In Good Company

In her new book, Wild Kinship, Monique Hemmingson meets 28 entrepreneurs whose businesses focus on making a positive impact on the world.

Papamoa local Monique Hemmingson was formerly the owner of Mount Maunganui’s much-loved Wild One Wholefoods Eatery. While running that business, she was inspired by the forward-thinking small businesses she worked with. Monique realised just how many important stories there are about people forging a new path in business, while keeping an eye firmly on sustainability, ethics and authenticity.

Now a writer and wellness advocate, Monique has just launched her first book, Wild Kinship. It’s a beautiful coffee table book that’s a collection of interviews with “conscious entrepreneurs” from New Zealand and Australia (along with lovely shots by Erin Cave (ilk), a regular Our Place photographer).

“I hope within these pages you and I can find practical ways to become better. I hope that through this we might understand our power as a consumer and how to channel it,” says Monique.

Here’s a part of one of her  enlightening interviews from the book.

Sarah-Lee & François Guittenit, Le Workshop tiny homes, Napier

How did your past contribute to Le Workshop?

François: We started Le Workshop when we moved to Hawke’s Bay about six years ago. I’m a cabinetmaker by trade, so we started out doing custom-made furniture and cabinetry, which naturally evolved into our tiny homes business. We’d just bought this land for the workshop and had been renting a house when we had to move out. We decided to be resourceful and use the land instead of getting into debt buying elsewhere, so we built ourselves a tiny home to live in. I’d been working on building sites since I was fifteen back home in France, so we designed something that suited our family and went for it.

Sarah-Lee: We’ve always thought within a holistic, creative, design mentality, and through much of our relationship, even in the early days, we’d sit around drawing up different plans for houses or campers or teepees, just for fun. François and I met while he was travelling New Zealand on a surf trip. He was living in a van and we’d both just come out of our studies that had a design basis. We were both in this passion- driven, creative space where the world was our oyster and we were instantly attracted to those qualities in one another. We started talking about design and have never really stopped, thirteen years later.

We loved living in Auckland in our twenties but found we were growing out of the big city life, so opted for a slower, simpler existence. We moved to a friend’s land out in Mangawhai and converted a bus into a house with our first baby, Poppy. We lived there, off the grid, between the bus and a cabin for a year. We never set out to be tiny house designers as a profession — we just didn’t want to sign up to a mortgage for the next thirty years.

How did the idea of tiny homes evolve into a business?

Sarah-Lee: It’s become so common to live with a mortgage, but it’s incredibly limiting and really dictates your life. So, when we had to move out of our rental in Hawke’s Bay, we wanted an option that wouldn’t limit us in that way, especially with a young family. We both wanted the freedom to be at home with the kids and have a big impact on their lives, rather than be too stressed and too busy with work, just so we can pay the bank for our shelter.

François: Because of the location of our tiny house and workshop (within suburbia but close to the beach), people could see our house and would stop to check it out. Often tiny homes are way up in the hills or off the grid, so people don’t see them. It was the exposure that made the project evolve into the business it is. People started asking us to build them one, and then another, and that just continued to flow.

How do you find living in a tiny home with a growing family?

Sarah-Lee: We love living a home-based life where we also work and our children learn from. We have three children under eleven, plus our dog Georgie, and for now it works! We don’t really believe there’s one house that will get you through every season of life. These things are always changing and evolving as we grow. So, it’s not forever but right now the pros far outweigh the cons. We believe a home should offer a place of rest and respite: of centring and being.

We also live a much more connected, present life as a family; it’s not the kids in that room and the parents down the other end of the house. We’re very engaged in one another’s lives and if there’s a problem, we face it head on and resolve it, because we have to. We feel those are great life lessons and coping mechanisms to be implementing in our children’s lives. There’s no carpet to sweep issues under or doors to slam, so it becomes a very open, honest, close relationship.

In what ways does your production process aid the environment?

François: Our tiny homes are built around steel framing on a trailer that’s engineered locally. We use a recycled sheep wool blend made from carpet waste for insulation, similar to Pink Batts, which is also less allergenic. Our exterior cladding is largely made up of New Zealand grown cedar, with poplar ply internally. The poplar’s light colouring helps to make smaller spaces look bigger and is a more sustainable fast-growing timber that there’s an abundance of.

Our windows are all double-glazed, low E, argon-filled with timber cedar frames, which helps hugely with heat sealing and transfer in comparison with your usual aluminium frames. We build all our wooden window frames and source the glass locally and use natural flaxseed fibre flooring and resins with no VOCs. There’s little within the build that’s sourced internationally or has a transport footprint. The biggest energy user in the house is the fridge. Our power bill is around twenty dollars a month year-round for a family of five, home full-time.

Waste within the standard building industry is huge. So much of it could be avoided with a little forward planning and better design, but instead, good quality materials often go to landfill. Because we build onsite and we’re working with the same materials repeatedly, it’s easier for us to reuse and recycle all of our offcuts. We’re mindful in all we do — right down to putting our unused wood chips on the side of the road for people to use in their gardens.

Our houses are more cost effective to build, more efficient to run, have less maintenance and don’t cost the planet with their production or over their lifetime. It’s a beautiful way to simplify your life financially and leave more time for quality moments spent with loved ones, passion projects and adventure.

This interview has been edited down for Our Place.

Now a writer and wellness advocate, Monique Hemmingson has just launched her first book

Photography by Erin Cave