Buy your own piece of Wellington’s central library: Designer chairs up for auction

These plywood chairs were designed for the library. Photo / WCC

More than 100 designer chairs from Wellington’s closed central library are being auctioned for charity.

Large Kura Kowhatu seats made from mangeao wood, steel and vinyl are up for grabs, as well as chairs made from plywood and metal. Twelve of these items have already fetched $9,000 at auction.

The library, Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui, has been closed since March 2019 due to earthquake risk. This was after the building was assessed against new guidelines issued after the partial collapse of Statistics House in the 2016 KaikĊura earthquake.

In preparation for construction work starting later this year, a large number of fittings and furniture has been carefully packed away under the guidance of a heritage adviser.

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Light fittings and the Kura Kowhatu seats designed by renowned studio furniture maker, sculptor and design educator Carin Wilson are among the items which have been saved.

The library – opened in 1991 – has been listed as a Category 1 Historic Place. The building is considered to have exceptional historic significance as a major work of Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s most renowned architects of recent times.

Wellington City Council principal communications and engagement adviser Debbie Caterer said more than half of the chairs will be cleaned and refurbished where needed to be reused when the library opens. Other chairs have been located to other library branches.

“We will also be using more accessible, moveable and stackable seating throughout Te Matapihi. The heavier Kura Kowhatu seats in particular can be difficult for older people or those with mobility issues to use or move.”

The Kura Kowhatu seats designed by renowned studio furnituremaker, sculptor and design educator Carin Wilson. Photo / WCC
The Kura Kowhatu seats designed by renowned studio furnituremaker, sculptor and design educator Carin Wilson. Photo / WCC

Caterer said the designer has been informed of the council’s plan to sell the surplus chairs and seats at auction for charity.

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“Usually we would upcycle surplus items, however due to the iconic design we thought it was more appropriate to offer the public an opportunity to buy some of the iconic seating and donate the funds to a small number of charities.”

There are a series of auctions, one which took place in December and another opportunity coming up at the end of this month at Dunbar Sloane.

Four Kura Kowhatu chairs and eight plywood chairs were sold for $9,050.28 at the December auction.

A final auction date for the remaining chairs is yet to be confirmed. In total 29 Kura Kowhatu seats are being sold and 80 plywood chairs.

Once all the chairs are sold the council will work with the library’s partners, Capital E and City Archives, to decide which charities will receive the money.

Caterer said these were likely to be youth or whanau-based charities.

The library is expected to reopen in 2026.

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