Designer duo: When two become one

By Claire McCall

Janice Kumar-Ward and her husband Julian have combined their design skills on a stylish furniture line

Janice Kumar-Ward and her husband Julian with some of their custom-made furniture. Photo / Babiche Martens
Janice Kumar-Ward and her husband Julian with some of their custom-made furniture. Photo / Babiche Martens

They say twins develop a dialect of their own but perhaps married couples do too. When it comes to talking about their vision, it's lucky that interior designer Janice Kumar-Ward and her husband, Julian, a cabinetmaker, speak the same lingo. "I can communicate in Julian's language what many of my clients want from a design," explains Janice.

The perfectly matched duo has just collaborated on their first range of furniture - an almost obvious result of their yin-and-yang set of skills.

While Janice studied architecture and interior design in New Zealand and Australia, Julian's family business, Ward Manufacturing, has been producing contemporary office and domestic pieces since the 80s.

"I'd spend all my school holidays at the factory to earn pocket money," recalls Julian of the company that started in his dad's garage.

The pair met in 2005 on board a boat at the annual Architect's Regatta on the Hauraki Gulf.

Janice was understandably reluctant to go along at first because she can't swim. Romance was born on the ocean waves when, instead of chatting about knots and nautical niceties, they bonded over a love of design.

When renovating the first home they shared, an art deco property in New Lynn, they had no option but to create and construct items they couldn't find in the shops.

Janice: "We saw a gap in the market for good-quality, classic, New Zealand-made basics. The furniture acts as a framework to take you forward. Then you can add the decorative touches to suit your personality."

Drawing on their own experience upgrading their first home and, later, decorating bedrooms for their young children, Stella (5) and Ted (2), the pair developed two ranges - Mrs Ward (for grown-ups) and Little Wards (kids' stuff).

The start-up business has to nestle around their full-time careers and so they often find the creative process kicks in after dinner once the children are in dreamland. "Although we both have strong likes and dislikes, 90 per cent of the time we are on the same page," explains Janice. Ten per cent of the time, however, Julian has to rein in her ambitious dream for a piece by offering a practical suggestion. He points Janice in the other direction when a two-pot lacquer will wear badly, for instance, or steers her towards alternative castors when the expensive ones would be nice but would price the piece out of the target market.

Aesthetically, the tables, shelves, consoles and units they've designed are clean and contemporary. Though they are presented in white, the Wards point out the items can be made in any colour, or even adapted to be finished in a veneer. "That's the beauty of it: the prototypes are just an idea but we are able to customise," says Janice.

One of their top sellers is the Bedside Box - a simple cube that looks fabulous wall-mounted.

"Functionally, I prefer it to contain just one big, deep, drawer," explains Janice. Constructed of low-formaldehyde MDF, made of wood waste from sustainably managed forests, the boxes are lacquered in a semi-gloss paint.

"Using the MDF and lacquer combination means they come out beautifully seamless," explains Julian who also uses CNC routers to create a diamond design on the face. However the boxes (at $1200 for a pair) can also be monogrammed. One fun idea the Wards have used is to etch a "his" and "hers" on the front, but any word or pattern is possible for just an extra $30.

This push-to-open mechanism of the bedside table means there's less expense on hardware. "That is one of our philosophies - to minimise handles and the like."

The Brutus console illustrates this too, with a negative detail that acts as a handle. "We call him Brutus because he's big and heavy and can do anything," says Janice. The console is made of 25mm MDF and is perched on industrial castors. The couple has placed two side-by-side in their dining room to act as a drinks cabinet but they were once in the kids' bedrooms where they were used for storing clothes.

The Wards' new home in Oratia is a testing ground for their furniture. If they make it to the factory floor, you can guarantee they've survived the hard knocks of family life. In their dining room, you'll also find a funky trestle-style table teamed with a random selection of white plastic chairs.

"The table is around $800 and I wanted to show people that using plasticware can look good."

Simplicity and adaptability are key factors. "It's not over-designed and we wanted to create pieces that you could put together for a whole look."

A small chair that when flipped over becomes a table is a clever addition to Little Wards. Janice took her inspiration from a childhood chair her cousin owned. It's called Jamieson in his honour. "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here. We happily re-appropriate design ideas but make small adjustments that makes them work better."

Next on her wish-list are a headboard and a dolls' house with a Scandinavian flavour. It's in reaction to the colourful ones she's seen but this will be tall and slimline, "the height of a child" and the detail will be in routed cut-outs, not the garish paintwork.

This innovative pair is happy to be experimenting in their shared craft but on the business side, they're also trying to fill a niche. "We're saying don't be confined by what you see in retail. We can make it fit your lifestyle at an accessible price," says Janice. Now that's talking a language that everyone can understand.


See more of Mrs Ward and Little Wards at recipedesign.co.nz or mildredandco.com.

- NZ Herald

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