Architecture + Design
Think Global, Work Local
Darshini Shah knows how to keep a low profile. Despite being the name behind the residences of some of the most well known Bollywood entities including Saif and Kareena, Imtiaz Ali and Karthik Aryan, the designer wears her success lightly. Limelight courted her when she was tasked with the restoration of the Pataudi Palace at the age of 29. From high profile residences, restoration projects, and even vineyards, Shah handles the diversity of her portfolio deftly. In a candid chat, she talks about her design philosophy, her current projects and her advocacy for ‘Make in India’ that she practises by infusing local crafts in her work.
Seema Sreedharan (SS): When did you discover that design was your calling? Take us through your journey. Darshini Shah (DS):
Since childhood I have been more inclined towards art, craft and design. While growing up, I really enjoyed dabbling in different crafts as a hobby and that’s when I knew my journey would be related to the design field. I studied Foundation Art as my base at Sophia College for Women, Mumbai. I realised that I wanted to practice a form of design that is all encompassing, which is why I decided to further study spatial design in the form of Interior Design from Rachana Sansad in Mumbai. After working for a few years I went back and studied Visual Merchandising at Central Saint Martins, London.
SS: What and who inspires you? DS:
People, nature and cities inspire me. There is so much to learn from just interacting with people; each one has a different story to tell. There is so much design all around in nature as well. Lastly, cities and travel inspire me—just the vibe and energy of different places, travelling and observing places, people and their culture and history.
SS: How would you define your design ethos? DS:
My design philosophy is primarily driven by the fact that I believe that any space should be a true reflection of the character and lifestyle of its inhabitants. It should be a reflection of their journey and life story, rather than a mere extension of just my design ideas. Hence, most spaces I design feel more curated—like they tell a story, while at the same time have an underlying common thread of my design sensibility that runs through all my projects. I am a big advocate of reuse-recycle-refurbish, which is always reflected in my projects. I also love the use of crafts and handmade elements in my projects.
SS: You are drawn to wood. You are a passionate advocate of the ‘Make in India’ narrative. Tell us more about that with reference to your projects. DS:
I love the warmth that wood infuses in a place. It’s such a versatile product that can be reused and recycled an endless number of times. The feel of natural wood in any space exudes a certain warmth that cannot be replicated by any other material. I am and have always been a big advocate of ‘Make in India’. It’s been my philosophy for years and something I stick by as much as possible. Design can be as global and futuristic as one wishes, however it can all be made in India or collaborated here. Even before the pandemic and before the entire ‘Make in India’ narrative became so big, we as a studio have been incorporating it in our projects. Be global in your thinking, but use as much local as possible. In terms of our projects, we use a lot of
Most spaces I design feel more curated—like they tell a story, while at the same time have an underlying common thread of my design sensibility that runs through all my projects. I am a big advocate of reuse-recycle-refurbish, which is always reflected in my projects. I also love the use of crafts and handmade elements in my projects.” —DARSHINI SHAH, Founder, Design by Darshini
My design philosophy is primarily driven by the fact that any space should be a true reflection of the character and lifestyle of its inhabitants. It should be a reflection of their journey and life story, rather than a mere extension of my design ideas.” —DARSHINI SHAH Founder, Design by Darshini
I love infusing my projects with woven furniture, shell windows from Goa, hand-painted wall murals and carved marble panels from Rajasthan, wicker work and plenty more crafts available all around. We have some of the best craftsmanship available to us from across India and I am a firm advocate of using this abundance of talent.” —DARSHINI SHAH, Founder, Design by Darshini
crafts that are special and exclusive to India. I love infusing my projects with woven furniture, shell windows from Goa, hand-painted wall murals and carved marble panels from Rajasthan, wicker work and plenty more crafts available all around. We have some of the best craftsmanship available to us from across India and I am a firm advocate of using this abundance of talent.
SS: Which has been your most challenging project and why? DS:
Each project comes with its own challenges along with the excitement of doing something new. However, Pataudi Palace was challenging for me as it carried a lot of emotional responsibility as well as years of legacy that I had to bring back. Understanding and executing this was a beautiful but challenging journey.
SS: How was the experience of working on the Pataudi Palace conservation project? DS:
It was one of my best creative journeys. The place has a different energy and vibe. We were all looking to bring back its understated luxurious vibe, which is what the family and its history is all about, rather than an ostentatious opulence. Years of royal history, cricket and films had to be incorporated and brought to life.
SS: What are you currently working on? DS:
I am currently working on a series of varying projects. One is a 9,000 sq ft luxury apartment on the 76th floor (which is the highest residential building in India), with 270 degree views of the entire city of Mumbai. The views and vibe are surreal. Then there’s the restoration and renovation of Sanghi Villa in Sanghi Nagar, a family township on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Besides these, there are a few high-end residential villas in Hyderabad and a few office buildings in Mumbai to work on. The design aesthetics of these spaces vary from classical to neoclassical and modern.
SS: Your dream project? DS:
Plenty of projects to name one. I would love to design a space that is built by women from scratch—all the way from design, execution, workmanship, just everything done by women. It would be great!
SS: Who would you like to collaborate with? DS:
Plenty of craftspeople from across India, and also try and do something exciting with tribal art and crafts.
SS: Your advice to upcoming women in design. DS:
Stick by your design philosophy, don’t follow trends for the sake of it. Resilience helps one go a long way in being successful. Spend time understanding the purpose of your project. Design for the passion of creating something; success, fame and everything else will follow. Most importantly, there is no substitute for hard work.