Phil Agnew master craftsman, and wife Maree, creative director, are the mischievous entrepreneurial husband-and-wife team behind Decade Homes.
Situated in Nelson’s Founders Heritage Park, the business is focused specifically on providing customers NZ-grown solid sustainable timber, in handcrafted bespoke joinery, heritage-styled furniture, floors, siding, decks and fences.
Last July the couple bought Decade Timeless Furniture from Roger Davies, along with The Siding Workshop where Phil houses his operation, and the Platform Gallery Showroom, Maree’s creative domain.
After a significant health scare, they decided to commit to spending more time together, and moved to the security of their second home in Nelson. Leaving their hometown city of Christchurch where they had lost their home on Scarborough Hill due to the earthquakes, in tow with their motorhome bus, ‘Black Betty’, a new future of togetherness and family legacy began.
Sustainability and heritage are at the forefront of everything they do. “In terms of our passion, Nelson has far more to offer us than anywhere else in NZ,” explains Maree.
Using NZ-grown untreated radiata, eucalyptus, beech and poplar, all sourced from local timber mills, Phil is now searching to find a local quality alternative to the western red cedar imported from Canada and USA, to use for the ‘New Decade Barn Doors’. The cedar is coming from so far away; “We need to focus on reducing carbon footprint, and supporting our sustainable communities,” explains Phil.
Maree has recently designed a beautiful kitchen island to cater for the people who are wanting to up-spec the flat pack kitchen. Phil comments, “Maree creates, Phil constructs.” As all furniture and joinery is made to order, customers have the option to choose bespoke, in colour and design. The furniture is shipped all over New Zealand, the joinery and building services cater mostly for the Tasman area.
Phil specialises in restoration and replication in historic homes, windows, doors and stairs, and is currently working on a restoration project down on the Nelson waterfront.
“Phil is a highly respected and amazing master craftsman,” says Maree with pride. “He was one of the first joiners in New Zealand to specialise in replica home joinery, making replica windows and doors back in the 1980s.” This is a skill much sought after in the trade.
The couple’s 23-year-old son Isaak, who works full-time in the building industry, is already helping Phil out on weekends, with solid timber siding, decks, fences, and retaining walls. The hope is that Isaak will become more involved with the building side of Decade Homes, and that eventually their daughter Holly will be included. She is following in her mother’s and grandmother’s creative footsteps. The 28-year-old is a fashion designer, a highly skilled seamstress, has worked in the New Zealand film industry and owns her own clothing line.
“Decade Homes is about creating The Agnew Family Legacy,” says Phil. “We want our children to be able to have their hands well and truly in the family business at some stage, when we are a little older.”
Phil’s father Jim was a blacksmith, grandfather and cabinet maker. The craftsmanship has likely been in his blood from day dot. “There’s some sawdust in the genes somewhere!” he jokes.
His craft started straight out of school in the 1970s as a joiner apprentice with RA Hale in Christchurch. “I was lucky they were traditional joiners, and the 11 years there gave me a signicant grounding in solid timber.”
Leaving his stellar position last year as executive director at Ara, formerly CPIT, he has remained actively hands-on in the trade.
Phil began at Ara as a joinery tutor in June 1989 and went on to teach furniture making, woodturning, architectural drafting and CAD design. Being the mastermind behind ‘Tradefit’, the simulated trade training environment at Sullivan Ave Campus, he won an award. Gaining a double major business degree he went on to lead Ara as executive director in business and development.
Phil’s commitment led him to be actively involved also with Workskills NZ, taking top New Zealand joinery students to the International WorldSkill Competitions in Switzerland, Finland and Korea. These are unofficially known as the ‘Trade Olympics’, and he was honoured eventually as chief international judge.
Maree was born and bred also in Christchurch, where the couple met, married and raised their two children in Sumner. Although having strong creative talent from a very young age, her life took a different path in banking management. However, her artistic flair was never far below the surface. She is a talented photographer, has amazing freehand abilities and is a passionate cook who appeared on NZ Masterchef in 2015. Recently building, single-handedly, the new Decade website, her creative skills are evident. She is currently mastering Sketchup 3D Design, to help people create their own visions.
She is equally passionate about what they are creating with New Zealand sustainably grown timber, and heritage.
“It would be just fantastic to think that in 100 years’ time, someone restoring a timber floor would find our trademark burnt on the underside … or that one of our pieces of furniture has become someone’s antique,” comments Maree, “that’s really exciting stuff to us.”