Whatever you can imagine, theming wizard and master signmaker Dean Johnstone has most likely sketched it, made it or sprayed it onto a wall in a bar or some other space.

‘I have the coolest job in the world,’ says the 52-year-old founder of Dream It Limited, who grew up in Christchurch with his mind on robots and monsters and with a penchant for shooting short films on his Super 8 camera. His visual flair led him to signwriting in his teens, a career that has since taken him all over the world and to the top of his profession.

Dream It Ltd is the creative powerhouse behind some of Christchurch’s most talked about bars, including Kong and Fat Eddie’s on Oxford Terrace. The former transports patrons to another era of art deco cocktail bar elegance and the latter channels 1930s jazz bar sophistication.

Right now he and his team are working on a Grecian/Atlantis themed cocktail bar on Lichfield Street, inspired by the myth of Atlantis and its destruction by tsunami. His plan for the space includes ‘black light’ (infrared), glow-in-the-dark paint effects and a palette of green, copper and brass.

It follows an earlier exploration of Atlantis where the theme was playfully worked out in a Mediterranean courtyard (150 St Asaph St). Murals of a giant mermaid and the head of Poseidon vie for attention, whimsically complemented by a magnificent elephant in an adjacent alleyway.


This project won gold for Dream It Ltd at this year’s New Zealand Sign and Display Awards, which are this country’s Oscars for murals, signs and theming. Dream It Ltd bagged no fewer than eight awards at the event, including four golds. Two were for theming of Kong and Fat Eddie’s, with the latter also scoring gold in the murals category.

Not that he’s counting, but this brings Dean’s total gold awards haul throughout his career to an impressive 34.

‘I don’t believe people come to us because we represent a particular look. I believe it’s because of our attention to detail: the execution of it is the primary element.’


Currently in vogue for bar interiors is 1930s New York and Chicago, and that’s just fine with Dean who is very comfortable with that period.

‘Working with Peter Jackson as chief signwriter on King Kong was fantastic because I educated myself on New York signs of 1932 and 1933. A taste for that era seems to just keep on going and people love a bar that feels like it has that patina of time.’

Dean built a Dr Who-style Tardis to serve as Dream It Ltd office space and he sometimes wishes it truly was ‘bigger on the inside’ to accommodate all the bits and pieces he collects and makes.

Dream It Ltd’s work can be found everywhere from bars, man caves and garages to children’s bedrooms. Along with Dean, the talented team that makes it all happen includes sculptors, artists, drafting specialists, electricians and metal fabricators.


Many know Dean by his nickname, Elvis. He loves to sing and has more than a few gigs under his belt. It feels like he’s achieved so much but there’s still one big goal left to fulfil.

‘I’d really love to put a sign on the Moon saying ‘just dream it’!’ 

WORDS Kim Newth PHOTOS Sarah Rowlands