People

In the studio with Janice Kumar-Ward of JKW Interior Architecture & Design

Of all the projects the interior designer has worked on, the refit of this modernist building has been one of her favourites.

Auckland’s Janice Kumar-Ward is one hard-working lady. When she’s not pushing boundaries at the helm of JKW Interior Architecture & Design and parenting her children Stella and Ted, she’s working on her side hustle as the ‘Mrs’ of Mr & Mrs Ward, the bespoke furniture business she runs with her husband Julian and his brother Tristan. 

ABOVE This view into the drawing studio showcases the white palette and simple textures that provide a blank canvas for the JKW team’s work. A picture ledge at the rear of the room puts suppliers’ latest and greatest on display.

How long have you been director at JKW Interior Architecture & Design? I started the business 11 years ago. Back then it was called The Recipe, but we rebranded in 2015 when we bought our current building in Newton to use as our workshop/studio. It was daunting but an unmissable opportunity to renovate a modernist building and start along this new path. Today I’m surrounded by doers — a work-hard, play-hard, kind and loyal team of seven staff, all of whom have skill sets that are invaluable. 

ABOVE The elegant file drawers behind the reception desk were made for Janice by Julian. Atop them sits a gilded Recess mirror by Simon Lewis Wards and Sam Burton.

What sort of projects do you work on? We can turn our hand to anything, residential or commercial, big or small. Peer reviewing is a new feather in our cap, where we work alongside an architect, construction team, project manager and often another designer to help a client fully understand what they’re getting. It’s exciting to collaborate with some of Auckland’s best architects, artists and tradespeople — and our clients.

What have been some of your recent highlights? I love working in the regions. Last year, we completed the restoration of a historic house in Dunedin, a grand old dame that had been turned into three flats. Turning it back into a warm home for expat Kiwis inbound from Hong Kong was an incredible challenge.
We also worked on a fourth-generation sheep station in a remote part of Gisborne, on a house that had its ceilings lowered in the ’70s by a practical farming family. A new generation wanted it to feel like it’d been there forever but have some modern takes that acknowledged their personality. They chose some very bold wallpaper and textiles and classic finishes that have transformed the home.
We’re currently working on a Brent Hulena-designed house in Whangapoua on the Coromandel that was in impeccable original condition. Our goal is to honour its design and give it another 30 years of life.

ABOVE Decorating the meeting room with its bespoke table by Mr & Mrs Ward are a French floor lamp by John Stephens, Otto chair by Tim Webber, No B49 Le Corbusier chairs by Thonet and pendant lights by Flos. The trivet on the table was a gift from Italian Stone that inspired Janice and Julian to collaborate on others for their 10 Favourite Things project.

You also run Mr & Mrs Ward with your husband — what does that entail? Mr & Mrs Ward offers designers, architects and everyone else bespoke furniture made in New Zealand without the guesswork. We also recently embarked on our 10 Favourite Things project to mark 10 years of Mr & Mrs Ward and 10 years of marriage, working with some of our regular collaborators to create objects we love and use in our own home. The exciting, timeless pieces include art prints, candlesticks, pillowcases, marble trivets, cutting boards, a kindling axe and a fire pit. They’re things that celebrate the relationships that build through shared creativity. 

ABOVE A pull-down bed by Mr & Mrs Ward is hidden behind sliding doors in a space that provides privacy and extra storage — and houses Janice’s weekday wardrobe of meeting attire and activewear. The lights overhead are from Mr Ralph, the bolster is by You’re Welcome and the printed pillows are by Christian Lacroix.

So tell us about the building your JKW studio operates from… It’s been one of my favourite projects to date. Julian and I were about to build a new house in rural West Auckland when we got the speed wobbles and started wondering what we could buy in town. That’s when I stumbled across this 1967 building that was once the headquarters of Wattyl paints. I saw straight away that it had a really high stud, natural light and carparking, and was accessible to all the motorways. We couldn’t afford it on our own, so we bought it with a like-minded couple. We cut the 300m2 floor area in half, giving us a 150m2 studio and the other space to tenant out.

ABOVE The bathroom expertly combines Cole & Son wallpaper, a vanity table by Mr & Mrs Ward, Winckelmans tiles and Pan tapware by Zuchetti from Robertson.

Was much of a renovation required? We had to completely gut it. We took the interior back to the shell, removing a suspended ceiling coated in deadly asbestos to reveal the concrete-ribbed subfloor and taking out asbestos floor tiles, and restored the original steel windows and doors. 

ABOVE Janice designed this shaped vanity then had it made in Silver Brown Wave marble by Italian Stone. The mirrored cabinetry and wall-to-wall drawers are another Mr & Mrs Ward creation. Wallpaper by Thibaut surrounds it all, lit by pendant lights picked up in Bali.

What inspired the interior aesthetic? A desire for flexibility and to show off what we do. I wanted a fun, light-filled space where the team felt at home and that spoke to our clients. We used diaphanous curtaining to divide off the spaces — which helped with the budget — put in a kitchen and bathroom, and designed a sample ledge so we can display our suppliers’ new samples. The snack drawer is always full, there’s a shower with towels and bodywash, and we also have a pull-down bed so Julian and I can use it as our city bolthole. 

What else inspires you? Everything! My children and husband, our clients, fashion, art, gardens. Also, my peers; I follow lots of designers on Instagram. I love magazines and Pinterest, films in bed on a winter’s day — like old Bond films, just for the love of the interiors. And travel, too. I went to New York for my birthday last year and it was next-level inspiration. I could live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Whitney Museum of American Art.
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Interview Claire McCall
Photography Duncan Innes