Mumbai’s epicures go into a trance at Neuma, a multi-mood fine-dining space designed by Ashiesh Shah, who envisaged people walking across spaces with different paces, revelling in each. The restaurant is only a small feather in his design journey, but it whispers of all that he loves. In the display of folk elements and motifs, we can see Shah’s talent for envisaging Indian handicrafts in a modern avatar. In line with sustainable luxury, Shah taps into local resources that are either readily available, renewable or recycled.
His artisanal networks stretch as far as Longpi in Meghalaya and Channapatna in Karnataka, among other notable craft clusters. He was recently chosen by The Invisible Collection, a globally-renowned e-commerce interiors site, to retail his home accessories. Here, we present a conversation with the ‘glocal’ son-of-the-soil.
HELLO!: Congratulations on being the first Indian designer to be part of The Invisible Collection! It’s wonderful to see your creations amid such talents as Pietro Franceschini, Cristina Celestino and Damien Gernay...
Ashiesh Shah: “They’ve been following our work at the Atelier for a long time. They approached us about two years ago and ever since then, the process has been in the pipeline, until its recent launch.”
H: Your approach is very much in line with the post-pandemic idea of consumption with a conscience. How has your support of Indian handicrafts changed lives and helped keep the crafts relevant?
AS: “The idea of being able to enhance anything, be it craft, culture or even music within your physical environment, to make it relevant and accessible globally in today’s day and age, is very exciting for me. While subscribing to the idea of ‘handmade’, we aim to work towards empowering the kaarigar by designing objects that employ craft processes native to the country. This allows them to create objects that exude the philosophies of perfect imperfection with a contemporary flair and gives them an international platform. Crafts should no longer be considered a dying part of our culture. Instead, they should be celebrated by the coming generations. It’s absolutely integral to revive these with a fresh perspective and language.”
H: Which contemporary interior designers do you look up to, and which spaces rank among your favourites around the world?
AS: “I admire the works of French designers Pierre Yovanovitch and Christian Liaigre. Yovanovitch’s chateau in southern France is quite spectacular, as he delicately balances the historical integrity of the building while infusing it with custom-designed elements and contemporary art. This modern rendition of the Provencal Farmhouse has a certain simplicity in its language along with a light, ethereal quality.”
H: Neuma has really taken on a multi-mood avatar after Indigo passed on. Given its history as a uniform/single aesthetic restobar for so many years, what made you infuse so many moods into it?
AS: “People are now gravitating towards spaces that offer multiple experiences, straying from monotony. A vast space like Neuma is more stylised in its approach, exuding high energy levels with a dramatic flair. Concocting multiple experiences within one environment, the diner is able to create a change in the pace of time through space. As one traverses from one room to another, they are offered the joy of slow living and a contrasting fast-paced high-energy environment under the same roof. One witnesses an infusion of colour, texture and form, where each space has a distinct character.”
H: You’ve curated some lovely tribal and folk objets d’art around Neuma. Do you shop for these every time you travel around India, or do you just have a pre-existing collection?
AS: “I’d say it’s a combination of both. An avid collector of these design objects, I acquire a lot of these pieces, which I eventually place in our spaces. I also have a vast network of antique dealers and vintage shops around the country, which I work with to infuse objects of heritage and culture within a curated space.”
H: It was quite an ‘out there’, original idea to put corset laces in the beamed Octagonal Green Room area at Neuma. And beautifully executed! What are some other really ‘out there’ concepts you have executed?
AS: “There are quite a few, but ‘Sequel’ is a great example of one ‘out there’ concept. Designing this rendition of Sequel was quite exciting. We wished to elevate the consumer’s experience, creating a minimal and contemporary narrative through its distinct design language. It was quite challenging to strike the right chord and achieve a minimal and balanced space. Having said that, every project we do, we endeavour to reinvent ourselves while creating a new atmosphere and aesthetic with a distinct language.”
H: We see pictured here, in the Shantiniketan House in Delhi, some truly interesting wood and marble wall panels, and fascinating installations, but minimal art. Have you had incidents where a client’s art collection is at odds with your aesthetic?
AS: “I refrain from commenting on people’s art since it’s a derivation of their personal taste —something they have loved to be able to acquire at such a high value. I usually create and choreograph spaces around this prized possession, enabling a visually coherent and balanced aesthetic.”
H: When one sees the unique colour palette of your home accessories, one wonders if these are all manufactured by your company and whether they are limited editions...
AS: “At the Atelier, we make a conscious effort to incorporate crafts and localised processes across the country to create objects of design. These objects are unique and handcrafted to perfection infusing an essence of wabi-sabi into the space. The pastel-shaded circular rug is from CC-Tapis and was imported for the Shantiniketan House in Delhi.”
H: Your Lake House project in Udaipur has your quintessential minimalist yet culturally rich interiors. One notices a lot of bay ceiling-to-floor glass surfaces, as though you wanted the indoors to flow with the outdoors. How did the beauty of Udaipur inspire this interior?
AS: “The Lake House project had been in the making for a long time. Since its inception, we envisioned bringing the outdoors in through the introduction of ceiling-to-floor glass panels reminiscent of a floating piece of architecture. White marble flooring and walls clad in American oak, characteristic to the space, complement the vistas that surround it and blend in rather seamlessly. Besides that, from skilfully carved marble and granite sourced locally to stunning pichwais and antiquities, the Lake House highlights several influences and crafts from Udaipur — much like a gallery in the middle of the lake.”
H: How did your friendship with the Germain-trained architect, Verendra Wakhloo, lead to a healthy synergy of ideas on this project? Wakhloo shares a visionary interpretation of the chhatris and baradaris, supported by fluted columns that are a recurring leitmotif of Rajput-Mughal architecture...
AS: “We worked in sync with Wakhloo and approached the design such that it seamlessly paired and complemented its calculated geometrical profile. Blurring the boundaries between the interior and the exterior, the space served as an extension to the architecture it inhabits, interwoven with these built elements through careful consideration and vanishing thresholds, an ideal synthesis between the inside and out.”
H: We know that Hrithik Roshan, a client of yours, had his kids wondering if they could walk with their hands. So you actually found a modality to make that possible! Any such unique innovations for your other celebrity clients, like Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Arjun Rampal, Mehr Jessia and Jacqueline Fernandez?
AS: “We’re a boutique firm and every client, be it a celebrity or a businessman, is absolutely important to us. If the client has a dream or something specific on their mind, we deem it important to make that happen in the most practical and innovative way. Whether it’s Hrithik’s children’s graffiti wall or even the idea of placing a pool table in the middle of a lounge — it’s all a manifestation of that process.”
H: Any initiatives that are close to your heart?
AS: “The India Design Fund, an initiative close to my heart that I spearheaded with eminent voices from the industry in aid of the crafts community. It endeavoured to salvage the endangered crafts community but also nurture human skills and handmade traditions along with sustainable manufacturing practices for the symbiotic growth of the industry.”
H: What exciting projects do you have on hand right now?
AS: “I’ve been working with some very interesting clients across the country on several interior projects. We also look forward to taking my project, Atelier Ashiesh Shah, to an international platform. Besides our recent launch at The Invisible Collection, we are eager to showcase our work at London Design Week and Gallery Volte in Dubai, making Indian crafts and design objects more accessible globally.”
H: A dream project you would love to see falling into your lap would be...
AS: “To design a resort in a beautiful set up.”
Cover Photo credits:
Photography: Tina Dehal; Fashion Editor: Sonam Poladia; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Hair & Makeup: Simran Shah; Set Design: Nikita Rao; Carpets & Location Courtesy: Obeetee Carpets| Worli, Mumbai
Do you love reading about interiors and are on a constant lookout for expert advice? In our July issue, we are celebrating the top architects and interior designers of the industry to give you an insight into their world along with an inspirational guide to spruce up your homes. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s July 2022 issue.