By Angelique Praat

Facing south, overlooking Lyall Bay in Wellington, the Spruce Goose lives up to the fearless spirit of its name sake. For owner-operators, Nick and Gina Mills, the picture of Bruce the Goose in the doorway represents what they are – loose as a goose. We talked to Nick about designing and building Spruce Goose.

Tell us how you started?

The Board of Wellington Airport contacted us and said we have this idea. We want to turn the old Aero Club building into a hospitality venue – what would you do? Our main concern was that it would be too expensive. The Board had plans drawn up. But we said it needs to be our design, our architect, our ideas. And they agreed.

Where did the concept come from?

My parents were school teachers. When I was about seven, we started going to this bach at Urunui by New Plymouth.  I fell in love with the bach thing. We had station wagon and we’d take out a chair or strap an old mattress to the top of the car. I just loved it. I wanted to create that relaxed bach theme.


And the goose?

Spruce Goose was a prototype old plane that didn’t fly – but it should.  Actually, it was made of birch…But it’s that spirit of fearlessness that we love. At Spruce Goose you can dream big while you relax with great food and fine beverage and watch the planes come in.

How did you make the concept work?

It was a collaboration between me, and Gina, my wife, and Mike Davies from Architecture HDT. I had the idea for the brand and Gina knew what she wanted with furnishings and interior and Mike made the space work. He had the overall concept in his brain.  We didn’t always agree.  We had to try things out. I wanted Bruce (the goose) painted on a wall in the entry.  Mike and Gina thought it wasn’t cool enough – but I got my way.  When I’ve been in, Bruce gets his photograph taken maybe 4 or 5 times over a morning.  And Mike’s pièce de résistance was the huge brick wall off to the side.  It protects that outside space from the northerly. So people actually can sit outside and enjoy the view.

How important is a design of a café or bar to its overall success?

It’s imperative to have a brand.  Everything comes from that.  Space, interior, menus, right through to the staff you hire.  It needs to be real. We head hunted our chef. He turned up in an old bomb with a surfboard strapped to his roof. And I thought – yeah!

What advice would you give to hospitality developers about working with an architect?

Come up with a budget first. Architects love being creative and spending money. But that’s with any trade – builders, plumbers, electricians. You don’t want surprises with the cost. Have a budget, have your big idea – your brand – the brand is imperative – and leave them to it.

So a brand and budget? Anything else?

Everyone involved in decision-making has to be on the same page. Spruce Goose was a collaboration. That’s what makes it work.

If you want to relax with gorgeous food and drinks to hand and dream big dreams – Spruce Goose is your place.

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