Master designer and architect Dikshu Kukreja and interior designer Sussanne Khan, in a freewheeling interaction, discuss the influence their parents have had on their lives, how the world of design has evolved over the years, and what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught them.
Sussanne, it’s wonderful to be here today. I have really enjoyed coming to this place. I remember coming to The Charcoal Project a few years back, but it looks so different and 10 years coming up!
A. Ten years! Thank you, thank you, Dikshu! I’ll tell you honestly, it’s been a journey that has been, you know, filled with whirlwinds of situations. Started in 2011 and it›s 2021 and we went through this whole year of pandemic and at that time, as you know, everybody was shut down. But we were trying to go onto this online thing that we worked on so yes, we will talk about that too but welcome here and happy to have you here.
Q. I am also so happy because as I always feel when we are talking about deciphering design, I thought you know, the whole thing about interiors and architecture—they literally go hand in hand.
Q. For me they are two sides of the same coin and I said I have to have a chat with you about it what you feel because I know many times we’ve talked about how architecture—we both going into each other’s domains—and it’s really no boundaries in that sense that you know an architect has to stop thinking as you enter the main door of the building and the interior designer takes over from there!
A. Absolutely! In fact I will be honest with you. I believe very strongly that a great project and a great property comes together when an architect and interior designer collaborate and they collaborate with various diversities. They could be from extremely diverse schools of thoughts and styles of influence but they come together and they bring new energy and then that diversity brings in new design thought or a new design philosophy.
So, I mean there is no like I feel there should be no ego in a project
Q. I mean especially when you are creating something, you will start with either you know preconceived ideas or you know it all and the other person does not I find that very strange but talking about style tell me what is your kind of, if I can use the world again, preferred style or your influences in design?
A. You know Dikshu, honestly, it’s been a very vast gamut of influences. I would like to say that I am very strong—you know I follow the whole you know the concept of getting my influences from architecture, that also like architecture of the past. Whether it is Renaissance or whether it is gothic or whether it is Rococo and Baroque—all the various styles through the years you know in the history of art and architecture have always played a very strong influence on me. But then there is another part of me that’s very clean and Modern. So, I think that I would like to define my sensibility in a way that I kind of find this yin and yang of balance between the old and new and I kind of put together and put its muscular energy and there is very feminine energy and I think like that I like to strike that balance because I feel that you know if it is too feminine it won’t be appreciated by all and if it is too masculine it will become too boring. So there has to be that preferred blend so if I had to call it a name of how I would put it together I think it would be something like edgy-chic or relaxed luxury. Okay so you know it these various things that I have put together for various projects and it will be strange to define me as one particular style because I think I am evolving in changing my perception towards this.
Q. I could not agree with you more. In fact, that’s where both you and I share that same school of thought when people ask me—ok, what’s your preferred architectural style, I also don’t subscribe to any type of particular style. I think the style has to evolve from the context. For me the context is the most important—where is the building coming up, what is coming up for, what’s the culture and history of the place, the climate of the place. you can’t just impose, you know. That›s where I find it uncomfortable. You have glass buildings, whether it’s in Dubai or it can be in Delhi it’s the same architecture. I think we are missing somewhere there, it has to be more contextual. So, I agree with you it’s the sensibilities which are more important than just the style of the building…
A: Absolutely! and also I’d like to add to what you’re saying it’s also important like when you talk about geographically, it’s very important to keep in mind even the natural light that enters that space and how much light you have. So, like even if we have to design a Chalet in say Kashmir or you design a beach house in Goa, it’s very different. It’s like you say we have to also keep that larger aspect in mind but also add our own newness to the style and how we combine whether we want to go mid-century modern or whether we want to go you know the old world you know influences of making it more classic. So, I think that it’s really interesting when two creative minds like you and me come together and God willing, we should do some work together.
Q. Of course you remember when we were talking about this during Covid times, the whole aspect of bringing nature in because that time the world was locked into the interior of their places. and you do a lot of work across the country but especially in Mumbai. and here you see buildings which are really closed, not as much greenery and as perhaps in other parts of the country, so how does one bring in the nature of people living in these buildings closer to nature? What are your design strategies?
A. So like you know I have a few ideas that I will share with you that I do for projects. When you know that there is apartments and you want to bring in a part of the nature in those apartments but may be the light is not much and maybe there is isn’t enough natural light entering those houses, and the homes are quite compact and don’t have that much of dense you know the buildings around are dense so you don’t have that much of natural light.
So one, I would say that firstly at this point nature is vital for interiors; it is the life that will make your objects come alive. Interiors are a bunch of—you know furniture’s objects they just object to inanimate objects—but here you bring something from life and nature you suddenly bring in life you breathe in air into the space.
So, I think that if there is a space which is confined and not so big but you still want to do that you can create a very interesting installation which could be from maybe not absolutely like if we could get things that are preserved like it could be driftwood, it could be rocks from like in riverbed, it could be something brambles and branches
Q. Yeah, and how beautiful they look they are—they are bringing, both metaphorically and actually physically, nature into our homes.
A. Exactly, so what happens with something like that if you don’t have to go into everyday maintenance of watering or like even okay I love bonsai. Because I feel that they are bringing in this
Q. They actually make me feel like—you know, how as a kid and you have toy trees around you that kind of feeling!
A. Yeah, totally it’s so heartwarming; as interior designers and architects we are taught to think human. You know you have to bring in aspects that you make feel playful in your atmosphere not only adult like.
Q. Yes because when I was a kid I used to feel it’s funny you mention bonsai and it comes to mind that when I was a kid I used to imagine—I always wanted to be an architect right—so I used to imagine buildings. and I used to think what if people lived on these trees? Why do we live in houses made of brick or whatever? why don’t we live on trees? And you remember that chat we were having you have this idea of creating homes on trees!
A. I mean, imagine like you were saying—we are living in this grown-up world. We are adults; we have our own kids. But you know we forget how to—like this pandemic taught us that- right that we need to concentrate more on enriching our lives rather than even our careers because when you enrich your life, it translates into what you do. Everything! so if humans or people had the concept of having these tree houses—like if there was a thought of creating an adult tree house like grownups for you know it could be a carpentry shed where you actually build your own furniture you know from scratch okay or it could be like that’s something that maybe you and me would be interested in but you know I’ve noticed that doing things with your hands its very therapeutic.
Q. Yes and it teaches us so much. I remember when I went to the US for my studies, I first went to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
A. Oh! My favourite architect!
Q. Oh really? When I was going there was this whole thing one had imagined, especially my grandparents that I am going to be going to a place which is big university colonial building that’s what generally would imagine. and here I reached that place and they told us that look – you have seven days for which we are giving you a room to live-in. After that you are out in the desert. So, in these 7 days you need to build something with your own hands. It was all about learning by doing. The best thing one could build was just a tent in the desert but that teaches you that you know sometimes these basic aspects are also fulfilling and so many talk about this tree homes really we need to sometimes value our basics.
A. Absolutely, I mean value the basics to a level of even enjoying it without any beneficial like you know ulterior motive. it should just be about the joy of being in that moment. So, if one has like a space or a big home where you have land it will be so nice to build and outhouse or a tree house where you can actually you know have a productive side of you where you make things with your hands, you create things with your hands, and that according to be a best therapy! you don’t have to spend on other therapies!
Q. So that’s one of the projects we are doing together—right?
A. yes! Done! I’ve seen a whole transition of styles happen you know from retro to this—we used to have an actual sunken in our house. The ground was sunken in and there was a sofa. I think my mom and dad are very strong artistic people. They are very stoic and artistic and they live with their heart. I think that all—four of us kids got that influence, and yes my influence, I just knew that I wanted to contribute to the world of design. I used to see these beautiful homes and ranches, and these big colonial white homes. And I used to just feel like oh my god- I was just enamored! I think I just kept going in that direction and as soon as I finished 10th grade I knew and I wanted to study interior design. So, tell me Dikshu, who has been your most important influencer in your life?
Q. Most important influence I would say has to be my dad. You are also second generation to this profession. For me it’s been my dad. He’s had a lot of influence I would say from the thought process towards design, his love for nature–that’s something I cannot see buildings being made without considering nature. Tell me about yourself; you also have grown up in a home where you had your mom being such a famous interior designer.
A. I think that I was very privileged and lucky to have been born in my family. My family is amazing. I think both of my parents are extremely artistic and they have a flair for design. Of course my mom is the interior designer. My mom was always ordering architectural digests since the late 1970s or whatever early 1980s. I was like literally 5 or 6 years old and I had these magazines in front of me. I used to get so enamored by these homes!
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