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‘Vibrancy’ drew designer back to hometown

Living the dream . . . Inc Design Store founder Helen Riley-Duddin, with Claude (6 months), outside her Oamaru home and now design store. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

When people move away from the town they grew up in, they often never plan on coming back.

That’s what Helen Riley-Duddin thought about Oamaru.

But in 2015 she fell in love with a century-old character home in Greta St, bought it and moved back to her hometown with husband Michael and children.

“We were never going to leave Dunedin, but this house stole our hearts,” Mrs Riley-Duddin said.

“And there were just enough things that made it feel like it was on the cusp of exciting growth or change, just this vibrancy that small towns typically don’t have.”

Three weeks ago, the former Waitaki Girls’ High School pupil opened a new design store – Inc Design Store – in the front room of her early 1900s home.

After leaving school, Mrs Riley-Duddin worked on the family’s organic market garden in Kakanui while she decided what she wanted to do next.

She settled on studying design and marketing at Otago University – and met husband Michael Duddin in her first two weeks.

They loved Dunedin and “were the weird ones” who stayed on after graduating from University.

Mrs Riley-Duddin taught at the Otago Polytech’s School of Design until she had her first child, Jemima.

Her brand Tinch Design Studio started from designing interactive wall spaces at her own home, using magnetic products.

“I called it ‘half way between art and play’ – it was art for the walls, but that the kids could interact with – and it wasn’t ugly,” she said.

Based from a studio in her Dunedin home, she started selling online and also returned to the School of Design to teach part-time.

When her brand had become established, she started having discussions with other creatives in Dunedin about collaborating to open a store in Dunedin.

“That led to the establishment of Guild,” she said.

“It was an opportunity to have a central city store in Dunedin that each of us as individual brands couldn’t have afforded but collectively it worked.”

The group of five founders of Guild formed a non-profit society – Dunedin Designed Incorporated – to manage the shop and the designers involved shared the rent and staffed the shop themselves.

But life went on for all of the artists and they decided the Guild brand could exist without a permanent shop and carry on by doing pop-ups.

“We did the Oamaru pop-up and a few others, with the idea that key designers could head each one of those projects,” she said.

Demand has seen Guild reopen in a fixed space in Dunedin recently.

“And I decided to open my little space here, as well,” she said.

“I’ve handed over the Guild baby, but many of the contacts and the friendships that I’ve built through Guild are also here in the shop.”

It was the successful Guild pop-up that gave Mrs Riley-Duddin the confidence to open a design store in Oamaru.

“A friend of mine kept saying ‘just do it, you’ve been talking about it for 10 years’,” she said.

“I don’t know if it’s been brewing for that long, but maybe it has.”

Oamaru was changing and growing – and she wanted to add to that.

“I feel like I can see it and I don’t want to be on the sidelines, I want to contribute, I want to be part of it.”

A self-professed homebody, Mrs Riley-Duddin said she loved the idea of having a “destination shop” at her home.

“My studio was in the front room anyway, and my husband, Michael, was also working from home [as a stock market analyst],” she said.

“That’s another reason why we ended up here [in Oamaru], because we realised we could. We’re both working from home; we could be anywhere.”

For Mrs Riley-Duddin, the attraction of design was its multi-disciplinary nature and relevancy to so many different industries.

After having her fourth child six months ago, she said she does not have the time to commit to design the way she used to, and her work has become more curational – a celebration of selecting the things she loves.

“So that’s kind of where [Inc] came about – it feels like it’s a creative outlet without me having to do the manual making and packaging and everything I have in the past.”

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