As more designers turn their focus to interiors, offering everything from prototype houses to sumptuous décor, here are some names to track
Last year, as our homes ‘grew’ — the four walls accommodating an office, a classroom, a gym, a restaurant, a spa, a playground and more, to fit our needs during the pandemic — so did our desire to showcase it in the best light possible. Clothing purchases took a back seat as people browsed table settings, bedlinen, furniture and cutlery, often on the very same fashion websites. Think Gucci’s eclectic ‘Souvenir from Rome’ range, Missoni’s ‘Modern Iconic’, or Fendi’s Boogie series of tables that brought in geometry and pops of colour. As British fashion designer-turned-interiors’ go-to man, Matthew Williamson told The Hindu Weekend, “Choosing furniture [or textiles] for a room is akin to putting an outfit together; the accessories are like the jewellery. There is so much capacity for innovation when you look at the gap between fashion and interior design.”
Back home, fashion designers have long embraced the home. And 2020 saw even more joining the likes of veterans such as Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Ritu Kumar. For example, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna stepped up to the plate with a collaboration with luxury furnishings brand, Tapestry. Oraan, their line of upholstery fabrics, uses “subtle metallics for chic glamour, which is our forte and articulates our design sensibility”, says Gandhi.
“As a fashion designer, you are not being sourced to do an architect’s or interior designer’s job,” explains Raghavendra Rathore. “If someone looks to Roberto Cavalli to do up a yacht, they are looking for an experience.” And 2021 will see plenty of such experiences, as the home segment is set to explode. “I predict more and more people wanting to be house proud now,” says JJ Valaya, promising options a plenty with the World of Valaya (comprising couture and interiors) launching soon in Delhi.
As you prepare for the new year, here are some designers to have on speed dial, be it to navigate Pantone’s colours for 2021 — Ultimate Gray and Illuminating (a cheerful yellow) — or to luxe up your interiors.
With inputs from Rosella Stephen, Susanna Myrtle Lazarus and Nidhi Adlakha
“My idea is to create a system design for passive houses that leave zero energy footprint”
Rahul Mishra, New Delhi
Mishra — winner of the 2014 International Woolmark Prize and the first Indian fashion designer to showcase at the Paris Haute Couture Week last January — is a tinker at heart. His voice rings with pride when he says he can open up an entire MacBook Pro, or when he reminisces about taking apart an Enfield with his uncle when he was young. In fact, he admits, “If Divya [his wife] weren’t around, I would not make beautiful clothes. I would make technical clothing, with lines and architectural inspiration.” Or he would build houses. Like the one that’s getting underway next month.
A passion project, the ‘passive’ house, as he calls it, is Mishra’s attempt at finding a sustainable lifestyle solution. “I am designing it from scratch. It will not use any energy from outside; instead it will use solar energy, take care of its own water needs, and recycle all the waste,” he says. So why this shift to homes now? Fashion was just all-consuming, he says. Then, the pandemic happened and he learned how to work from home — while gardening with his daughter and enjoying a cuppa, looking at the morning sky through his French windows. “The other half of my time now goes into working on my ideas, figuring out construction methods that don’t leave much of a footprint on the planet or researching low emission glasses.” The house, to be built on land he purchased in Uttarakhand, will be for personal use (“Just like the first piece of clothing I made, I made it for myself”), but later he will look at taking it commercial.
Another avenue he is exploring is soft furnishings. “It is a natural progression for a fashion designer, from looking at how a person dresses up to how they dress up their home,” says Mishra, who is currently outfitting a large gazebo for one of his clients, at their Delhi farmhouse. “We are handmaking and embroidering all the fabrics. Visualise the workmanship of a lehenga but 10 times in terms of surface area, and going up on the ceiling!” He is also in talks with one of India’s biggest home furnishing brands, to collaborate on textiles. Think cushion covers, bed spreads, lamp shades, curtains. “We will be working with sheers, block prints, hand embroidery. It will be like our clothes, but for your home.”
“We are doing exquisite pichwais and panels to keep the craftsmen working”
Tarun Tahiliani, New Delhi
Tahiliani, who in the past has emphasised that great conversation needs intimacy, extended his creativity to the design of spaces decades ago. When he launched Ahilia Homes, his interior and architecture firm, in 2018, unusual projects included an all-glass villa in Goa. During the pandemic, Tahiliani’s team has been “doing the most exquisite modern-day pichwais and panels to keep the craftsmen working”. These have been well received, he says, adding they are sketched, printed and then embroidered with a new tonal effect, in very fine silk thread ari, French knots and hand-cut mother-of-pearl, which brings the entire composition to life. These new studio tapestries done in hand embroidery take the old pichwai schools forward in a new vein. For himself, he has splurged on heavy charmeuse quilts and fresh flowers… “simple, old-fashioned luxury for skin and senses as luxury should be, not just a logo to show off”.
“Just hiring a designer isn’t enough; the person has to understand your aesthetics”
Raghavendra Rathore, Jodhpur
Designers have an amazing ability to connect the dots, feels Rathore. “I’ve had friends calling me up at strange hours, asking ‘do you think black or white is a better idea for my house’. And I have to make do with the information I have from my experience making clothes for them,” he laughs, explaining that as a couturier designing wardrobes around people’s personalities, doing the same for their homes is not difficult.
In the interiors space for over a decade, Rathore started off with concept designs. Like a project for an elderly person in Ahmedabad, who wanted him to design a house that would “grow with the family as the family grew”. Hotels and residences followed. He talks fondly of the reception area he designed for Suryagarh, the luxury hotel in Jaisalmer. “The idea was to create a sense of arrival. So it is very palatial, with diffused lighting created using 1900s-style handmade lights of velvet and wood. I designed the entire space — including a gurgling Shiva fountain — around a flawless piece of expensive Makhrana marble the owner had been holding on to.”
For Rathore, one big interior project every year is a must because he feels it both exercises and excites the young designers in his company. “It gives them the ability to think beyond the typical space of fashion.” At the moment, the designer — who says his “house looks a little James Bondy now, with the four computers in my office connected to devices in my living room” — is working on a farm house. “My brief is to give a contemporary feel, with the flavour of India, and to use a neutral palette [think a dessert mood board with shades of almond and vanilla]. To ask a fashion designer not to use colour is bold, but my design team will learn so much and, later, this will come out in the clothes, too.”
“Satya Paul will be coming out with a complete interior story, and taking it to hotels and luxury projects”
Rajesh Pratap Singh, New Delhi
Another veteran who has successfully moved to this parallel design track is Singh. “It started with us developing various kinds of textiles that we felt could play a great role in interiors,” he says. Over the last decade or so, he has done a variety of projects, including residences, furniture and store collaborations, such as a home furnishing edit for London’s Conran Shop, where he extended a black-and-white birds story from his fashion line on to cushions, carpets and more.
A trio of experiments from a few years ago is close to his heart. “We’d developed textile with woven metal: stainless steel, copper and aluminium. The one with aluminium became beautiful sheers, the copper textile was used in a jacket, while Klove, the lighting brand, used the stainless steel fabric in their lights.” 2021 promises to be a busy year. Not only is Singh doing the interiors of a boutique hotel housed in a fort in Rajasthan — “where we will be working a lot with woven wool and cotton in natural indigo, which we will also take into the tiles and furniture” — but he will also expand the Satya Paul brand. As its new creative director, he says it will take a new direction, creating a complete interior story that will play on the brand’s bold colour language. “We will take it to hotels and luxury projects,” he says. There’s also a collab with Mangrove (interior firm Studio Lotus’ furniture company) to look forward to: a series of chairs upholstered in tencel weaves.
“As we move into 2021, the indulgence in interiors is only going to increase”
Shivan & Narresh, New Delhi
With 2020 getting defined by “confinement in all areas of life, including celebrations at home, indoor settings have become more elaborate and refined”. On the home front, the duo redid an entire section of their house and turned it into a botanical bar lounge. With key elements taken from their print aesthetic (such as the flora and fauna from the Eden and Eden Noir collections), the space was filled with greens “to add the feeling of having a life of its own”. On the work front, Shivan and Narresh took the lack of runway and fashion week madness to shift the focus to launch a line of table linens for soirées, which included napkins, printed table runners, and printed and solid canvas table mats. “Where last year saw a boom in this area, 2021 is going to be a better tale of individuals wanting to tell a personal story through their homes — stories of their work, their travels and their experiences,” says Narresh Kukreja.
Their earliest experiment with interiors, however, was their flagship store in 2017. “We got the confidence to venture into this field after receiving appreciation for it, and went on to design our own home, Primera,” says Shivan Bhatiya. “From there, we decided to focus on airy holiday homes, an area of interest we are personally invested in.” Today, with signs of a shift in consumerism, as people indulge in “the zest to feel new and to be reborn through refining and redoing your spaces”, the designers see a growing pattern of customisation and personalisation for bedrooms and living spaces.
“There is a shift towards more conscious consumption in all spheres of life now”
Sanjay Garg, New Delhi
‘Home’ is not new for Sanjay Garg. As a design house, he says Raw Mango has always been about “intervention within traditional practices”, be it through textiles, events or retail environments. For example, for their recent 10th anniversary, he had created 10 collectibles for the home — including an armour worn by Theyyam artists in Kerala and a bowl carved from a single rock crystal — that revisit “traditional crafts through a Raw Mango design lens”.
For the designer, interiors go far deeper than just physical objects to fill up a space; “it is a place of comfort where you can leave the world outside”. During the lockdown, he found himself going back to the things he loved doing, like trying old and new recipes, planting trees, watching documentaries and reading books. Now, with the shift towards more conscious consumption “in all spheres of life”, he hopes the current interest in locally-made products and appreciation of meaning, craftsmanship and cultural significance, will see an “organic growth” and not become a passing trend.
“We create our own prints, much like a miniature artist makes his paintings”
Tanvi Kedia, Mumbai
“The USP of our brand is that we work like textile artists more than fashion designers. We create our own prints. Each one is hand drawn, is extremely detailed and almost looks like embroidery, with a 3D feel,” says Kedia. The fashion designer, who worked under couturier Tarun Tahiliani before striking out on her own, was going through 10 years’ worth of prints on her hard disk during lockdown when she realised most “haven’t even been seen” in India (she largely exports her garments, working with Anthropologie, the US retail giant.) Venturing into the home space isn’t a new idea — “every time I saw a print I would wonder how it would look on a cushion cover or as upholstery for a sofa” — but it was her homebound days in 2020 that finally gave her the push. “I was tired of shopping at Good Earth and Fabindia. When you have one or two block prints, you don’t want another,” says Kedia, who has been doing her market research and is positioning herself as affordable luxury. “We created around 25 prints in 2020; the rest are from my archives, inspired by my travels, vintage collectibles.” For example, a fabric inspired by a Jamavar shawl she saw in a museum. Once she launches (expect napkins, table runners, curtains, cushion covers and more in the next three to four months), she also promises a new collection every couple of months.
“What inspires our jewellery, inspires our décor — flora, fauna, architecture, the spiritual”
Tarang and Akanksha Arora, Tribe Home, Jaipur
During lockdown, the Aroras, like most of us, created a work space at home — with a dedicated corner for Zoom calls, complete with the right lighting and a striking landscape by Waswo X Waswo, the Udaipur-based artist, as the backdrop. Doing up such nooks is what they hope their new offering, Tribe Home, will help their clients with.
“We’ve always had home articles in the mother brand, Amrapali, and we wanted to introduce something [in a more affordable price bracket] under Tribe,” says Tarang, CEO-Creative Director of Amrapali, while Akansha, who heads Tribe Amrapali, adds, “After the lockdown, people are spending so much time indoors. And, instead of buying jewellery because they have nowhere to wear it, they are looking at beautiful things for their homes. We feel this sector is growing the fastest now.”
At present, they offer three verticals: Art Objects, Home Decor and Miniature Paintings. The challenge was to get the karigars and artists to work with a new design brief. “We had to convince the miniature artists to not overload their paintings with gold and crowns and flowers, because this is targetted at the new generation. Similarly, the silver karigars had to learn to keep the weight in check so that decor pieces did not become too expensive,” says Akanksha.
Designed by their in-house team, with more stoneware and intricate silver detailing coming up.
“We want to provide depth in our portfolio, and home is a good direction”
Kriti Tula, Doodlage, New Delhi
Sustainability is a lifestyle choice, and for Kriti Tula it has driven her fashion brand, Doodlage, since 2014. Now she wants to provide depth to her portfolio by expanding her product range. “We collaborated on ‘Indigo Chronicles by Doodlage x IRO IRO last year. Today, with people spending more time indoors, home seems to be a good direction,” she says, adding that new lines will also “provide a living for artisans working from home”.
While she is taking baby steps expanding into interiors, Tula shares that they’ve started working with artisans in Jaipur, with fabric waste woven back on the loom. Her new collection will be a contrast to the 2020 indigo line. “It will be in shades of white and pastels. Waste from block printing units is available in abundance around Rajasthan, and localisation allows us to cut down on carbon emission,” she says. This time, she will expand the range with bed covers and the like.
“It is nice to see a change of focus from more outward to inward”
Samyukta Nair, Dandelion, Mumbai
Nair’s greatest hurdle is streamlining her thoughts. “I am constantly inspired, be it by a piece of music, a book I’m reading or a new piece of art. Deciding on a direction and seeing it through is something I find challenging.” But her 2020 decision, to expand her Dandelion brand of sleepwear to encompass homeware, seems a natural fit. The collection of candles, cushions and bedding is already finding fans. “The first few weeks of 2021 will also see a collaboration with the sleepwear segment at Dandelion,” says Nair, adding that she will also be starting a new restaurant project in London “that is slated to open in the spring, and will explore my love for the Art Deco era”.
“Travel the world through aromas”, with hand-poured soy wax candles
Anjali Patel-Mehta, Studio Verandah, Mumbai
Patel-Mehta has always had a penchant for interiors, describing her aesthetic as “cosy”. Both her Mumbai home and Goa store carry a similar vibe: plenty of colour, prints and charming clutter. While her line of chic resort wear is what put her on the map, in a post-pandemic world, her kimonos, wraps and flowy dresses are the next best thing to the sweatpants that carried us all through 2020.
Through her journey as an investment banker and then a designer, she’s had one enduring love: scented candles. “I am crazy about them, and I don’t just buy them. For my wedding, our 200 guests each received six aromatic candles, hand-poured by me,” she laughs. So, last November, when she decided to dip her toes into home décor, launching her own line of hand-poured soy wax scented candles was a no-brainer. With four fragrances — vanilla and Goan coconut, Malta orange and cedar, bergamot and Indian musk, and Bulgarian rose and iris — customers are invited to travel the world through aroma.
Another vertical she is focussing on is textile art, the first being an 8×8 ft patchwork installation of the brand’s post-production waste scraps. “These were hand patched by rehabilitated Mogya tribal women in Ranthambore and hand-embroidered over a few hundred hours. It is meant to mark the conservation efforts of Tiger Watch Ranthambore,” she says. This particular piece now hangs at The Beach House, a private residence in Alibaug, and there are more in the pipeline, she adds.