People of Asuwere - Chris Stevens

People of Asuwere - Chris Stevens

For our New Zealand customers, if you have dined somewhere and thought? ‘Wow, this fit out is incredible’ It is highly likely that this man had something to do with it. Chris Stevens, Founder of CTRL space has been behind the design of many of our favourite restaurants / bars and cafes across the country and we never even knew it.
There is something about the execution that Chris and his team manage to nail every time, spaces that you arrive in and everything just feels right. We caught up with Chris at his office just off Karangahape Road in Auckland, followed by a beer at their recently completed Hotel Ponsonby (fellow Asuwere member Hugo Bairds latest venture) to hear a little more about his journey and process behind CTRL space.

CTRL space has been running for 12 years. Tell us about your journey and how you came to designing some of the most coveted spaces in the hospitality industry. 

I had a design passion right from school – in-fact I think my 16 year old “future self” saw me living on the other side of the world, surfing & designing spaces (I’m originally from the UK).  When I first arrived in NZ, I worked for a small firm designing ‘concept bars’ for one of the main breweries – that really cemented my passion for the hospitality industry, but working alongside it in a creative capacity, as opposed to in it.I established CTRL Space in 2009, in the midst of the GFC which was certainly a challenge.  I pretty much did anything and everything during that time – Contrary to belief, starting a business in a recession can be a good thing – it ensures you never take any success for granted and it makes you grateful for the wins – sets a good foundation. 

Being part of the hospitality design scene over the last 3-5 years has been amazing.  Seeing Auckland develop into a true design-led city has been great and hospitality has been an integral part of that.  We have been fortunate enough to align ourselves with some great clients and operators who share our creative ambition and so we can collectively create these environments together.With each of your projects, there’s a subtle but consistent CTRL personality throughout whilst each looking and feeling completely unique. How has your style evolved over the years? How do you continue to push the boundaries whilst still bringing CTRLs identity into each project?

I made a mental decision when I set the company up that I wanted to avoid a ‘CTRL Space look’ – I wanted someone to walk into one of our venues and say ‘ this is cool, who did this’ and dig a little deeper.  For me design is about context and relevance so every project needs to follow its own path.  I also have and always have had a great creative team who have freedom to express their own design sensibilities into a project – think that’s what keeps our project fresh.  That said, there is always a CTRL Space DNA that runs through each project which comes back down to some design fundamentals.
I think our style has grown up and matured over the years, naturally – I am not a fan of following trends, particularly when it comes to materially, although it is sometimes necessary.  As I mentioned before, design is about context & process  - every material decision has to be interrogated against the brief and relevance – form definitely follows function in our studio.

Your showroom setup reflects a very collaborative environment. How do you work with clients and bring their dreams to life?

We love collaboration at every opportunity.  There are so many facets to the creative process in a project and our aim for our clients is to deliver the very best end result for them.  If that means we need to collaborate with artists / specialists / brand and graphic designers, even other interiors teams,  the more the merrier – we are not precious about the credit.  We openly work with all our clients and press them for their input – in my opinion, this brings out the best final result.
You have a pretty tight-knit team for executing on so many projects per year. How do you maintain this culture and keep your team motivated? 

We sure do! I guess working on exciting projects for great people helps with motivation; as do opening parties!.  This industry is notorious for tight timeframes and demanding deadlines and I think that pace suits the team and the culture we have.  The sooner it's done, the sooner we can go and enjoy our hard work.  Juggling multiple projects comes with its own challenges – it's basically spinning plates….
12 years in business is no easy feat. What have been some of your biggest challenges?

The early years were tough for sure – as I mentioned, I was doing whatever I needed to scrape by until I had got the name established. 
March last year though was rough – as it was for some many.  Just the sense of the unknown, like standing on a precipice with the world collapsing around you.  11 years of solid graft on the line.  Not to be too dramatic, it was pretty emotional for a while there.  But we made it through and have come back stronger than ever.  Other than that, just running a business always comes with a challenge of one shape or another every day!What has been your proudest moment?

We have been lucky enough to have won a few gold awards here and there over the years which will always make me proud.  But that said, I think my proudest moment was a couple of years ago.  It was a Friday night and all the team were out and about, independently of each other, all of them in a venue we had designed at one time or another.  It showed that our spaces resonated not only with the team but also their friends.  It was a touching moment on Whatsapp
How does Asuwere suit your lifestyle?

Perfectly.  I am pretty one-dimensional when it comes to going out and buying clothes but at the same time I like to have new threads.  The Asuwere style is bang on for me, simple, elegant tailored cuts and plenty of linen – more than just basics but a great foundation of a wardrobe.  I am a relatively new recruit but I am loving the ease I can keep my clothes up to date.

Thank you for your time Chris! Looking forward to many more times spent in you and your teams amazing spaces.

Shop styles worn by Chris here.

View CTRL space full portfolio of projects here