George Wilkins, 27, is one half of George & Willy, a Mt Maunganui company he started with friend Will McCallum. Their brown paper wall rollers and cafe menus can be found in eateries and homes across the world.
Wilkins married his long-time girlfriend Hannah, 29, a nutritionist, in January and they recently rebuilt a house at the Mount they share with their six-month-old labrador puppy, Freddy.
GEORGE: I met Will when we were kids. Our parents were friends and we went to the same school. Growing up, we did a lot of skiing together.
I'm the oldest of four and was always tinkering, making stuff with bits and pieces. My grandfather built a shed out the back of my parents' house to encourage me and my two brothers and sister to get creative.
I look back now on some of the things I made as a 12-year-old and think, how did I do that? For example, my grandfather had a boat on Lake Rotoiti that I scaled down and made a model of from balsa wood. I'm still impressed at how well made it was.
My grandfather also encouraged me to sell my work, so I'd sell shoe racks and bird boxes to family and at markets. It was a good grounding in marketing and selling.
I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I left school so I went down to Otago to see Will, who's a year older than me and was already studying there. I asked him what people did at Otago and he said a BCom [Bachelor of Commerce], so that's what we both ended up doing – he majored in marketing and I majored in management.
We both did a minor in design and although I only scraped through the rest of my course, I really enjoyed the design part. In our last semester, we had to come up with a design project and we ended up making kit-set wooden helicopters on the university's laser printer. We both got an A+ and sold the helicopters as a fundraiser for the Westpac rescue helicopter.
That turned into George & Willy. We moved back to the Mount and have been here ever since, apart from when Will spent nine months in New York and Hannah and I drove around the US for six months.
We started off doing a whole range of products, basically anything that caught our eye, including fire starters and trestle tables. At one stage, we had around 25 product lines, but now we've scaled it back to just word display products. About 80 per cent of our work is exported, which we never expected, but – thanks to the power of the internet – we get to send a piece of New Zealand all around the world.
I've known Hannah for years but we got together about three years ago. She works with diabetes patients for part of the week and the rest of the time she runs her own company Goodstool, which she set up about six months ago. It's basically a stool to help support better bowel movements.
We've just finished a huge renovation of our house at the Mount. It was built in 1990, but we've pretty much rebuilt it and now it's kind of a cool Scandinavian, alpine-style cabin. We've got three staff at George & Willy who helped us rebuild it, along with a builder mate.
We got Freddy when she was tiny. I take her to work every day. She's not the kind of puppy who rips up things and because our new house is all wooden floors and walls, she can't cause too much havoc at home either.
We're pretty committed to classic, timeless design that makes people's homes, cafes and studios as creative as possible. But that doesn't mean we can't do our own thing now and again. So Will and his fiancee are off to London for nine months, because his fiancee is studying there.
When they get back, Hannah and I might think about going to Wellington or Wānaka for a bit.