An unlikely friendship

In the small South Canterbury town of Timaru, two unlikely friends met under sombre circumstances at the funeral of a close mutual friend. Today that friendship is also a thriving business liaison. Read on…

Angus “Gus” Leen, a young entrepreneur and industrial designer, and Deborah Still, an interior designer and business owner of 39 years, have found solace in each other’s company, and a shared appreciation for design.

“I was judging a book by its cover and thought, Oh – I haven’t got it in me to talk to this young lad that I don’t know when I’m feeling so heartbroken – just my luck!”
Deborah recalls, “I don’t remember how the conversation started out. But suddenly, we were looking at Instagram because I told Gus I was a designer, and he was chatting about design. Then the whole evening just flew by, us sharing pictures on our phones and talking all night.”

It was unexpected, Gus adds. “We’ve talked about it since and thought it must have been Barrie who sat us together at his funeral as a way to help us through since his passing.”

Despite their initial reservations about talking to someone they didn’t know
at such a difficult time, Gus and Deborah found that they had a true connection through their shared fascination for design inspired by nature.
Gus admits how surprised he was that they have so much in common considering the 38 year age gap.

He describes how he found a great mentor that evening.
“At the funeral, I remember sharing with Deborah about how I wasn’t enjoying my first year in university.”

To offer Gus some new inspiration, Deborah introduced him to her business friends at ‘Tréology’ in Christchurch. Tréology makes beautiful bespoke furniture from Kauri found in river beds. Gus came away feeling incredibly motivated.

The unlikely duo soon found they were meeting regularly, and realised the potential for professional collaboration. They have since worked on many projects together, and have discovered a natural synergy and ease in their workflow.
Deborah shared that she is thoroughly enjoying watching a young New Zealand designer’s journey.

“I really admire Gus’s dedication to quality and eye for detail, and that he’s pushing the boundaries. Like that Newcastle design he’s doing right now, it’s so different.”

Bringing a fresh perspective and honest feedback to the table helps them both in their design work.

“Deborah never creates two designs that look the same, and they are always unique to the customer,” explains Gus. “There are so many people that you find that are just focused on what’s trending, which is beautiful, but they’re not focusing on actually what matters for the customer.
“She takes inspiration from the surrounding landscape of the interior she’s working on. When I walk into a space that Deborah has created, I can see where she pulled her colours and forms from in the natural features that encompass the home,” he adds.

Deborah’s clients work with her because they trust her design, she says.
“They know I’ll sell them something they’ll love for a long time, which is why I love to tell Gus’s story.”

Gus makes beautiful, fine quality lighting and furniture pieces from sustainably sourced materials at his workshop in Timaru.

Despite their difference in age, it doesn’t get in the way of their friendship.
“I don’t actually ever think of Gus as older or younger than me. But, I don’t think of anyone that I care about as anything other than the actual essence of who the person is. I don’t look at gender, sexuality, or age; it’s actually completely irrelevant. Those things don’t change who a person is,” says Deborah.

“Deborah and I can talk for hours and lose track of time” Gus adds, “We get music on and talk over a few gins, the conversation always comes back to design, and it’s so inspiring.”

Their unlikely friendship serves as a reminder that age is just a number and that sometimes, the most unexpected connections can lead to the most rewarding collaborations.

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