Inside Christchurch studio Nightworks’ mid-century Oxford Terrace office

Lighting is just one of the things Kiri and Ben Wahrlich and their team design in their renovated space.

Kiri and Ben Wahrlich of lauded Sydney lighting studio Anaesthetic have rebranded as Nightworks and set up an upscale studio and workshop back home in Aotearoa — Christchurch, to be exact. Their team specialises in design, products, furniture and public art, with lighting a strong presence.

Kiri, what attracted you guys to this inner-city building? Christchurch’s Centre of Contemporary Art, CoCA, runs regular mid-century house tours, and although it’s a commercial building, Poynton House — designed by David Allen in 1972 — was included in the 2019 tour. We went along and immediately recognised its raw beauty.
Architect Phil Redmond had revamped his own studio on level one, and having a glimpse into it really allowed us to see the potential of the ground floor. The space was in its original state, with small offices, commercial carpet and poor lighting, so we stripped it back to the concrete, then introduced an open-plan layout, a neutral colour palette, natural materials and soft furnishings.

ABOVE Taking a mid-century office building back to its shell was a labour of love for the couple, who did most of the renovating themselves. In the showroom, a timber feature wall warms up the pale colour palette, while plumbing piping is used overhead to conceal cabling and accentuate the building’s industrial aesthetic. Brass, glass, steel, natural stone, timber and leather all feature in Nightworks’ pieces. “They’re solid materials proven to stand the test of time,” says Kiri.

Does your passion for mid-century architecture influence your designs? We live in a mid-century house designed in 1973 by Gavin Willis, so a key consideration for us is whether a piece will suit our own home; then we consider what other spaces it’ll be able to adapt to. Mid-century designs were made to last using honest materials, which we also strive to do, while considering our natural environment and what’s unique to us in New Zealand. 

Your lighting offering is succinct — how do you decide when to release new pieces? We launch products only when we have something to say, and because customers often purchase multiple products for their projects, any new designs also have to gel with the classics in our range.

The saying “Simplicity is complexity resolved” is applicable to your work — how do you manage this? Time is the biggest factor. Patience is definitely a virtue for us, as it generally takes a year or two to develop a product from concept to finished object.

ABOVE A sheer curtain cascading from ceiling to floor separates the showroom from the studio at the back of the building. The couple found this vintage T8 sofa and CT4 lamp table by Fred Lowen for Tessa at a garage sale in Sydney and designed the coffee table as a prototype using an offcut of golden cayman granite. The lighting here includes pendants from their Petrine range, as seen at Auckland’s Commercial Bay, and the Duomo light (far right) that was customised for Brisbane’s Calile Hotel.

Your lighting pops up all over the place — what are some of the most memorable projects you’ve contributed to? We loved working on the Calile Hotel by Richards & Spence in Brisbane, for which we created 13 custom Duomo lights to suspend over the tables at Lobby Bar. In New Zealand, we were rapt to be approached by Pennant & Triumph when they were working on the new Lodge Bar by Rodd & Gunn at Auckland’s Commercial Bay, to supply lights from our Petrine range for use throughout the space. 

What do people need to consider when choosing lighting for their home? Lighting is like jewellery for your home and one of the first things people notice when they walk in. It creates a mood, so think about what mood you want to set in your spaces. Wall lights do several jobs, so consider where they’ll be located and what you want them to achieve. Bathroom vanity lights, for example, need to light your face but not be so bright that they blind you at 2am. In this instance, we always recommend dimmable options.

TOP & ABOVE Ben and Kiri on the tools. Nightworks offers design concepts, modelling, prototyping and manufacturing services to clients in Aotearoa and Australia, and has several commissions on the go at the moment. They’re also refining some new, predominately lighting products ahead of their release in winter, plus homeware that’ll be available later this year.

How do you and Ben choose to unwind? Christchurch is a unique city, where you can be skiing in the morning and at the beach in the afternoon. We like to get out and about and enjoy it all — and many of the city’s great cafés. Coffee is life when you’re running a business and juggling two small children!
nightworksstudio.com

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Larnie Nicolson

 

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