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February 01, 2018

A Varied Repertoire: Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar Talks About His Engagement With Art And Design

Text by Saumya Sinha. Photographs by Karan Nevatia

The designer talks to us about merging his two callings of architecture and decor and turning everyday objects into works of art

A masterfully designed penthouse provides the perfect backdrop for Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar’s creatively charged life. I walk into the living room of his expansive residence in South Mumbai and I find the dapper architect-cum-interior designer ensconced in his luxurious abode filled with contemporary art and decor pieces. The juxtaposition of tranquil neutrals and vivid brights where minimalism is tempered with maximalism, interestingly, becomes the mise-en-scène for our tête-à-tête. As Seolekar shows me around the house that he built together with his mother, my attention is swiftly stolen by quirky statement pieces — a mix of products from Koy, his interior design concept store. “My mother and I travelled widely to source the furniture. She collects art and I collect sculptures, and this place is a great mix of both our aesthetics.” When designing, his own room was the one space where he exercised complete freedom, “I wanted to do something different and not turn it into an undertone of the house. At that time I was travelling to Africa, which inspired me to create a transparent shower in the middle of my room, where I used Madagascar veneer all over the walls to lend it an African vibe.”

Seolekar’s engagement with art goes way back to his childhood. “I have been into art and design for as long as I can remember. My mother is an interior designer and my grandmother is an artist, so my extracurricular activities involved art classes with my grandmother when I was just six years old.” An alumnus of Parsons, New York, Seolekar thanks his alma mater for the lessons in architecture that helped him flourish in both interior and space design. He tends to be more of a modernist in his work and claims that “architecture requires time; it is a long process. My architecture phase gradually moved to the interiors phase because when I design spaces, I like to design everything within it”. Even before Koy, he was creating bespoke products. “I was making site-specific products such as sculptural kitchen islands and dining tables fixed into the ground; then I realised it would be easier to create a platform that people could buy from.”

His design language revels in the subtlety of detail. After a bad experience with inadequate interiors contractors, he established his own workshop and moved his existing design studio into it. Now, his brand StudioHaus — haus is German for house — comprises a team of 35 people where woodworkers, metalsmiths, craftsmen, interior designers, architects and product designers work together. Running both Koy and StudioHaus from under one roof helps Seolekar in the cross-pollination of ideas and information.

One cannot help but notice the variety of materials that have gone into creating this oasis of calm currently awash with natural light. “I enjoy working with all kinds of materials — I’m obsessed with wood, stone and metal. I use a lot of marbles. I have been lucky enough to have travelled around India and have discovered unique stones of which we have the widest variety in terms of colours. Most of our woodwork is created from live slabs, which require procuring and cutting trunks of trees, and seasoning them. My metal department is constantly fabricating things and I’m launching a new finish with zinc coating for an iridescent finish. With this repertoire of variety, I ask him whether he sees himself as a maximalist. “I’m a minimalist when it comes to the architecture and a maximalist when I want to fill the space!” he laughs.

While he is clear as day in his personal vision, he makes sure that nothing comes in the way of meeting his clients’ briefs. “People often transform the space much after the architect has left. When I get a brief, I work on my version of it and try to give them what they want. His most favourite assignment is one of his first — a villa he designed from scratch for his brother and sister-in-law, making it into a trophy of chic. “I started this at the beginning of my career and finished it about two years ago. It was a passion project so we took our own sweet time. What we created was a completely bespoke, beautiful 7,000-square-foot house. We cast semi-precious stones into the terrazzo for the flooring; each area has a different colour; kitchen islands were fabricated with wood, metal and glass; we set up a really cool dining table with a spinning top which looks gravity-defying. I had the freedom to go all out, and it was the best learning experience. Everything for Koy was prototyped there.”

Seolekar is a globetrotter who says that he works so that he can travel. “I like to get away and do a lot of photography. Being exposed to different kinds of art and architecture around the world helps broaden my horizon.” Lately, he’s been travelling to launch his interior design brand at Maison Objet, Paris, followed by a showcase in Italy. “I love Italian marble and what they have done in their country with sculptures and quarries.” Next on his bucket list is Japan since there’s an undertone of Japanese aesthetic in Koy. “Koy is a Japanese symbol representing the koi fish and I like the story about the ones that swam to the top of the waterfall and transformed into golden dragons— connotative of power and strength. That’s also the philosophy of Koy — I want each piece to have its own personality and become a ‘dragon’ in someone’s house. He appreciates the strict codes of Japanese culture and design. “The Japanese have a lot of grids in architecture and I use a lot of those too along with a bit of pop. I mix the two ideas, which may not be the right thing to do in Japanese culture, but I like it.”

Today, he is a recognised face and not just for his designs. The youngling is also making waves as an actor and as a model. He made his acting debut in Fireflies (2013), where he played the young version of Rahul Khanna, and then as Aarif in Fitoor (2016). Seolekar sees his future away from mainstream cinema and wants to explore indie films and Netflix originals. While he wears many hats, his sole focus at present is on developing Koy. With two outlets in Pune, his flagship store is fashioned like a design library with a cafe.

Seolekar complements his curiosity to create with a precise understanding of the fundamentals of design, as can be witnessed in each of his works, including his Worli home. The penthouse underlines the importance of a unique palette and presentation. This intent is crystallised through artworks and decor that are carefully arranged to encourage a dialogue with the rooms. And then there is the playful top note of colour, in the form of a red cushion or a bright cluster of chairs around the dining table. But nothing is excessive and nothing is by accident. It is, as Seolekar intends: a perfect amalgamation of the urban with a hint of the exotic.

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