ARTISTIC TOUCH: Michelle McAnulty with her award-winning kitchen. Photo Troy Baker D8798-09

WHEN artist, and now award-winning kitchen designer, Michelle McAnulty, started working at her brother’s kitchen design and manufacturing company three years ago, she was “doing the wages and a bit of accounting”.

The paint and acrylic portrait artist had left her job as a legal executive after feeling the increasing pull to work in a creative environment.

“It was a scary move,” Michelle says. But following her heart, she left her field of work of more than 25 years and took up a part-time role for her kitchen-designing brother, Mark Bruce, who owns Beaver Kitchens.

Last month, Michelle won two kitchen design awards, just three years after her wages and accounting position had turned into something quite different.

At New Zealand’s 2019 National Kitchen and Bathroom Association Excellence Awards, held in Melbourne, she won Kitchen Distinction in the $40,000 to $60,000 price bracket, as well as the Kitchen Recognition Award for the Bay of Plenty chapter.

“I was just stoked,” Michelle says. The event marks her first entry into a kitchen design competition.

Michelle confesses she has always had her eye on the prize. On starting work at Beaver Kitchens she always wanted to be involved in kitchen design.

“I’d always been drawn to it, actually” she says. “I’ve always loved house and garden magazines, and renovations, mine or anyone else’s. And at work I was finding I couldn’t keep my nose out of what Mark was doing.” Soon enough, Michelle started designing.

“It’s a good fit for me because kitchen design involves problem solving to develop a functional design that meets the client brief. And then comes choosing the products, which is the creative part. The blend is really satisfying for me.”

While Michelle has now completed a New Zealand Certificate of Kitchen Design to assist her in her role, inherent artistic talent was already in place.

As a member of Whakatane female artists group, the Arty Farty Tarts, the work of Michelle and other group members was exhibited at the Louvre Art Fair in Paris five years ago.

Michelle agrees her creativity and artistic skill play a big role in her kitchen designs.

A trip to Europe is now in the offing to keep up with international trends in kitchen design.
Next year, Michelle will travel to Milan to attend Eurocucina, the international exhibition held biennially in Milan, showcasing the latest trends in kitchen design, technology, furniture, and appliances.

“I’m excited to be travelling to Milan,” she says. “Mark has been a few times. The new trends always end up filtering back to New Zealand, so we like to keep abreast of that.”

And she will also take the opportunity in Europe to visit the main hardware factory of BLUM, the design company Beaver Kitchens use for all their drawer hardware, hinges, and pull-out systems.

Sometimes working collaboratively with brother Mark, Michelle says the two bring quite different ideas to the table. “It works well. We don’t fight,” she laughs.

But increasingly, with Mark spending half of each week in Cambridge where he has opened a second kitchen design business, Design Marked, Michelle is working independently, alongside long-time Beaver Kitchens cabinet maker Mark Thompson, who creates the cabinetry for both companies.