A brand new collection to celebrate

Celebrating a 10th anniversary with a life partner is a big deal but reaching a decade in a boutique furniture design and manufacturing business is arguably even more of an achievement. Mr and Mrs Ward know that better than most.

This November, interior designer Janice Kumar­-Ward and husband Julian Ward, a cabinetmaker whose family have owned and operated a furniture ­making factory since the 1980s, will mark that occasion by releasing 10 new designs under their eponymously named Mr & Mrs Ward label.

The couple, who met on board a boat at the annual Architect’s Regatta held in the Waitemata Harbour, launched the brand not long after the Global Financial Crisis. They were newly married, with a one-year-old daughter and the factory was going through quiet times, so much so that the team had diversified into making low-emission coffins.

They were also renovating an Art Deco house with no wardrobes and minimal storage. When they couldn’t find furniture to the style or proportions they liked, they decided to design and make their own.

“Long story short, we turned our shared love of interiors into a business,” says Janice.

From small beginnings making bespoke furniture and cabinetry for friends, Mr & Mrs Ward has grown into a brand that is respected for loving the local (all pieces are designed and made in Aotearoa), for its flexibility (the storage units can be used in any room of the home) and its contemporary elegance.

The couple’s combined talents have stood them in good stead. Through her interior architecture work at her own studio, JKW, Janice has gained an understanding of what pieces are required for the collection. “The modular designs really slot into the classic room size in a New Zealand villa or bungalow and because we use an RGB system, we can colour-match to any Resene or Dulux shade.” While there is a standardised range, the products can also be customised.

For his part, Julian approaches Mrs Ward’s suggestions with an eye for what is achievable, repeatable but most of all pragmatic.

“We set out to make beautiful, hand-finished pieces that are intriguing and, above that, have great purpose,” he says.

Through the years, Mr & Mrs Ward has collaborated on many schemes including the creation of compact freestanding steel vanities with Robertson Agencies that can be powdercoated to suit the decor. “That was a project that got off the ground because so many New Zealand homes tend to have a powder-room with a tiny sink stuck to the wall,” says Janice.

Business systems have been streamlined from enquiry through to delivery. Janice: “We don’t do flatpack; the pieces turn up wrapped in furniture blankets with someone to lift them into place for you.”

In all that time, their best-seller has remained the bedside tables with Argyle fronts, a diamond-like design that Janice and Julian could agree on instantly. “I am a great fan of plaid and Julian liked the pattern because it could easily stretch across surfaces and was easy to paint.”

While hitting on such a popular design is a highlight, along with the great feedback they receive from customers, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Seeing bad copies of their designs flood the market is one aspect they have had to deal with. Also, it is expensive to manufacture in New Zealand and many family-run furniture businesses have closed. “We have survived because we have diversified and responded to the market,” says Janice. “And, yes, there were times when we were hanging on for dear life.”

Through it all, the couple has grown to appreciate their strengths. “It’s invigorating to work with someone you can bounce ideas off, to know that they will be brutally honest with you but will refine an idea together until both parties are happy and make it a reality,” says Julian.

They have also grown to appreciate that their point of difference is achieved by brainstorming with fellow designers and makers. Friends have become collaborators and business colleagues have become friends. To highlight this homegrown talent and to celebrate a decade in a challenging industry, Mr & Mrs Ward have released 10 new homeware products – a showcase of what such partnerships can achieve. From bedlinen to breadboards, and knives to art, the designs are all based on items the Ward family use and love in their everyday lives.

“They are things that celebrate the relationships that build through shared creativity. We love them and hope that other people will love them too,” says Janice.