September 28, 2017 posted by Unity Wellington

Expansion at 57 Willis Street, 21st January 2011 onwards

Expansion at 57 Willis Street, 21st January 2011 onwards

The shop underwent a major renovation in early 2011, adding a third counter, more space for children’s books and New Zealand writing and allowing other sections a bit more breathing space.

Tilly Lloyd’s mission-accomplished statement about the renovations:

Behind the re-design

“Bookshops are never just bookshops. The best provide a combination of safe havens and rocky outcrops. Like most bookshops Unity Books has non-fiction in the aisles and fiction on the walls. We are surrounded by literary fiction because our customers consider this writing to be the most transformative. The rest of our wall is travel & language because we are small islands and travel is transformative too.

We believe in curated choice. It’s oxygenated by the Unity Books filter but the filter is fairly loose. Putting the author first is just socially intelligent. They’re the bedrock of the entire industry.

Our buyers know their game. We are opposed to budgets. We are opposed to just-in-time. We like to afford a counter-intuitive (yet closely managed) overstock environment. All departments have their subtext. We buy in anticipation of customer appetite, and their appetites are hearty.

Architects Herriot+Melhuish project-managed the new aluminium building frontage, which features massive solar glazing and Italian tiling. This was the landlord’s work.

The staff and a few translating specialists from the extended families designed Unity’s reconfigured space behind that. The shop staff is design savvy.  Several of us are more than a tad artsy, or veterans of interior decor and renovation, and two of us have worked in set design as well. We have always referred to the shop floor as front stage; bookselling is understatedly dramatic.

We built from what we had so the new look refers to the previous 13 years (which refer to the previous 30). This is Unity Books’ 4th address on Willis Street; hence the refit was referred to as the 4th revised edition. Tobias Buck and I project-managed it for 22 weeks. The shop traded through.

We called in Lee Jensen for logo & signage re-design, taking us from Mrs Eaves to Trade Gothic. Our advertising design moves constantly but with common repeating codes for recognition. Poet Greg O’Brien contributed hand-lettering for the windows. Tom Fyfe and Alana Hamill contributed perspective layout pics.

The contractors were all locals. The cabinet maker was Paul-Builder-to-the-Nation-Millar. The timber is Southern Red Beech (Nothofagus fusca now renamed Fuscospora fusca – see because some staff members have our roots in the South Island. He built the original tables in 1998 to then-buyer Heather McKenzie’s specs and they work so intelligently we had 6 more medium-sized tables made for this expansion. They have been copied widely by other indies and this makes us happy. All tables are on wheels so depending on how the carpet takes the colossal weight we can reconfigure for big gigs should we want to. We run an old family oak table near the back and it makes space for a couple of dozen chairs for our small lecture events at lunchtimes.

Shelving is sprayed black MDF. The paint job used the equivalent of more than 2 dozen cars. The chairs & tables are Baer, from Caz Interiors. The steel was manufactured to Tobias Buck’s design by Norman Bulloch. The carpet is 100% NZ wool by Feltex, the shade is Tequila. We recommend it (even though we are wine drinkers) because it is the only carpet that lasts 10 years of all-day every-day commercial wear. Its former shade was grey-toned. Like grey matter. Its current shade is more pale, but still to do with the brain.

Lighting (apart from solar) is LED spots augmented by fluro tube. Everyone should have enough light and space to make their decisions about their thinking, the books, the shop and the people within it. We run good sound. We run good water. The important thing is that people have plenty of conducive space to browse and buy. No-one wants to be rushed. No-one wants to be slowed down.

A third of our refit spend was on renovating our website at the same time as the shop floor. In these times of on-line shopping, it’s our responsibility to make Unity Books – on the street and online – as relevant and as invigorating and as inviting as possible. It is not the customer’s responsibility to notice this. It’s our job to stand with the people and the books and provide it.”

These photos don’t form a strict chronological timeline, but do show some of the work that went into the renovation.

Painting behind the back counter.

Gloria Hildred with shelving for the Language section.

A new Paul Millar table.

Tilly Lloyd and Simon O’Shaughnessy sort out some stock.

A temporary set-up.

Paul Millar adjusts some shelving.

Cameron Hyland admires the new shelves.

The Girlie Swot award goes to…

Cameron Hyland gets to grips with returns.

Working on the new corner window.

The old New Zealand section, emptied.

Trading through the renovations.

Don’t worry, the books aren’t gone, they have just been moved!

New Zealand Non-Fiction in transition.

Separating truth from Fiction.


Say goodbye to this wall.

Repainting the kitchen.

Working on the electrics.

Removing the old front window display area.

Diverting traffic in Willbank Court.

You shall not pass!

The corridor transforming.

Ripping up the tiles.

Cleaning up.

Grand plans.

A temporary display.

Temporary poetry section.

This corner no longer exists.

Tobias Buck, lying down on the job.

Unity Books in a cage.

Complicated access-way.

Kiran Dass unpacks stock in the back room.

Paul Millar working on the back counter.

Matt Bialostocki contemplates the back counter.

The front of the shop stripped bare.

The side of the shop is still there.

An arrangement soon to change.

All this will one day be the special orders counter.

But for now, it’s out of bounds.

Opening up the front of the shop.

New space!

Discussing where things will go.

Customers continue to browse as if nothing has changed.

I see a bright future ahead!

Marion Castree and Tilly Lloyd get trolleyed.



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Unity Books Wellington - Proudly committed to local writing and publishing since 1967, and dedicated to keeping a dangerous variety of world literature too. 100% independent and Wellington owned. Come check us out at 57 Willis St and ask the staff for a recommendation - we know our books.

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