With Canna Patel (HCP Interior Design Pvt Ltd),
Sandeep Khosla (Khosla Associates), and
Ambrish Arora (Studio Lotus)
This three-point discussion sought perspectives and viewpoints on the perceivable aspects of interior design and the emerging tangential domains of the discipline – interior decoration / visual décor and styling.
INTERIOR DESIGN PRACTICE IN THE CONTEXT OF INDIA
An interior design practice when placed in the Indian context gets tied to not just our culture and aesthetics but more importantly, to how it is practised. In India, interior design has not been separated from architecture as a result of poor or no legislative or licensing control. It has, therefore, become a profession that architects adopt to create liquidity more often than not – an intermediary ball to keep rolling between architecture projects.
In its minuscule understanding but more commonly seen, interior design is taken up as a part-time occupation and not a business. On the other hand, it becomes a part of a complete design package in fields headed by contractors, engineering firms or furniture manufacturers. Thus, in the Indian context, the percentage of hard-core interior design practices is relatively small. When focused upon what makes an interior design practice, the below stated points surface through a large ocean of possibilities, passions and convictions for this profession:
- It requires to be a passion driven profession, and not just something taken up as an alternative to a related field.
- Train Interior designers not only through their education but also through their skills and abilities. Hence, their role to take key decisions is more valuable.
- As a practice, one needs to take keen interest and initiatives into governing associations that could help form some kind of a structure for the profession. It could mean becoming a member or getting your company registered.
- While practising, the value of a good book library, as a form of constant referencing and a material library which aids the tangible aspect of a design process and helps build the core of the practice.
Primarily an Interior Design practice must be able to spatially plan the character of a space by understanding the psychological needs of the people who will inhabit it. This is a universal requirement. More specifically to the Indian context, the design practice should have an understanding of the dynamics of Indian living, of our culture, traditions, and habits. The practice should create work that is climate-sensitive, providing protection from the harsh western sun while still remaining well-ventilated, and providing respite from the monsoon rains.
Moreover, the practice should be contextually driven with an empathy towards local material, craft, re-use and should find innovative solutions with our wealth of customisation that are cost-effective.
Even though we have a middle class that is rapidly evolving and technologically enabled, we are still a traditional society with a strong belief system. A common requirement amongst most clients is Vastu compliance and this sometimes extends to the placement of different functions in a project according to Vastu/astrology/other faiths. This can be viewed as very stringent parameters in contemporary design but I feel that design practices that embrace these constraints as part of the design challenge rather than rejecting them as an obstacle to the design are most successful.
Lastly, I believe that an Interior Design practice should have the ability to steer, influence, and educate their clients. With the art of continuous dialogue and engagement Indian practices must be influencers, showing their clients new ways of seeing.
I think interior design is our only tool to influence the experience of a built form and that is the way we at Studio Lotus perceive interior design. To that extent, it is not different from architecture because architecture generates the built form and our critical perception and experience of that built form is largely from within. In the Indian context, interior design is perceived to be less technical than architecture or engineering. It is more accessible. Therefore, you have all kinds of practices – for better or for worse. From practices that are highly evolved, to people who think they have a flair for design. The discipline of design and décor has got a very low threshold of entry within our country. Even otherwise, globally, interior designers have a very wide spectrum of practitioners. The difference now is that an increasing number of people are seeing the value that a professional designer can bring to their experience of design, and so they are choosing to engage with professional practices. Slowly, there’s a shift towards a more professional engagement versus something analogous to styling and decoration.
ON IDEAS OF STYLING AND DÉCOR
By definition, decoration is an object or an act intended to increase the beauty of a person, or a room. Styling is a manner of doing or presenting something. Both of these are the finishing touches, which are inherent to the process of design for a good interior design practice. It lends itself at a higher position when its embedded in design decisions instead of a last minute add-on. This way they become less superfluous and impart a deeper significance to the space.
I always ask what the happiness quotient of a space is, how comforting it is to be within a space. How should we design an interior space that has the capability of being loved? I think styling and décor are valuable if they enhance this feeling, and if they work within a certain narrative. I feel that the importance of décor elements and styling is often undermined in our profession. Being a good stylist requires an immense skill. All faculties need to be present to create the correct balance of composition, to use the right textures, colour and proportion between differing elements. Décor and styling is a profession operating mostly from the faculties of the right brain. I find design that emerges purely from instinct fascinating.
I will take the analogy of a human body and how we engage with the world. So, there is a skeleton, a body, and there is the flesh on the body. The skeleton would be the architecture, which gives form to the built environment; the flesh would be the materials whether inside or outside which are a permanent part of the skeleton. And much like in fashion, if you have a beautiful body then it is easier for any clothes to look good on you. A good skeleton of architecture lends itself to the interior space. For this, it is important to first understand the structure, which will then enable you to choose an appropriate fit.
This is what one would call a cultural ornament – it is not ornamentation but the cultural expression of what the identity of the space is. There is no right or wrong as long as one takes it through.
To me, while these conversations are important, the matters are extremely individualistic and personal and need an independent thinking because they add a lot of value and one cannot deal with the idea of an environment without understanding the bones, the flesh, and the skin: the architecture, the interiors, the volume, the space, the light and so on.
ON CULTURE OF IMAGES IN INTERIOR DESIGN
Design is a culture that needs to be driven through multifaceted acts, or experiences that can be identified in places like exhibitions, museums, theatre, etc. It is an amalgamation of visual, experiential and meaningful experiences. While it becomes important for it to be accessible, as one cannot experience it like architecture, it takes its position in different forms of visual media. Unfortunately, at the same time it has failed to create a “design awareness” amongst the mass and simply remains a means of imitation.
I do not have a problem with ‘image-making’ as long as it is an effective tool to communicate a design intent. The problem I have is with interior designers blindly ‘image-receiving’. The seductive barrage of imagery on the Internet and media often provides interior designers with an easy cut and paste approach, often devoid of the real context. However, there is a real opportunity in India to create ‘original’ images, and I am optimistic about this because I see great hope and innovation with the younger generation of designers who are so enthused by depicting a cool new progressive India.
I think the reason people go to an image is because they do not have a fully formed idea of what is it they want. I remember doing this self-development workshop several years ago and one of the things that subliminally emerged within all of us was how we begin modelling ourselves on imaginary or real figures who we admire and who lend us a position in life. The way we present ourselves to the world is governed by that. Social media is like that. It is easily accessible and allows us to anchor ourselves quickly.
Whereas, design is really about being comfortable with ambiguity and the reason I think people are hesitant about ambiguity is because the idea of having faith that something will emerge if you allow the parameters to inform the process is a difficult leap for many to make. There is a quote by Bruce Mau that I go back to very often, “When you allow the process to inform the result, you might not know what you are going to get, but what you get is definitely what you want.” Of course, one cannot reject images. We try having an engagement with the image that is deeper than the image itself by dissecting it to see the aspects that are working and what could be learnt from them. As a practice, we never start with an end result and so the image is not really relevant at that point.
DESIGN-THINKING IN THE PRACTICE OF INTERIOR DÉCOR
A décor practice is based upon short-term changes, in some cases forms of makeover that tend to be area specific or event specific. When this activity finds its hold in a concept, it becomes a part of design thinking. This way décor forms a subset of design.
As an interior designer I do not think of styling as an independent discipline at all. I feel that it is integral to completing the overall architectural or interior narrative of a space. I lay emphasis on the narrative, as décor elements would otherwise reduce themselves to being mere style/fashion statements that can be short-lived. A décor practice that is purely about surface application and does not look into the subliminal qualities of a space can be problematic. But interior design practices that embrace décor and styling as part of a certain language are strong.
As a practice, we believe that a key attribute of design is listening to all the voices that inform the project. For example, sustainability for us is not forced because the frameworks are determined by the nature of the project without imposing our prejudices. This is not easy. I really do not believe we are artists. I like to believe that we are more like craftsmen with a certain skillset, and that skill needs to be directed towards the necessity. And that is how a practice gets richer, because you allow a lot of voices to speak and question, as long as you make sure they are part of the same framework. This framework is design for me. Décor may be a voice inside this framework.
ON CONCERNS OF A PRACTICE
As a design practice, we constantly aim at approaching a project from all sides. Apart from being functional and aesthetically pleasing for the clients, a powerful design concept drives us towards a more meaningful act. This is supported by activities, initiatives and daily routines of the design studio.
- Open houses form an important part at the end of the project. This is a great exercise as we believe that interior design is more through an experience than visual media. It also allows the user to interact with the designer which almost never happens.
- An ‘A-Z’ of the standards that one must learn and adapt to as a designer becomes an important approach while heading a design studio.
- Educational initiatives such as research with students, workshops on various topics related to the practice and lectures in Universities constantly help bridge the gap between education and practice which is important for a good design practice as a form of reflection, to be able to critically look at your own work.
At Khosla Associates, we are “contextualists” who believe that our work should be rooted in one’s environment and to a particular site. While we work with an international style, we draw inspiration from traditional concepts, craft as well as local material.
Our design is experiential and attempts to modulate space to create beautiful, peaceful or dramatic spaces. There is a certain romanticism to our work, a narrative quality that leads the viewer into varied experiences, and we enjoy creating work that references the old while being wholly contemporary and innovative. Living in a tropical environment, our design is climate sensitive and often blurs the boundaries between indoors and outdoors making spaces permeable. The relationship/dialogue between built form and the external environment/topography is very important.
I find it crucial to question ourselves on some of the basic values/qualities of good interior space. We try and put our design to the test each time we take on a project.
Is there an honesty of material and expression? Are the basic values of light, air and ventilation fulfilled?, and Is the project climatically sensitive, contextually rooted and conceptually relevant?
Beyond these essential aspects we strive to create the more subtler, hidden and subliminal qualities that make the spatial quality soulful. The gentle modulation and interplay of natural light on various surfaces, creating environments that are tactile, spaces that are uplifting, that bring us closer to nature and attempt to connect us back to our primordial selves.
Our practice has two distinct kinds of manifestations- the architectural team and the interior design team. They function independently as well as collaboratively, but the skill sets required to deliver an architectural project are different from that for an interior design project. I think programmatically, what we offer is not domain expertise but process expertise. Currently, we are working on a range of projects from industrial to commercial to workplaces and even adaptive-reuse projects. We engage deeply in mutually establishing the premises of how things ought to be. This has been a very rewarding exercise with our clients and for us as a studio ♦
CANNA PATEL is an Architect & Interior Designer with over twenty-eight years of professional experience. Having completed her Bachelors in Architecture at CEPT, Ahmedabad she did her Masters at University of California Berkeley, USA. She is the Chairperson at HCP Interior Design Pvt. Ltd. (HCPID), widely regarded as a reputable and professionally managed firm. Her works are being regularly published in various Indian and International publications.
SANDEEP KHOSLA is the founder and principal of Khosla Associates, a Bengaluru-based multi-disciplinary architecture and design office. Sandeep studied architecture at Pratt Institute, New York, then returned to India to establish Khosla Associates in 1995. He was picked by India Today magazine as one of the fifty men and women under the age of 35 from various fields of enterprise who are poised to be leaders of tomorrow.
AMBRISH ARORA trained and worked as a boat designer before moving to Spatial Design. He founded Studio Lotus in 2002 along with Sidhartha Talwar & Ankur Choksi. In the course of his working career of over thirty years, Ambrish has lectured extensively and served as visiting faculty and juror at various international and Indian design forums. A member of the CII National Committee on Design, he is on the executive board of the Jawahar Kala Kendra.
First Published in [IN]SIDE Volume 01; Issue 01
POLEMICS is a conversation with architects and designers from multiple vantage points on common concerns of contemporary practice.