The Boston Globe, 7/20/06

A ‘Star’ adorns
Boston architect aims for reality TV stardom

by Christopher Muther, Globe Staff

In the realm of reality television, where even well-rounded, emotionally stable individuals are slapped with a label that transforms their personality into a water-cooler sound-bite, Joseph Kennard is about to become ``the nice guy." In the first episode of HGTV's ``Design Star," which pits 10 would-be interior design stars against one another, the Boston-based architect remains calm, smiles frequently, and speaks thoughtfully, even when sparring with a hairspray-addicted contestant. The show premieres Sunday night at 9.

Kennard, who was chosen from 1,500 applicants to appear on ``Design Star," seems comfortably resigned to his reality show label. In a twist of life imitating TV, he greets a visitor to his Roxbury loft with a broad grin and a half-dozen blueberry muffins.

``My girlfriend made these for the interview," Kennard offers, extending a plate of pastry that was produced without the assistance of kitchen doyens Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines. Nice guy strikes again.

The 41-year-old Kennard has been an architect for 14 years, six of those running his own firm, and admits to an adventurous streak that led him to apply for the show. After he heard about ``Design Star" -- think ``Project Runway" for living rooms instead of frocks -- he submitted an audition tape that showed the unique features of his condo. The tape caught the eye of HGTV execs and Kennard's work went onto the channel's website, where voters could choose among five finalists to fill the final spot on the show.

Kennard did not make the Internet cut, but HGTV was so impressed by his audition that they made him a contestant anyway.

``He just has this guy-next-door quality," says James Bolosh, vice president of original programming at HGTV. ``He's obviously driven and creative. He had that something special, he had that sparkle."

It also helped that he designed and lives in a loft that wowed HGTV suits. Kennard purchased the loft on the condition that he could strip it and build it to his specifications . The only room surrounded by four walls is the bathroom. Otherwise, the space is open, industrial, arty, and incredibly thrifty. Unfinished chipboard is used for walls, and a tool chest doubles as a cupboard in the kitchen.

To maintain the open floor plan, two giant storage cabinets on wheels can be pushed toward each other to create a private workspace, or they can be moved out of the way to broaden the room for parties. Made entirely from recycled wood, one acts as a pantry, the other is a rolling art gallery. His whimsy surfaces everywhere, from plastic toys that he has taken apart and rebuilt as mutants (he also draws comics with the mutants as stars) to his bathtub, which is made of plastic and pulled down from a high ledge and placed in the shower when he's ready for a soak.

According to clients, Kennard never shies away from experimenting with new materials. He's building an addition and guest house for John Chuang, CEO of the staffing agency Aquent, that is sided with squares of copper.

``All of his work is adventurous and cutting edge," Chuang says. ``He's not going to build your grandfather's house."

Kennard, a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, admits that he was concerned that his reality TV moment could be detrimental to business. He's more comfortable in a quiet conversation than scheming or trash-talking opponents. He's also an architect, not a professional designer.

``I put myself in situations where I'm not sure what's going to happen," he says. ``It's like jumping off a ledge, which can be nerve racking. But I also find it incredibly satisfying when I can land on my feet."

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

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