Faces of AWNY: Lucy Tupu

In late 2019 we spoke to Lucy Tupu on how she fell in love with New York while visiting her brother here in 2002. After moving here permanently in 2004 she has built a successful creative studio where she designs and produces custom rugs, carpets, furniture and lighting. Lucy tells AWNY how she manages homesickness as a New Zealander and navigates the city with her young family.

Photo provided by Lucy Tupu

Hi Lucy! What’s your background and how did you get to New York?

I am a classically-trained industrial designer who first visited New York City in 2002. I came for a few months to see my brother after he had moved here. I immediately fell in love with the city’s energy and creative scene. As a designer, I found myself being completely immersed in everything New York had to offer. 

Where are you from originally? 

I was born and raised in Wellington, New Zealand. My mother is a New Zealander from English decent and my father is a Samoan who immigrated to New Zealand when he was sixteen years old. 

How long have you been here? 

When I was visiting New York in 2002, I volunteered to work for a not-for-profit organization which ended up sponsoring me. I left the city to wait for my working visa to be processed. Once it was approved, I returned in 2004 and have been here ever since! 

Where do you live? Why did you choose that area? 

I live and work in Tribeca. It’s an eclectic, vibrant neighborhood which is great for a downtown business. More importantly, it’s family-oriented, which makes it ideal for raising our two young daughters. 

What do you like/dislike about living in NY? 

I love living in downtown Manhattan, filled with energy and culture, but it’s also been one giant construction site for the past five years!!! 

What’s your ‘only in New York’ moment/s? 

Seeing Dustin Hoffman on my block was definitely a stand-out moment, but I would have to recall one particular experience at my first job. I was part of a team working in an original Paul Rudolph townhouse on the UES, helping the family move to LA. My main responsibility was to carefully pack their incredible furniture collection, which included pieces by Jean Prouve, Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames’s, Noguchi and various other greats that I’d only read about. Not only to be inside such an iconic building, but to handle all this incredible furniture made me feel so fortunate. I felt like I was walking on air, realizing this could only happen in New York! 

Photo provided by Lucy Tupu

Any advice for people moving to NY? 

Come with a purpose. New York is an inspiring, high-energy city, but it can also be harsh and unkind if you don’t know why you are here or what you are seeking. 

What do you do (for work)? 

I run my own creative studio, which I launched four years ago. I design and produce custom rugs, carpets, furniture and lighting. 

A glimpse at Lucy Tupu studio’s work from her Instagram page.

As a Professional working in NYC what are the differences to working in Australia / New Zealand?

While New Zealand will always be my sense of place and constant source of creativity I found that colleagues and friends are much more approachable in New York and willing to help at all times. In New Zealand and Australia, people tend to be more guarded or wary about sharing their work and ideas. 

Here, you have access to everything. There are so many resources at your fingertips – architecture, museums, an incredible design community, skilled artisans…while New Zealand and Australia can sometimes feel a little isolated. New York is the epicenter of the creative world, making it easier to connect and get involved within the industry. I feel very fortunate to live and work in a city that’s a constant source of inspiration and fulfillment. 

Any advice for other Professionals working in NYC? 

Help your peers as much as you can. I remember networking with other designers when I first arrived and it was a life-saver to be given opportunities and insights from so many like-minded people, right off the bat. I am forever grateful for those who helped me navigate my way through the city. It makes a huge difference when you can give back. Now that I am in a position to do the same, it’s incredibly humbling. 

What’s your favorite New York spot? 

The East Village. Ninth and C was where I stayed the first time I visited NYC. I loved how much character there was in that neighborhood. It had an anything-goes, gritty vibe filled with eccentric personalities, heady coffee shops and my favorite late-night haunts. 

Photo provided by Lucy Tupu

Anything you miss about Australia / New Zealand? 

  • Australia – my friends and summers at the beach. 
  • New Zealand – apart from my family and friends, I miss easy access to all the local beaches, the New Zealand bush, green-lip mussels, roasted kumara and especially the homegrown music and Polynesian humor!   

What are your top 3 tips for friends visiting NYC? 

  • Ride one of the double-decker buses for a great guided tour of the city, especially if you are limited on time. 
  • Walk the High Line at dusk. 
  • Use Citi Bikes to get around… so easy, inexpensive and fun! 

Have you had any hard times in NYC and how did you get through them without your usual support 

Bringing up two girls in the city without my family nearby has been and still remains incredibly challenging. At times, I felt isolated and depressed being away from them, especially when the kids were little. It’s still difficult, but I just push through it as best as I can. Thankfully, my family visits us on occasion and we try to travel back to New Zealand every year. I’ve been lucky to make some incredible friends here, whom I consider my New York family. Being able to lean on them for support has been a game changer and I couldn’t do it without them.   

Favorite NYC brunch spot 

I love brunch anywhere with seating outside and a view of the city’s rivers or harbor. Growing up in New Zealand, seeing the water was always a given. Now it’s a luxury and I miss it. Any opportunity to be close to the water is my automatic go-to. 

Favorite NYC cocktail spot & cocktail of choice 

The Boom Boom Room at the top of The Standard hotel with a glass of rose champagne. (Editor’s note: At the time of writing the Boom Boom Room is temporarily closed.)

How did you get into your job in NYC? 

I was laid off in September 2015 and, literally, the following day I registered my own business. 

What do you like about being part of AWNY? 

I love being included amongst a strong group of women who are all in a similar place in life, working hard and raising families. It’s incredible having this other resource of inspiration and being a part of a tight-knit community. 

What was your biggest win this week? 

Taking time out with family. 

What’s the biggest challenge or road block you’ve been faced with since being in NYC and how do you overcome it? 

The biggest challenge has been living away from my New Zealand and Australian families, but I created a new one in New York. Now I have three! 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about living/working in NYC?

Be yourself. 

Who are some Aussie/Kiwi ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?

Connect with Lucy

Author: Tarley Jordan

Tarley has been an AWNY volunteer since 2012. She is award-winning marketer from Sydney (with stops in Brisbane and Rockhampton), who moved to New York after meeting her husband in a typical New York chance encounter. Find her on Instagram: @tarleyj

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