Choreographing Spaces | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
September 14, 2014

Choreographing Spaces

Text by Nisha Paul

Verve meets successful architect and interior designer, Shalini Misra, in her luxurious renovated 1850 brick-and-wood Victorian family mansion in London

Her reception room in her elegant London home, she calls her ‘den’. This is where she relaxes after a long day designing homes for other people, all around the world, from India to New York, Frankfurt and of course London. “I recall 15 years ago when I visited a friend, I saw a beautiful Danny Lane steel and glass table. I went on to commission one for myself and have subsequently designed the entire space around this table,” she says. “In this room, I am surrounded by my favourite artists and it is the place where I love to lounge and relax. There is a very comfortable sofa by Christian Liaigre, a Tibetan silk carpet by Adam from Veedon Fleece, the bespoke Danny Lane glass table, Japanese pottery from our travels and a Ged Quinn painting which is often borrowed by art galleries.” She loves to sit and read here and enjoy a glass of wine with her husband and friends whilst looking out at the view of their 150-foot-deep garden which has mature trees in lime green, silver oak, red leaves. “I enjoy my open-plan home – where I can see the outside whilst still being inside,” she adds, contentedly.

If you do not discover her in her den, she will probably be on her terrace despite the ever-changing London weather. “I am often on my terrace when it’s warm and sunny and for sunsets during summer evenings. Nature is one of my biggest inspirations. I relax here after a day’s work and re-energise with a cup of Indian chai,” says the India-born architect who studied at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi and has a Master of Science degree from University College London UCL besides studying at Columbia University in New York. Specialising in private houses that are inhabited and rooted in different cultures, she is today also busy building her personal portfolio including a farmhouse in Delhi master planned with landscape design by famous architect Charles Jencks and his daughter Lily Jencks where the landscape and architecture interiors are cohesive and flow with each other seamlessly. Her love of art is reflected in her collection at home as well as the fact that she is a committee member of the South Asian Acquisition Committee (SAAC) at the Tate Modern, a leading museum of art.

Excerpts from the interview…

Architecture is the fusion of physics, maths and art – it’s a creative visual field. I like to play with volumes which for me are flexible, fluid and limitless. Architecture is history, it stays and leaves landmarks and is a responsible field as it influences all aspects of our lives. My love for architecture fed into my passion for interior design, which for me go hand in hand and I feel like I am constantly learning which certainly keeps the excitement for the field alive.

Design is my passion. As an architect, I visualise space by playing with its volumes. As an interior designer, it’s interesting to use textures and materials to fill that space and then introduce art in sculpture, video, sounds or paintings and give it character. I have a strong vision and concept of the whole.

While creating homes, my philosophy is not to impose a style but to have a narrative on the lifestyles of the family members, weave their wish list into an aesthetically-desirable yet functional styled home. It is important to consider ecology and climate and optimise natural resources such as wind direction, flow of energy and the position of the sun. As is seen throughout my approach to design, I like the idea of opening up spaces as much as possible. I use open-plan spaces which can be subdivided as per needs with sliding walls, which makes the spaces cosy and noise free. Moving and sliding doors play with space and is a fluid way for allowing much flexibility. Exterior glass walls allow for much of the outside to be invited inside, they bring in light and nature and extend the spaces of the inside rooms to the outside garden areas and terraces. This creates a fully choreographed space and in turn a sequence of rich spatial experiences which change during the day and with the seasons.

Being in London gives me the exposure to learn about different cultures from clients and suppliers. Designing homes is very personal and it is extremely interesting to learn about these successful individuals and their lifestyles. Culture is very important and brings its own identity and individuality. Working with international clients allows you to think outside the box. Due to my international background I am always trying to seek out the remarkable whilst hunting for art and antiques from artisans and artists from all over the world – and I use this in my design.

Calculated risk-taking is a must. I love that element of surprise by creating a unique ‘wow’ factor which every design should have. I try to link creativity and risk-taking with success. I want to inspire and be inspired and to do this, you have to approach design from many different angles. I’d like to think I would never be accused of complacency. Challenges are always exciting!

In a developing country, such as India or China, society is very preoccupied with making money and there is not much time to think of design or to visit museums and very little time is spent on creativity. I would hope that the new Indian government spends money on cultivating imagination. In the western world, we are constantly surrounded by design. Forever using the hands allows the mind freedom and works in harmony with creativity.

Historical references are important and we need resources to allow the flow of the mind. Gathering inspiration needs to be from a multitude of sources such as in poetry, art, dance, calligraphy and even technology. Such resources need to be readily available and the imagination needs to be open to them. London is an inspirational environment for me – there is such a visual element to this city. Vibrant colours of each season, enticing museums and art galleries and the beautiful parks fused with fantastic history. It’s a privilege to reside here and learn from the sheer multitude of options available to explore.

In this society and in design within the UK, I have found that trends can be influential so my advice on breaking the mould would be that it’s important to remember that they are only fleeting and not to let them stifle your imagination. Trends are there to be enjoyed but spaces can still remain fluid. Bring your imagination into your home and keep it individual. An ideal designer would be part artist, part designer, part craftsperson.

I would say that in many ways, my love of art has been pivotal. I am on the committee for the Tate Modern as I enjoy immersing myself in this amazing field. Last week in London, I spent hours exploring the Matisse Cut Outs exhibition. I admire the work of Matisse, not only because his spectacular ‘carving into colour’ technique was a new medium and the amazing work he created as a result – but that this method was employed by him at the age of 80 due to ill health when he was no longer able to paint. Quite amazing! I also enjoyed the Chelsea Flower Show and a recent trip to RIBA to meet their Spanish designers. I admire the work of Charles Jencks whom I have collaborated with on one of my largest projects. I once studied his work when I was in university so it was my great pleasure to work with him.

Running my interior design business and balancing a rich family life is a challenge but my approach is to give my hundred per cent attention to the task at hand, whether that is quality time with my husband or children or one of my clients or an interior design project. I try to keep them very separate in my mind.

Getting the family together can be a challenge as everybody’s busy with their own schedules so I book fantastic trips into the calendar for unforgettable short breaks and holidays. The five of us recently travelled to Peru where we absorbed nature, environment and activities – we had a fantastic time exploring the Amazon Forest, Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Machu Picchu and cementing our memories together as a family. This year in the summer, we have planned two weeks in Mykonos in a large villa which will accommodate our friends and we have 10 days in Burma in December.

Rajeev and I also enjoy going to art galleries and fairs like Frieze in London, Venice Biennale and Art Basel. We both have a shared appreciation and understanding of art which makes us avid collectors.

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