Is this New Zealand's best WFH set up?
Celeste Skachill took to the bush to redesign her own life. Now, she's helping others do the same.
Kia ora and welcome to Stocktake, created in partnership with Kiwibank.
Now that lockdowns appear to be over (fingers crossed), we’ve adapted to some new ways of working. Many have adopted a hybrid model, spending a few days in the office each week and working from home for the rest. I like being in the office – but occasionally it’s nice to stay home, give the traffic a miss and really focus on a task or two. I found someone who does this every single day – and she’s been doing it far longer than most, in the most picturesque place possible. Jealous? I am, and you probably will be too.
-Chris Schulz, business editor
‘To think this was all just on Trade Me’
She’s balancing her laptop in one hand and presenting her home like Kevin McCloud in an episode of Grand Designs with the other. “We had to stand these beams up with a digger,” says Celeste Skachill, patting the giant metal framework that holds up her Silverstream home. “This is a double-height kitchen … Here’s a little mural that I painted.”
In the bathroom, which offers naked bush views from the shower, she points out the tiles. “We got a quote for $20,000. We were like, ‘We can’t afford that,’” she says, shaking her head. Instead, she and her partner Glen taught themselves tiling and completed the job for $5,000. They built their entire house that way. “We’d fall asleep painting the place. We’d fall asleep to YouTube tutorials at 3am.”
Back in 2016, Celeste was scouring Trade Me when she found a piece of land covered in bush in the Upper Hutt suburb of Silverstream. There was nothing there, but she promptly fell in love with the bush and sweeping vistas of the Remutaka Hill. When she first visited, she couldn’t even drive onto the property. “We had to create the driveway,” she says. “I’ve got heaps of photos of the extremity of the earthworks.”
Sick of her big city job and inner-city lifestyle, Celeste decided to try something different. She wanted to start her own business, but it always felt too hard. Then she was given a nudge. “We had two good friends pass away – and my nana. It was all in the space of a month. That was sobering. I was thinking, ‘One day I’ll start a business, maybe when I’m 40 or 50'.’” The sudden deaths in quick succession made her revisit her plan. “I was like, ‘Sheesh, what if I don’t make it to 40 or 50?’”
So she and Glen bought the Silverstream property and moved onto it. At first, they lived in a caravan. It was nothing like the lifestyle that smug #vanlife Instagrammers make it out to be. “It involves dirt in the bed, leaky caravans, super confined spaces,” says Celeste. They used a free Portaloo as a toilet, then attached a shower to it. In winter, Silverstream is proper cold. “I would wake Glen up and I’d be like, ‘Hey, the caravan’s leaking.’ And he’s like, ‘It’s just our condensation building up on the roof and dripping back down on us. Go back to sleep.’”
Money, Celeste admits, was tight. But she had a dream. On a piece of paper, she’d scrawled plans for her new life, one redesigned from the ground up. Busy city life was out, and working from home was in. She wanted to start her own business, a co-design studio. Along with a home for her, Glen and their border collie Ollie to live in, she planned to build a small office surrounded by a deck built into the bush. “Nestled in nature,” is written on one image. “Bi-fold doors [to] let the sun in [in the] morning,” is on another.
It took far longer to realise these dreams than she thought. From the caravan, she and Glen built a windowless garage and moved into that. They spent three years in there. From the garage, they then built their home office. When they finally finished it at the beginning of 2020, Celeste was ready to dive head-first into her new business. We know what happened next. “Overnight, we lost all of our work,” she says about the arrival of Covid. “Every single client called to put work on hold. It was your worst nightmare.”
Instead of panicking, she tried to stay calm. “I took that time to just go for some walks. That was quite unusual for me,” she says. When her head cleared, she pivoted, moving some of her services online. She soon realised she was better set up for survival than most. While many who were working from home had laptops set up on their kitchen counter or nestled into their laps on the couch, she already had an office set up and ready to go.
Now, with her home finished, and her office being used as just her office, Celeste says she finally has the life she dreamed of. Covid has, in the long run, helped her business. She has seven full-time staff, and says she couldn’t do her job – giving clients advice about how to build their brands, redesign their companies, or build more integrated events – without having applied that work to her own life.
While working from home was rare before Covid, now she’s known as the woman who Zooms into focus from the bush. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh wow, cool, you’re in the bush. I wish we had a little studio in our backyard'. Heaps of people are working from home and remotely. That’s really helped.” With Covid rules relaxed, she invites clients out to enjoy the solitude with her, or hosts workshops. It helps them relax. Some bring their own jandals, slipping out of their stuffy shoes. Everyone comments on the views.
Often, Celeste’s location is also a source of inspiration. When she gets stressed, or needs some new ideas, she takes a deep breath and gazes at the bush surrounding her. “In summer, I often just sit out on the deck and work. The amount of times I've been illustrating birds and a bird has literally landed there,” she says, pointing at her handrail. She thinks: “I'm getting paid to illustrate the bird that's just right there.”
This is business banking for better
Kiwibank wants more Kiwi businesses implementing sustainability initiatives to help reduce their carbon footprint, but they know how hard – and expensive – that can be. So they’ve created the Sustainable Business Loan with preferential internet rates, to make it more affordable for businesses to make a positive impact. Find out more about the Sustainable Business Loan here. (Sustainability & lending criteria, terms & conditions & fees apply.)
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As central and local government battle for asset control, the lack of investment in infrastructure becomes an ever-growing issue. On the latest episode of When the Facts Change, host Bernard Hickey talks to former Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse about the tension between these forms of government and how it can be mended. What has ruptured in these relationships and why does it matter?
Here at Stocktake, we cover all the business news that isn't boring. I've tracked down a Hokitika adventurer who takes American CEOs bush for a week, a woman who helps pull struggling businesses back from the brink, and, my personal favourite, the guy picking sea cucumbers off rocks and exporting them to China.
All of this takes time, and it wouldn't be possible without the support of The Spinoff's members.
If you’re keen to support our work, you can sign up here.
A handful of quick links
The government is moving forward with plans to stop ‘vulnerable’ consumers falling into debt traps by introducing limits for buy now, pay later schemes.
Sick of steep food prices? They’re not coming down any time soon, warns RNZ.
Wondering what’s going on between The Caker and Chrissy Teigen? Here’s a timeline of the events that led to their brand battles.
Finally, if you’ve got a spare hour, Madeleine Chapman (hi boss!) appears on this week’s episode of media podcast The Fold for an illuminating chat about her first year in charge of The Spinoff.
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