‘Affordable Underground Furniture’: D.I.Y. Coffin Clubs Catch On in New Zealand

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SYDNEY, Australia — Roger Terry and his wife, Grace, have little interest in quilting, fishing or book clubs. Instead, they meet with other retired friends each Tuesday at a disused sports center to build coffins, a hobby that has gathered followers across New Zealand.

“We have a heap of fun,” said Grace Terry, 77, a former nurse in Hawke’s Bay, on the North Island of New Zealand. “I’ve seen people come alive making their own coffins.”

Mrs. Terry’s own coffin, painted mauve and decorated with deep purple hydrangea blooms, sits in the couple’s home, waiting to be lined.

Mr. Terry, chairman of the Hawke’s Bay D.I.Y. Coffin Club and a former fiberglass molding specialist, said the club, established in 2013, had 120 members. The oldest is 94, with mid-70s being the average.

“It gives us old fellas something of interest, something to do,” he said. “But it also serves a purpose.”

The country’s first coffin club was established in 2010 by a palliative care nurse, Katie Williams, in a makeshift workshop in her yard in Rotorua, also on the North Island.

“It grew from there,” said the treasurer of the Kiwi Coffin Club Rotorua, Joanne La Grouw, 66, who decorated her mother’s coffin, including the beading inside. The club’s motto is “fine and affordable underground furniture.”

The caskets are inscribed with the club’s initials, K.C.C., and are built to meet national standards: Each has a waterproof lining and is strong enough to hold a body.

The coffins are made from particleboard kits and are shaped like traditional caskets or as rectangles.

They can also double as aboveground furniture at home, disguised with cushions or blankets, until it is time for their primary purpose.

“We like to say it is only a box until you put someone in it,” said Ms. La Grouw, whose mother died at 94 last year.

The coffin kits cost about $170, significantly less than what an undertaker would charge for a coffin of similar quality. Club membership in Rotorua is about $7 a year and $17 in Hawke’s Bay.

Mrs. Terry said that once people finish creating their own coffins at the club, they often build others for charity, or return to help other members. “It’s very social,” she said.