New Zealand man makes fun custom coffins to help mourners celebrate life

Ross Hall’s business, Dying Art, has made coffins that resemble everything from chocolate bars to doughnuts (Picture: AP)

When Phil McLean’s coffin was carried into the chapel, there were first gasps before a wave of laughter made its way through the mourners who had gathered for his funeral.

The coffin, shaped like a giant cream donut, certainly made an impression.

His widow Debra said: ‘It overshadowed the sadness and the hard times in the last few weeks.

‘The final memory in everyone’s mind was of that doughnut, and Phil’s sense of humour.’

The doughnut was made by Phil’s cousin Ross Hall, who runs custom coffin business Dying Art in Auckland, New Zealand.

Phil’s doughnut coffin (Picture: AP)
Ross said the idea started 15 years ago when he was writing a will (Picture: Ross Hall/Facebook)

Some of Ross’ other designs include a fire engine, a sailboat, Lego blocks and a chocolate bar.

Dying Art has also provided a casked inspired by The Matrix, glittering coffins covered in fake jewels, coffins adorned with images of people’s favourite holiday destinations.

‘There are people who are happy with a brown mahogany box and that’s great,’ said Ross.

‘But if they want to shout it out, I’m here to do it for them.’

Ross first came up with the idea 15 years ago when he was thinking about his own death as he drew up a will.

When thinking about how he wanted ‘to go out’, he decided he didn’t want his funeral to be like everyone else’s.

So,’ he said, ‘I put in my will that I want a red box with flames on it.’

Ross, who has another business that deals in signage and graphics, decided to get serious about the idea six months later.

Ross with some of his designs (Picture: AP)
A fire engine coffin (Picture: AP)

The process of making these light-hearted caskets starts with specially-made blank coffins, and Ross uses fiberboard and plywood to add some details, and a latex digital printer is used for the designs.

Some orders are a bit more complicated, like the sailboat, which included cabin, sails, a keel and rudder, even metal railings and pulleys.

Depending on the design, the coffins can cost between roughly $3,000 and $7,500 New Zealand dollars (approx. £1,560 and £3,900).

One casket shaped as Lego and another adorned with images of the starship enterprise (Picture: AP)
A leopard print design (Picture: AP)

Ross said the tone of funerals has changed a lot in recent years, explaining: ‘People now think it’s a celebration of life rather than a mourning of death.’

As for Phil, who died in February at the age of 68, his wife Debra said he thought himself something of a doughnut conniosseur.

The couple used to enjoy travelling the country in their motorhome, and she said Phil loved comparing cream doughnuts in every small town they stopped in.

In his opinion, a good doughnut was crunchy on the outside, airy in the middle, and made with fresh cream.

A custom coffin for a chocolate fan (Picture: AP)
One of Dying Art’s more complex designs (Picture: AP)
Some are covered with beautiful scenery (Picture AP)

Phil had time to think about his funeral after he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and he, along with his wife and cousin, came up with the idea for the doughnut coffin together.

Debra said they even arranged a delivery of 150 doughnuts to the funeral in Tauranga from Phil’s favourite bakery in Whitianga, more than 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.

Ross said the coffins he makes are biodegradable and are usually buried or cremated along with those inside.

This one’s modelled after a Ferrari F1 car (Picture: AP)
Ross covered this one in the colours of the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team (Picture: AP)

His cousin’s was an exception because it was made using polystyrene and shaping foam, which is not environmentally friendly.

Phil was moved to a plain coffin for his cremation, and with Ross plans to keep the doughnut coffin forever.

For now, it sits in the back of his white 1991 Cadillac hearse.

The coffins can cost between roughly £1,560 and £3,900 (Picture: AP)
A piano key design (Picture: AP)

As for his own eventual send-off, Ross says he’s changed his mind about the red box with flames.

Instead, he’s emailed his children saying that, when the time comes, he’d like to be buried in a clear coffin wearing nothing but a leopard-pattern G-string.

‘The kids say they’re not going,’ he said with a laugh.

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