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I stepped into Interior Design with a rosy picture of beautiful things and beautiful homes, but very early in my career I discovered that to be a successful interior designer, many more skill sets are required, it’s not just about design…
I was lucky to have had the opportunity to design the luxury train ‘Palace on Wheels’; that said, I realize now that I was quite young at the time and did not at first realize the intensity of the project. Overnight, I had to start interacting with ministers, bureaucrats, government and railway employees and the media! I also discovered what government red tape was all about. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that this project would not be easy, but in spite of that I was not ready for what hit me! The project had to be designed and executed in a span of five to six months. The train was booked to run on a specific date. There was no grace period, no buffer days. Still, in spite of all the constraints, we came out hugely successful. This project taught me discipline, how to multitask and work round the clock for high pressure projects. That same year, ‘Palace on Wheels’ was nominated as one of the best three trains in the world. Soon after this project, we designed another luxury train for Gujarat – ‘The Royal Orient’, which was an even more challenging project than the first.
During this time I often felt that I had bitten off more than I could chew, but I soon discovered that there was still more to come. ‘The law of attraction’ seemed to be doing its job! I enjoyed a good challenge so it seemed that’s what the universe had in store for me.
The next project that came my way was in the deep interiors of the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. My client was a wildlife enthusiast, but because he was based in London I was left to handle the project on my own. I was the only woman on site, having to guide a workforce of three hundred men for six months, tucked away in the interiors of the jungles of Kanha.
A construction site is very different to a resort in the jungle. Resorts are well maintained so that you don’t accidentally trip over wild life! With all the digging we undertook, we had hundreds of tiny scorpions crawling around every day. The land was infested by scorpions! Snakes, including kraits and cobras, abounded; and the cherry on the cake was our very own ‘in-house’ python, which lived motionlessly on our 27 acre site!
This is just a sneak peek into some of the challenges that one comes across in this industry – but the rewards are tremendous! The learning experiences are amazing. Walking through the narrow lanes of quaint towns and exploring all the craft and culture of this country are experiences that cannot be matched. I met many amazing people, all through these challenges. I met karigars (artisans), contractors, consultants, environmentalists, conservationists and artists. I was blessed with fabulous supporting clients; clients who, in fact, taught me about the importance of being a responsible designer.
Design and architecture can initially be overwhelming, but learning the trade slow and steady is the key. Pacing it out also makes it fun. One also has the option of branching out into one specific area of design. I know of many talented Architects and Interior Designers who have chosen to specialize in specific areas of design such as furniture design, lighting, art, landscaping, drip irrigation or providing sustainable and green options to clients. Each of these areas is very challenging, fun and economically rewarding.
My first architectural project
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that a good interior designer needs to have a clear understanding of architecture, and vice versa. I often take breaks from work and travel, and I was on one such break when I was offered a project which I could not refuse. I had no staff, so I hired a single draftsman and just the two of us went on to design what turned out to be one of my favorite projects. It was my first architectural project but it matched the standards of the best in the industry.
Some sensible choices towards design
I don’t think we, as humans, should burden the planet any further. Even ancient practices that were used to energize spaces, such as Feng-Shui and Vastu, consider cluttering the house as inauspicious. A minimalistic approach, using designs and materials that are everlasting and can be handed down generations, recycling of products, using materials that are biodegradable, nontoxic and organic and consume energy and water in a responsible manner are some simple ways to reduce the carbon footprint and build a sustainable and sensible world around us.
- The article was originally published in Career Ahead January 2021 issue.