Growing up on a Mid Canterbury farm, Annabel Berry went to school in Christchurch, before completing a Diploma in Event Management. Following travel abroad, she returned to Canterbury where she met Simon (the managing director of the famed Whitestone Cheese brand) who introduced her to Oamaru in 2010. The couple married, built a house, and Annabel took on a new role as the general manager of Tourism Waitaki, leading the national and global promotion of the region that had captured her heart.
‘North Otago’s the jewel of the crown, with beautiful, natural landscapes, rich heritage and a wealth of opportunities for young and old,’ she says. ‘Coming into the district as a tourist was the best way to look at the area from an outside perspective. My aim was to promote the area as a whole, and we were involved in some great projects like the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail, which is now regarded as one of the top cycle trails in the world.’
After the birth of her first child, Annabel went searching for a new challenge, and with the goal of working for herself and creating her own future, she retrained in interior design in 2012. ‘I’ve always had an inclination towards design which comes from my mother who’s an artist, and growing up around her very colourful dried flower business. Our family home was always full of colour and pattern, so I guess you could say it’s in my blood.’
Annabel’s taken that natural flair and turned it into a flourishing business by welcoming stylist Meghan Nockels, financial administrator Lesley Taylor, and various subcontractors to the team.
‘Our design store carries high-quality, beautiful products that we believe make a home sing. I love all aspects of the design process, but the best part is workshopping creative ideas for our clients and responding to their brief in a creative way.’
At her own North Otago home, shared with Simon and children Mia (seven), Jackson (six), and Boe (four), her personal style is showcased, detailing coastal and eclectic influences that mix old and new.
Annabel works school hours to ensure she’s home in the afternoon and evenings, but often finds some of her most creative moments come in the middle of the night. ‘It would seem that’s when I’m most relaxed and can really think about a project from different angles. I think anyone with a small business would agree, you never really switch off, and with design this is doubly so, because no matter where I go, I’m absorbing inspiration and ideas. I notice even the finest details in any space, and I love it. Design is truly one of the best passions, and I’m in awe of others who deliver beautiful, functional spaces.’
Design Federation now also offers Colour Consultations, Room Styling Plans, and Christchurch clients can make the most of an e-styling service.
In August, the team won their second Resene Award for work completed at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. This top recognition has only spurred Annabel on further to think outside the box and continue delivering aesthetically-pleasing results on projects big and small. ‘The design process is very personal, and quite often an extensive journey with a client, so we get to know people very well. Problem solving and finding solutions is something we love doing. There’s never a dull moment. We want to continue to push our creativity and deliver excellent solutions.’
While busy with her own projects, Annabel is also a proud champion of the other family business, Whitestone Cheese: the international success story founded by her in-laws Bob and Sue Berry in 1987.
Following the 1980’s rural downturn, and a series of crippling droughts, Bob, a second-generation Otago farmer, diversified into the cheese business by converting an Oamaru garage into a production plant. Nowadays, Simon oversees the business management, cheese-making team and production which includes a factory, delicatessen, and guided tours.
Annabel says Whitestone Cheese has gone from strength to strength, and, in its 30th year, has doubled its on-site capacity in Oamaru. ‘It’s a great family success story, which was built from the ground up starting in a garage in 1987 to now employing over 70 people nationally, and delivering cheese worldwide. Recently, the first shipment of cheese left Oamaru for Paris, and is found in other locations around the world. The most recent finding of New Zealand’s own blue mould in a pile of baleage has been a huge success where Whitestone’s created a true New Zealand Blue with Shenley Station. Whitestone keep innovating and pushing boundaries, it’s inspiring to be part of, and watch Simon as he takes the next steps in the business.’
For Annabel, home is where the heart is, and she’s thankful every day that she gets to live, work and play in a town she’s become so passionate about.
From her first visit, she was enchanted by the Waitaki District, and she’s been a proud champion of the region and everything it has to offer, ever since. ‘We have the best of both worlds bringing up our children in such a great environment,’ she says. ‘Weekends are spent at the [Waitaki] Lakes, we have great schools, a supportive community, and we’re able to develop our businesses as well. We couldn’t ask for more. The best part about North Otago is the people. There’s a great community where everyone’s working hard, but also supporting each other.’
[ WORDS Megan Gnad, IMAGES Rachel Wybrow ]