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Spaces
April 11, 2013

A Fine Fulcrum

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Roy Sinai.

Drawn to design purely by chance, Husna Rahaman works on concepts, playing with light and open planning to create funky silhouettes and innovative interiors. Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena interacts with the Bengaluru-based architect and interior designer in her home to discover that she carries many spaces in her head – areas that uplift you with an ‘effortless effort’

She is noticed for her unusual lines even in the virtual space where she speaks eloquently of creating spaces through concepts. She states most poetically, “I am Husna whose quest is the heightened moment of detached free thinking. Unknowingly, subliminally, one creates; extruding from life and the unafraid living of it – concentrated fragments of hyper reality whispering in unison from a place where one is safe and free – and all is possible.”

The Bengaluru-based Husna Rahaman was born on the island haven of Mauritius and grew up in the Garden City of India, studied interior design first at the Inchbald School of Design, London, and later at the Parsons School of Design, New York. She is the brain behind Fulcrum Studio that is known for its innovative creations. This does not come as a surprise for those who know Rahaman well for she has always believed that “when you are pushed to the edge of a cliff you surprise yourself by soaring rather than succumbing to gravity”.

I visit Bengaluru to catch this interesting mind in a space that is defined most uniquely by her personality. As I walk into her triplex apartment in a building located on Berlie Street in Langford Town, my immediate impression is one of ample space, one that is heightened by the whites that dominate the interiors. The bright light flows in from the windows and she seems to have used it as an architectural tool. She plays with the element in its many natural and artificial versions to lend spatial equations with vast volumes. I look around and what catches my eye is the arresting white ‘finger wall’ that gives the room a character and capturing the light, casts shadows throughout the day.

Rahaman welcomes us into her abode but disappears for a brief while to attend to her infant son, Ayaan. In the interim, I walk up the flights of stairs to the upper storeys and discover rooms that emerge from almost nowhere. The dining area is cleverly created in a separate ‘wing’, where the servants hover around taking in the activity and offering hot chai. The top floor is the entertainment area – that has logs within its premises. The stumps of casuarina with the mesh wires are an installation that creates beguiling shadows on the roof of the room.

The open planning seems to be a characteristic of the areas that are meant for visitors – each private room has a personality of its own, reflecting naturally the occupant’s. On one wall along the flight of steps are two masks with musical notes. Rahaman, who loves to travel, has picked them up on one of her trips to Venice – they are worn during the carnival where anonymity is the magic of the night.

When Rahaman emerges, she settles down in the chair by the window. There is a hand on the floor next to her. It is the Buddha symbol of meditation which she got in Dubai where her mother lives. She says, “It took me a few years to create my own home. When I started I did not imagine that Kasbah would be the home it has become – generous and comforting. I feel its warmth enveloping us. It has easily lent itself to making my design signature apparent.”

The minimalism in the design of the home is apparent – there is no clutter at all. This is a deliberate, albeit unconscious, result of her creative mind. “I do this without thinking about it,” Rahaman points out. “You could call it an effortless effort. When you are in one of my spaces, you will always be in a clean mindspace for they all generate a hushed-filled silence. A quality of my spaces is that they uplift you.”

Interestingly, the woman who is so comfortable in the spaces she designs got into the field purely by chance. She was initiated into it on a summer holiday in London. Rahaman rewinds, “My tryst with design was not by design. A visit to Inchbald School of Design where my mother was studying landscape design sparked my curiosity. What was meant to be a one-year programme evolved into a four-year passionate and completely maniacal quest of self and beyond – therein began to emerge the embryonic genesis of an imprint that would morph, flex and fuse, but a fundamental philosophy would always lead the way.”

She is someone who has found her own way: “My grandmother raised me. She is a lady whose fortitude makes me delighted that I belong to a gene pool that has a tremendous love for life. Though I never lived with either of my parents, I now notice how I oscillate between the two poles. ‘Ah, we live in paradise. What do we need to plan for?’ says my father who lives in Mauritius. And my mother is the most driven meticulous visionary east of the Mississippi. So I alternate wildly between the two. I can be as Zen as a Tibetan monk and as tenacious as a sinewy snow leopard.”

Her daughter, Sahar, says that she wants to be an architect like her mom, walks into the room, listening quietly to the conversation. Of her daughter’s dream, Rahaman says, “I would like to guide her but I will give each of us enough space to play at our ends of the field. She has a strong presence and has already started telling me how she would like to do things.”

Did Rahaman draw from her own spaces while she was growing up? Rahaman rewinds, “My personal space then was a manifestation of a mindset wherein the tangible objects, possessions and belongings had more validity than they have ever had to me. Accumulation led the way and spaces were merely places heaped with memories that had a particular physical form. Now I travel light, preferring the intangible perception of quality experience.”

And, that is the notion that drives her work and her company, Fulcrum. The fine balance is reflected not just in her work but in the name. When she started off on her own in a field dominated by men, Rahaman took to it easily. “Fulcrum is the balance, the equilibrium, the harmony. It is what we seek to achieve in our lives, and often remains an aspiration. It is the meeting point between client and architect, Yin and Yang, sugar and spice, want and desire.”

An attractive woman, Rahaman may have had her own personal challenges to overcome in a male-dominated world but she laughs at the suggestion. “What works better for me is the nexus of beauty with brains. Now that is an arresting cocktail. And is it really a man’s arena? Not when I am in the room! My company is a women’s organisation but that was purely by accident. It works not because we are women but we have the right chemistry of minds at play in a playing field that’s invigorating. The office is a laboratory of discovery, with the air saturated with zest and the aroma of a fine oolong.”

Rahaman – and her team – believes in working with ‘concepts’ that have made her creations so uniquely different. She explains, “Concepts are the seeds from which the mighty oak germinates. They make the entire programme worthwhile. If you have the one big idea you can be rest assured that the realities of life like costs and client preferences will not dilute the grand vision. It is the Prima Donna on opening night.”

On the top floor where we have now moved to, her fingers move against the stumps of logs. The browns contrast gently with the white canvas that makes up a large part of her home. Her choice of colours in each room is varied. “A palette is like a watercolour painting. I use brushstrokes to create an enchantment. You have to have all the colours in the paint box and then you create the magic. Vermilion is the most active, burnt amber is enigmatic and persuasive. Chartreuse is so clean.”

Her structures made for clients are also innovative. Rahaman points out, “Structures are the bones – the skeleton of the space. Beautifully proportioned bones require little or no cladding. That ridiculously expensive marble may not be a ridiculous idea in a home bereft of structural majesty but my structures are not dependent on these distractions.”

On her creative process, she says, “I carry all the spaces fully built in my head; they actually get built twice – once in my head and the other in reality. I have many spaces that will find their way out soon. They await the right patron or maybe the other way around. And the inspiration for my creations could be anything from a shell on a secluded beach to a beautiful bowl of laksa. When you’re clean and free you will receive the message, anywhere, anytime. It’s staying true, in connect with the larger realm of the without and feeling it within. It’s not work. Never is.”

It is her passion. She says, “In your subconscious you will, if you have been truly present, store and recover data like from a hard drive. It oozes from your pores at the appropriate time. So, when I travel I take in stuff. Jordan moves me, Italy awakens me, Beirut pleases me and London makes me smile from ear to ear. As for New York, what can I say? We had a torrid love affair!”

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