Pallavi and Abhinav Khandelwal© HELLO! India

Interior Designers Pallavi and Abhinav Khandelwal On How They Built Their Delhi Haven

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Noor Anand Chawla

“Our Zen home was made piece by piece,” says Pallavi Khandelwal, interior designer, art consultant and one half of the power couple behind the successful interiors and lifestyle brand FCML.

Her husband and Managing Director of the firm, Abhinav Khandelwal, agrees. “Our home is always a work in progress; it was not put together in a single day. We also continue to add to our collection, keeping its calm, quiet and understated aesthetic in mind.”

Zen, peaceful, quiet and elegant certainly capture the vibe of their beautiful South Delhi home. Their spacious living room, awash in whites, blacks and greys, with strategic pops of colour in the form of beautiful — and often rare – artwork by some of India’s best artists, became a much-appreciated sanctuary when the country was plunged into successive lockdowns. Before the pandemic, Pallavi and a select group of like-minded individuals used the room for meditation classes twice a week, and one can feel the positive vibes from that time firmly in every nook and cranny of this space.

“Art has always been an integral part of our home,” she shares. “We were married around 16 years ago, and even back then, our powder room welcomed guests with a Jogen Chowdhury Shaurya artwork over the sink. The idea was to be greeted by art.”

Pallavi’s knowledge of art allowed her to begin collecting it from a very young age. Abhinav, too, developed an interest in art many years ago, and the first piece he bought — a Jogen Chowdhury painting of a couple kissing with their eyes open — owns pride of place in their home’s sitting area. Adjacent to this striking artwork is a larger-than- life B&B Italia sculpture of a black foot, made using foam as an avant-garde yet light and practical material. This was one of the first pieces the couple invested in together, and it’s since provided a stunning backdrop to the rest of the art on display in their home. When the children were younger, it was even used as a play toy and slide for its softness, a practice the loving parents did not discourage.

When asked about his personal aesthetic, Abhinav affirms, “I’m sure of the kind of things I like. I work closely with Vaishali Kamdar, who is my go-to interior designer, and we’re always bouncing ideas off each other. Then the final approval comes from Pallavi.”

Vaishali is certainly a strong influence on them, having worked closely with Abhinav for over 17 years. She’s been instrumental in designing their own home as well as most of the FCML stores. “Vaishali’s aesthetics just match so well with ours. She can complete Abhinav’s sentences when they discuss design!” Pallavi explains.

Abhinav draws inspiration from his travels in India and abroad, as well as the beauty of the great outdoors. His favourite part of the world is Ladakh, which he calls inspiring.

“It shows you how tiny you are in this world because here, everything is just brutally wild!”

This love for the outdoors plays out in his work for Healing Himalayas, an organisation for which he volunteers to give back to the region he loves so much. Healing Himalayas works to promote sustainable tourism in areas that were remote till quite recently, but are suddenly overrun with tourists after new infrastructural developments. Other than the mountainous regions of India, Abhinav is particularly fond of Spain and Italy for their unique design aesthetic and their people’s love for life in general.

As the husband-wife duo are avid collectors with a keen eye, one might expect their home to be overflowing with things, but a pragmatic Pallavi ensures it never does.

“A cluttered home means a cluttered mind. In our home, there’s no noise, and we don’t over- collect things. In fact, we try to incorporate much of our daily life into our home seamlessly,” she says.

The couple’s cosy study amply reflects this train of thought, as she points to a ship painstakingly constructed with Lego pieces by their elder daughter and a heart-warming framed note conveying loving messages from their younger daughter to Abhinav on his 40th birthday.

Apart from the family bric-a-brac, the couple’s most prized possessions include their collection of works by artist Zarina Hashmi, the stark tonality of which fits well with the lines and hues of their home.

“I love each one of them, as they were bought for the art and not for the name behind it,” asserts Abhinav, to which Pallavi adds, “We buy what we like — it’s for the love of what we see, not necessarily just a name to be shown to the world or only for the purpose of investment. It is art that we are growing and evolving with.”

As Pallavi walks us through her home, her love and excitement for each piece within it is starkly evident. Certain works of art seem like they were created to adorn these walls. Biraaj Dodiya’s life- size abstract painting decorates a space that was previously occupied by a work of her father Atul Dodiya. The latter has been moved to an alcove near the dining area. Another work that fits seamlessly in its allotted space atop the banquet- style table in the dining room is Manisha Gera Baswani’s fascinating ‘Milk Blood’ series.

Despite their strong creative personalities, Pallavi and Abhinav are attuned to each other’s preferences. He explains the reason for this with candour: “The ground floor is mine and the top floor is hers. We keep our boundaries!”

Though said in jest, this concept was tested in earnest during the lockdown. Abhinav took over the study downstairs, while Pallavi set up her workstation in the living area upstairs to supervise her children’s online schooling.

“During the lockdown, home became everything; we were blessed to have this place. It was perfect as it was, and we didn’t need to change anything. We didn’t even move a cushion!” says Abhinav.

Helming one of India’s most prominent design and lifestyle brands certainly helped in this regard. Since its first store opened in Delhi’s Sultanpur, FCML has become known for its Europe-inspired, luxurious bathroom designs, recycled tiles, high- end wood floors, modular kitchens and accessories and elegant home décor products. Abhinav says it’s been a tough but brilliant and inspiring journey, where every day provides something new to learn, with their focus having changed over the years.

“A major change we undertook post-pandemic was the move from doing a lot of institutional work to focussing on private villas and homes. Now, we are also going pan-India. We’ll be operational in nine cities this year and hope to be operational in 14 by the end of the next calendar year. There are a lot of opportunities in this sphere now. There’s, of course, the super high-end niche luxury category, but aspirational luxury also has huge potential.”

The couple sign off with advice to first-time homeowners on the art of setting up homes that are beautiful yet personal. Abhinav says, “Build a home for yourself and a space that represents you. Don’t look to borrow for your home,” and Pallavi chimes in with, “Infuse yourselves with a knowledge of art. Attend biennales, art shows, workshops with artists; do it as a passion. My own home gives me so much inspiration when I design other people’s homes. It’s important to have a space that inspires you.”

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s July 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!