Sophie Divett’s beautiful jewellery, which is very natural and foliage-inspired. There are many well-priced gifts for the person who has everything, like beautiful handmade soap, Japanese incense and loose-leaf tea. When customers visit Pretty Useful, they’re offered tea by Noble & Sunday in vessels made by local ceramicist Nadine McConnell.
How does the space itself function? It’s dynamic. At first glance, it looks like a shop — until you look around and see it’s also a working studio. Mark designed and built it with my needs in mind, so it also has a large cabinet on castors that can be moved into the middle of the room, for use as a table at which I’ll host lessons. During the pandemic, I wrote a book [Forever Flowers: Dry, Preserve, Display] about my work, with step-by-step instructions on how to make what I’m best known for, but now I can host dried floral lessons again, and I absolutely cannot wait.
What will your workshops entail? Think dried bouquets, hanging pieces, wreaths, ikebana-style arrangements. Everything I make, I’ll teach. I love teaching and keep my classes small so I can go around and help everyone with their questions and interests. We’d also like to host candle-making classes, and perhaps open the space so other local makers can teach here too.
Lessons are held after hours and on Sundays, for groups of about 10 people. Sunday, fun day! Come to one of my lessons!