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Sussanne Khan On Challenging Notions About Designs And Modern Families

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Sangeeta Waddhwani

When one enters her colossus of an apartment, perched on the 15th floor of a Rustomjee Elements high- rise in Juhu, there’s a sense of restrained elegance, layered and truly global design. Not to mention a sense of Atlas Shrugged non-conformity. Stained sycamore wooden door panels meet a ceiling featuring old-world beams and subtle lighting (she’s a big subscriber to the ‘lighting makes an interior’ philosophy). One’s eyes naturally migrate to sound-proof bay glass doors, beyond which lie a generous spread of greenery and a pre-monsoon sky.

The living room tells many a design story, even at a glance. We see a mirror held up by side bars moulded to look like tree bark, a limited-edition art print by Manjunath Kamath, dyed agate mini-tables, metal-plated tree bark tables, sofas by Andrew Martin dressed up with cushions featuring Dior and Hermès scarves, and elegant bric-a-brac everywhere, like African zebras standing in a cluster on a silver-plated side table. The details are all delightful and full of daring. At the epicentre of her living room is a virtual shrine to her family, their photos set on a table by her friend and architect Rooshad Shroff. Completing the picture is fluffy Malibu, doing his own performance of jumping, licking, tail-wagging and loving... Infusing a sense of ‘hearth’ with his pure heart.

SEE: Decor Items Inspired From Aditya Seal And Anushka Ranjan’s Home

Yes, Sussanne Khan may be accused of living in her ivory tower, but let’s remember that even with the best coach at home (her mother Zarine Khan), an inherited gen-next of artisans (whose parents worked for her mom), and perhaps even a sizeable clientele among family friends, she has cultivated a global niche — all her own — as an interiors specialist.

A graduate of the Associate Art Degree programme in Interior Design from Brooks College, California, Khan had technical training that her mom did not. Despite a roster of citations, one doesn’t see any complacency. In fact, she recently agreed to design a showflat for YOO Pune, with a deadline of just eight odd weeks! It was a killer deadline, but she triumphed.

Beyond work, Khan juggles many other demanding portfolios — mother, homemaker, fitness enthusiast, travel aficionado, and recently, girlfriend to actor Arslan Goni. When she finally finds the time to settle on the Andrew Martin couch for a chat, in her perpetually trendy look — denim skirt, tee and sneakers — one sees a woman who not just worships work, but sees it as her source of strength — “My work lights me up!”

Here’s decoding a seasoned juggler of dreams and realities:

HELLO!: Sussanne, how long ago did you visualise a home of your own like this?

Sussanne Khan: I’ve been a huge interior design- influenced person from the age of four or five. My mom used to buy these architectural magazines, which I used to go through with a near-religious fascination, thinking, ‘I want to do this. I want to be with these designers from New York and every design capital!’ This home could not have happened without those years of deep diving into the world of design. You stumble, you face those tornadoes of life, and then you come to some kind of understanding of how or what you really are about. That reflects here.

H!: Truly one sees luxury here, but with a fresh stamp of originality. Though we never see or hear of things that went wrong...

SK: True, we never hear of the experiments that backfired! But each failure only helps you. Like this collaboration with this paints company I had, when I had just started The Charcoal Project. I wanted these roller stencils to leave impressions of crocodile and leopard skin on the walls, very African. But no matter how hard we tried, it didn’t work. Visualising is one aspect of the job, but you have to consider the technicality of an idea. Now, it’s a habit to do a lot of R&D before developing an idea.

H!: We can see you love to travel. How does travel feed your creativity?

SK: I’m a huge collector of interesting things. I’ve a very curious mind and a very curious heart... I’ve always allowed my heart to wander and find new things I could add to my interiors. Conceptual design is all about a huge number of layers, and I think if you can tie all those layers together, you’ve won the game!

H!: Have you created objets d’art after seeing interesting curios on holiday?

SK: Oh, of course! Travel inspires you, but it’s important to not just reproduce things. I do recreate what looks interesting, which can add value to a design. So if you see the arches in the dining room here, those are actually stone arches carved in Jaipur. And I really love Gothic architecture; I love the pointed arches; I love rose windows and wanted an old-world charm mixed with modern ideas. I had to create an entire structure of steel to support the stone arches because each of these is 300kg to 400kg; they are not Plaster of Paris! Then I imagined that I wanted a suspended shelf in front of it, so we had to insert a metal plate into the ceiling that would take the weight of 500 to 600kg. You also see various products on the shelves... All of these add a lot of layering, technically and visually.

H!: You’ve placed preserved butterflies on those shelves, casting beautiful shadow impressions on the chipped white walls...

SK: That’s just a collection of preserved butterflies, but the shadow, the way it falls on the wall, that’s something I didn’t know would appear! It made me go, ‘Wow, this is also a byproduct!’ You may enjoy putting ideas on paper, but from paper to reality, there’ll be 10 more new things that will show up. You can adapt these things in other projects.

H!: In April, you launched Vedro, a balmy restaurant in Goa, and your ex-husband Hrithik Roshan called you a ‘rockstar’, which went viral on social media. Tell us about that experience...

SK: Well, it was a heritage villa in Panjim, brightly painted on the outside. I wanted to keep that cheery, local flavour and that sense of nature within as well as around the space. I broke down the first-floor ceiling entirely, allowing sunlight to enter from the roof right into the restaurant. I used a lot of earthy elements in synergy with nature, so you’ll find jute and wooden art pieces, green leaves painted on white walls, crochet chandeliers, and a host of photos framed along the walls. I was pretty hands-on with the setting up of the space!

H!: Everyone feels it’s pretty special how you, Hrithik, his girlfriend Saba Azad and your boyfriend Arslan Goni can hang out together, with no complications entering the picture!

SK: I’m truly thankful to god every day that this is how things are. That you can be great friends with your ex and be comfortable bringing your new partners out, with no insecurities or possessiveness in the way from any one of us. And being friends with Hrithik has brought a sense of stability to our boys. It’s truly a blessing!

H!: But you like to push the envelope! Years ago, you made these gargoyles — a totally alien concept in India, and we’re quite a superstitious country — but they took off!

SK: Yes, that’s true. It was very Renaissance Europe. I’ve also created another totem — a half-eagle, half-man figure — and it’s become so popular! People want to create lamps and other variations of it! Honestly, I think it’s important to do things with a lot of passion and conviction. Go pure in your approach, striking new territory, regardless of what people might think. When that creation turns out fabulous and people respect it, that’s your luck! And if it doesn’t, take it as a lesson.

H!: In recent years, we see a lot of fashion brands making home accessories, like this Dior coverlet on your sofa. What are some of your other favourites?

SK: I love Dior! I wanted this very celestial motif on my cushion, so I had it made using this particular scarf. It became so popular that I created fabulous cushions for three of my clients using scarves from Dior and Hermès. I notice how Hermès actually displays their new scarves like art, suspending them at the windows of their shops. For me, art is very relative; it could be a shoe like a Louboutin; some of his shoes are so intricately crafted! Even natural objects could be art.

H!: Yes, one sees a lot of mini tables made of logs of wood... Are these logs fabricated or natural?

SK: They are completely natural; you can see it’s ripped on the side. We layer it with metal electroplating. So it looks metallic, but you have all the nuances of a wooden log. Though the mirror framed by the silver wooden logs is manufactured, not real, wood. It’s a collaboration I did with Chelini, in partnership with the Varisan Group, an Italian brand, a year ago. That was deeply appreciated. It’s a moulded branch, not a real one, and that’s put into electroplating. It’s actually made first in clay, the casting is done, and then it’s put into FRP. So it’s a full process.

H!: We sense that you love multitasking across your many commitments. But one doubts that your social media followers believe how hands-on you are, whether it’s aspects of work, or parenting, or running a business and home...

SK: I think in this journey, I’ve kept this one thought at the back of my mind: no matter what happens, no matter how many things don’t go your way, keep your focus on the ball that’s rolling. Don’t drop the ball. Keep at it with a whole lot of grit, perseverance and tenacity. That focus will generate the positive energy needed to achieve what you want to. That energy will never let you down. That energy will build up around your idea, your projects, and will support you to get where you want to be.

H!: You said you will never stop being a working woman because that brings much flavour and joy to your life. It’s who you are...

SK: Yes, whether it’s me being a homemaker, a mother, or a lover to a special someone; I think my work zone is equal to all of that. And as a worker, I wouldn’t even call myself a person who heads an organisation. I see my team as my family. I call them my gladiators because we are so connected. I don’t think I could ever not work because it’s my work that lights me up!

H!: So what does a day in your life really look like?

SK: I wake up at 6.45am. I’m here when my boys Hrehaan and Hridaan have their breakfast and leave for school around 7.50am. Till about 8.45am, I catch up on the news, or whatever needs my attention at home. Then about 9.00am, I head to the gym. I finish my workout, and then I’m at work. Everything is planned; it’s discipline all the way. It’s so easy for one to understand how much time there’s in a day if you plan well. It’s discipline that will set you free — I believe that. There are a lot of notions that multitasking will drain you, but it only energises me!

Photography: Tina Dehal; Creative Direction: Avantikka Kilachand; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Makeup: Chandini Dawar; Hair: Farzana From Kromakay Salons

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.