Shelley Ferguson starts over

The Block judge has her hands full with a new business, writing a book and doing up a home

By Donna Fleming
It's a brave thing to do, especially at the age of 40 – walking out on a high-flying career to start from scratch in a new line of work.
For Shelley Ferguson, giving up her job as a magazine editorial director to become an interior designer was a tough decision, but The Block NZ judge couldn't ignore an overwhelming desire to be hands-on when it came to designing amazing spaces, rather than editing stories about them. So nearly two years ago, she took a leap of faith and set up her own interior design business.
"It was a scary thing to do, changing careers at 40, but something I really wanted to try," says Shelley, 42, who is back on screen in Three's latest series of The Block NZ: Redemption. "It got to the point where I went, 'Life is short, I'm doing this.' And it was the right decision."
Today, her business Shelley Ferguson Studio is doing so well, she's recently taken on two part-time staff members. Projects she's working on include a luxury office complex and a stunning residential home, and she's recently designed retail stores for jewellery maker Boh Runga and shoe designer Kathryn Wilson. She also tackles smaller jobs, including kitchen or bathroom renos.
Building up a new business during two years of Covid restrictions has been tricky, Shelley admits. "You really need to be on site, working with tradespeople and making sure everybody understands your design, so we had to find new ways of doing things, like people showing me their cabinetry on Zoom. We got around it and now we know we can get things done, no matter what."
Shelley has also been kept busy writing a book about interior design that will be out in October. "During my 20 years in magazines, I always wanted to write a book. I just wasn't sure what to write about. When I was editor of Cleo magazine, I thought I could do an erotic fiction book, but Fifty Shades of Grey beat me to it!"
She's given up on that idea – "I'm too tired for eroticism!" she laughs, but is very proud of producing a book that she hopes will be an inspiration for people wanting to give their homes a new look.
It's been a juggle getting everything done, and Shelley says having her husband Steve, 42, around to help has been a godsend. Shelley supported the former Olympic swimmer and kayaker when he joined Emirates Team New Zealand as a grinder for the America's Cup in Auckland last year, and once the yachting competition was over, he stepped in to do school pick-ups and after-school activities with their sons Flynn, 10, and Jett, nine, and oversee homeschooling during the lockdown that started in August. He also assists in the business, taking on jobs like organising freight and meeting with tradespeople. "He's really good at that and that's been so helpful to me," enthuses Shelley. "He's been my saviour."
Shelley with husband Steve.
Eighteen months ago, she and Steve sold their beautiful home on Auckland's North Shore to buy what she describes as "a big leaky house".
She chuckles, "We're either brave or mad!" Shelley had her eye on the house but didn't think they could afford it until she realised it had watertightness issues. After crunching some numbers, she could see that even with the cost of fixing those, it was a good buy for the right price.
"For us, it is a great investment," she tells. "It's perfectly fine at the moment, but we will have to reclad in the future. We've gone into it with our eyes open."
Shelley admits it's frustrating living in a home she's just itching to make over, but she has to hold fire for the time being.
"I get so excited about what I'd like to do. But at the moment, it's not the ideal time financially to rip the house apart. It's really tough with all the supply chain issues and while I love having a beautiful home, I have a responsibility to try not to overcommit. As much as it drives me crazy, I remind myself it doesn't have to be perfect – home is about family."
Husband Steve and sons Jett (left) and Flynn.
In the meantime, she's delighted to be focusing on reno work other people have done on The Block NZ: Redemption. It's her eighth season on the show and a return to judging after several years of hosting. She admits she had some initial doubts about the fact that the contestants have all previously appeared on the show and didn't do very well.
"But when you look at it, they didn't do so well for a range of reasons," she muses. "This time, they are coming at it with different tactics because they know what to expect. They've really thought through the concept of these places and the standard is a lot higher than I was expecting. We've got some real talent."

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