Hello Monday! Our Storyteller series is gathering steam, and I am excited to share with you the creative journey of Mumbai, India based architect, Dipa Desai. There are many advantages to the internet such as ready access to news and information. But the views and information presented is often one-dimensional. For example, we all love pretty pictures, but we would also love to hear the stories behind them – who made it, why, and what was the process? Did they wish they had done something differently? Was it easy? How did they get to where they are? In a creative professional endeavor such as product styling, an art commission, architecture, or interior design, the artist often has to prioritize the client’s ideas over their own. I have always been curious about how they balance their input with that of the clients to produce work that is harmonious, and does justice to both sides. Today, Dipa Desai (pictured below) tells us of her journey, and it’s fascinating to hear the creative professional’s side of the story. I have added pictures of Dipa’s home here as an example of her beautiful work, and I have the complete home tour in the second part of this post. Stay tuned! – Priya
“I am Dipa Sheth Desai, and I am 48 years old (not feeling the age yet). Mumbai is my home town. I grew up in a Gujarati home. The creative gene comes from my mother, who taught me to hear birds, recognize the flowers, different smells, understanding nature’s color wheel, and so much more. She is an expert embroiderer. I have collected a lot of her work and I will frame them one day. But I am, and will always remain, my father’s daughter. He was an extremely suave, elegant, sophisticated, well-read man, and a successful businessman. He had the natural ability to draw people to him. He exposed me to the life of luxurious things, places… He lived more than a lifetime in his short lifespan of 49 years. I am what I am, only because of him.
My memories of childhood are all about drawing, painting, and anything creative. I was a good student who would finish school work fast to escape to my world of drawings and paintings. So, when the choice came to choose undergraduate study, it was naturally the Fine Arts. My father, the businessman, thought otherwise. He wanted me to pursue architecture which would combine creativity with the sciences. A choice that I don’t regret at all.
I married when I was 25, and took a sabbatical when my son, Dev, was born. We shifted many cities thanks to my husband Ketan’s jobs with multinational organizations. It was a brilliant phase of discovering new places, cultures, arts, crafts and meeting creative people. It was a time for self-discovery. After 9 years, returning to Mumbai led me back to resume my practice. I am always thankful for the opportunities that have kept coming my way.”
“My first job when I graduated, had led me to an architecture firm. 4 months of boring working drawings and zero creativity, saw me walking out one evening, and to never going back to that kind of practice. My second job with a lady architect, practicing interior architecture, led me to my calling. A year, and one more job later, hating the 9 to 6 routine, I started my own practice. A crazy friend of mine trusted me (I was only 23 yrs old) to design 3 huge bungalows, for his family, with a large budget. That put me on a path of designing luxury homes, ever since.”
“I have designed numerous homes, some offices, and met wonderful people as clients along the way. I set up a home office which allowed me to prioritize my family and work. As the work grew, I sought out talented women who worked from their homes because of young kids to share my workload. This model of lower fixed costs gave me the luxury of choosing the kind of work that I would love to do, and left me with enough time to explore my creative interests. Consequently, we started investing in art, and continue to enjoy it. With my experience of having designed several homes, we started buying apartments as an investment which I would redesign to a completely new level.”
“I am known as an architect who designs contemporary, modern homes. When I get a chance to design a home, most of my clients keep showing me images of interiors on an international website or in an international magazine. “This is what we want”, they say. I ask them if they have a story to tell, memories to share, memorabilia to display that will make their home, a living memory of their lives. Often, I get blank stares. I tell them, yes, we can do this, but can we also incorporate our Indian arts, crafts, culture alongside, that which has been an integral part of their growing up??
I say to them, I promise to give our arts a modern twist so that they can blend well with the contemporary look. Often I get told that we grew up with that look in our homes but now we want a modern, affluent looking home without it seeming like an Indian ethnic house. At the most, Indian art comes into their Pooja ghars and mandirs (altars). This ends up making me feel like “A Reluctant Architect”. Thankfully, a few of my clients are willing to experiment on my suggestions. And that’s when I face my biggest challenges and the excitement of sourcing Indian art in a modern context.
When I visit handicraft shows, fairs, exhibitions, I feel that our arts and crafts have stayed back in time. We are still mostly, showing imageries of gods and goddesses, and village scenes, and most of our artisans are struggling to survive. Alongside the prevalent styles, we should also have designs relevant to modern times. Our arts and crafts should go beyond being just a painting, a statue, displaying vintage pots and pans and brass items, etc. We need to do more. India has progressed and our arts need to evolve too. I used to hear the phrase ‘ABCD’, which stood for “American Born Confused Desis.” I think, we need a new one. ‘IBCD’, “Indian Born Confused Desis “:). I love our Indian art and crafts but I want it to also evolve and be relevant with the changing times, and fuse with the modern decors, without losing its unique identity. I want a choice for both styles. Indian ethnic style and a Modern Indian style. Why can’t Kalamkari, Bidri, Madhubani, Gondart, etc. have modern interpretations too??” – Dipa Desai
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Storyteller post which features a tour of Dipa’s home. Update: Home tour is here.
All images are courtesy of Dipa Desai
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