When it comes to Interior Design, Buster Caldwell knows what he’s doing. He’s the founder of Wonder Group, an award winning Interior Design studio in Auckland, New Zealand, who is to credit for producing some of the most tasteful spaces in the city. We spoke to Buster about the in’s and out’s of his design process as well as what he focuses on when designing a hospitality space.


You're in the business of creating beautiful spaces that function for a purpose. What does your design process involve?

We first like to first figure out where the bones go, then add the flesh, and focus on the clothing last. A space should function well before all else - and we only treat ourselves to the aesthetic decoration when this is well resolved. A space should then be clothed in its lovely jewellery, and we work hard to find talented local craftspeople to furnish the body with arts, sculpture, lighting & furniture from makers close by.

In your opinion what are the essential elements to focus on when designing a hospitality space?

Good hospitality is all about vibe, and the interior needs to be the film set where the staff can perform their best. There are the basics - lighting that responds to the occasion, materials that drive the behaviour, art that sets the attitude, furniture that allows for the appropriate level of comfort. Hospitality spaces that I adore are well-worn, feel casual, soften the mood, are thoughtfully considered & most importantly - make you need to go back time & time again.



What has been one of your favorite projects to date and why?

I think that Duck Island on Ponsonby Rd marked a turning point in my career. Even though it's teeny, it was our first project that got good traction & seemed to resonate super well with its audience. I couldn't stop seeing it on social media, and the queues were crazy. It was also one of the first projects that I took friends & family to, which previously was always a weird personal horror. So there's that.



What has been one of your most significant learning curves?

Every day there seems to be another. I've never worked in another design studio, so my journey is truly the lesson of hard knocks. I think we've made some pretty terrific mistakes in every part of the process possible - and each of these carries huge learning. At the start of business, internal financial structure was severely lacking - and there were times when the dream was nearly stopped in its tracks. Feeling the responsibility for the careers of those within your team is a whole different thing, and perhaps one of the more significant career arcs I've focused energy on getting right.


You've used a few George and Willy products in your projects. Why did you choose to use George and Willy?

There are products in the market that are of a higher quality & better design than what we would personally arrive at if we went bespoke - particularly when up against the limitations of time & budget. Signage is inherently a difficult product to make well... usually, it has moving parts and needs to be easily interchanged (in the case of menu boards.) Sounds odd, but sometimes this is more complicated to get right than a commercial kitchen - and so having an incredible well-designed & thoughtful solution off-the-shelf is such a lifesaver, especially when we have other important things to focus our energy on.

Do you have a favourite George & Willy product?

There's an exterior fabric sign that you prototyped years back, and it still sits on the mood-board of a lot of our projects! The day you release it, I'll be your biggest customer. On the market currently, I'm obsessed with the Standing Sidewalk Sign. It's such a wee cutie, every little cafe should have one.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Who dares wins. I think it's an air forces quote, but C.J. Hendry repeated it over and over on a Hype Podcast and it's helped me make some big decisions over the past few years. A little cringe, but here we are.

What’s on your playlist at the moment?

Warpaint, Dope Lemon, Jungle, Fat Freddy's and also a Lot of Lana Del Rey. Also Macy Gray! You get the mood. Low & slow.



Photos by Jackie Meiring, Jono Parker & Wonder Photography

George Wilkins