Designing spaces for a world where sensibilities are fast shifting calls for not just constant adaptation, but an intuitive, sensitive approach. Sunu Aibara, of Neterwala & Aibara, has created bespoke interiors for a diverse clientele for over three decades, with a view to reflecting the lives, aesthetics and driving passions of the inhabitors of the space, while also retaining its inherent charms. HELLO! speaks with the interiors exponent who sees the world as her oyster of inspiration and has the confidence to assert and convince her clients about what really works.
HELLO!: One sees a rich and diverse portfolio of work — from gyms to private villas to showflats in the new lifestyle-rich towers that have taken over Mumbai. Can you tell us about the most ‘daring’ idea you’ve executed?
Sunu Aibara: “One of the most challenging jobs was collaborating with an architect to create a beautiful Alibaug home on an extremely tricky plot. This plinth-size was only 2,200 sqft. The challenge was not only to fit all the clients’ requirements but to create a feeling of space on such a small plot.”
H: How did you discover that transforming spaces was your calling?
SA: “I was always passionate about creative spaces, which led to frequent changes at home. And then with some encouragement from my husband, I went back to college and qualified from Sophia Polytechnic.”
H: You designed the villa in Breach Candy, which once belonged to the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, in a contemporary style. Did you retain any elements from the old-world interiors, or did you completely reimagine the home?
SA: “It was a mix of both. We maintained all the stunning features of the villa — the staircase, the roof, the beautiful eaves and the wooden windows. These made such an integral part of to flow from those features, while making the space appropriate for modern living.”
H: Clean, minimalist lines, marble finishes, mood lighting, monochrome and earthy tones — would you say this is a mainstay of most modern apartments?
SA: “Yes, clean monochromatic interiors are preferable because they allow for layering of furniture, art, sculpture, accessories, etc., which can make a space very personalised.”
H: How does travel help you recharge your creative batteries?
SA: “Inspiration comes from various quarters. Travel is one, which, of course, takes in antique markets, specialised galleries, quaint and charming towns, pavements and streets, museums, art installations, biennales, textiles, jewellery and nature. Inspiration is everywhere.”
H: How do you think the Indian interiors market has evolved — be it lighting fixtures, home accessories, marbles and surfaces, polishes and textures, wallpapers and furnishings — since the time you entered the industry?
SA: “The Indian interiors market has certainly evolved. We’re seeing some great product design by extremely talented members of the fraternity, and we’d like to see a lot more of these in the years to come. Of late, we see a lot of subtle layering of the old and the new.”
H: Do you like this trend?
SA: “A layered visual tableau is always interesting as it adds personality to design. Of course, this needs to be done elegantly and creatively. It also acts as a visual break to a structured style, which may otherwise be repetitive.”
H: The industrialist’s bungalow on Carmichael Road that you designed has rich, baroque sofa upholstery, lots of infusions of flowers, a great use of natural light, an Art-Deco monochrome floor... Did you have the entire moodboard down pat from day one?
SA: “The bungalow came together as a complex recipe of various personalities. Collections of personal art and artefacts across various genres of designs steered the design process. The project was definitely an evolution and innovation rather than a prearranged moodboard.”
H: When you find yourself at odds with your client’s aesthetic, how do you find a middle ground?
SA: “Aesthetics and design are very subjective. There will always be situations when our views might clash. But as the project proceeds and more comfort and confidence is established, the client, very often, is open to re-thinking and allows us to make changes so that the end product flows smoothly.”
H: What are the biggest challenges interior designers face today?
SA: “One of the biggest challenges is to complete a residential project within a reasonable time frame. The very nature of the personal space makes some clients so involved that continuous changes and alterations lead not only to a delay, but also to a dilution of the design. The challenge is to keep a good balance between design and client aspirations. Many clients today consult Vaastu or Feng Shui consultants.”
H: Do you subscribe to the idea that spaces impact lives?
SA: “Of course, homes and office spaces impact lives. It’s where you spend all of your time, and it’s important that they are comfortable, and that the spaces reflect the personal identity of the occupant.”
H: What projects have you executed in the recent past that you feel are a good signature of your style?
SA: “We choose not to have a signature style. We prefer to give each residential project its own signature, which could be steered by locality, architectural approach or a homeowner’s pre-existing aesthetic sensibilities. Over the course of the project, these parameters come together to create a unique signature. In the case of this home in Surat, Chirag Dewan, Senior Associate at Neterwala & Aibara, visualised and executed a monochromatic, clean and uncluttered interior for a young, dynamic couple.”
H: Mumbai has been taken over by new developments — by the Lodhas, Piramals, Pancshils and others. One notices they are strong on contemporary style and are semi built up. Have you ever taken on an entire tower for styling or designing?
SA: “We do work with developers for showflats, amenity areas, common areas, or private residences. We’ve also executed projects where all public areas, as well as soft shells of residential units, were designed by the team. Of course, it’s naturally more interesting to work on a more challenging brief such as a showflat or a private residence, as opposed to replicating design across multiple units.”
H: What is a dream project you’d love to undertake?
SA: “Our dream project is to conserve and rehabilitate a beautiful heritage property. We are extremely fortunate to be currently working on this dream project.”
Cover Photo credits:
Photography: Tina Dehal; Fashion Editor: Sonam Poladia; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Hair & Makeup: Sandhya Aggarwal; Set Design: Nikita Rao; Carpets & Location Courtesy: Obeetee Carpets| Worli, Mumbai
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This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s July 2022 issue.