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How a sharp pencil inspires Neuma architect Ashiesh Shah

The architect behind filmmaker Karan Johar's restaurant Neuma, on being inspired by Le Corbusier and seeking pleasure in working from different spaces

A portrait of Ashiesh Shah
A portrait of Ashiesh Shah (Courtesy Ashiesh Shah)

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Scenes from the new season of Bollywood filmmaker Karan Johar’s talk show ‘Koffee With Karan’ may be doing the rounds, but a few weeks ago, Johar marked his entry into the hospitality industry. Along with Bunty Sajdeh, CEO of the talent agency Dharma Cornerstone, and True Palate Cafe, a Delhi-based hospitality company, he cofounded a restaurant in Colaba, Mumbai, called Neuma.

Over the days that followed its opening, the food was variously reviewed. But one thing stood out: the restaurant’s interiors. Housed in a 19th century bungalow, named Garden Chalet, where the iconic restaurant Indigo was previously, the interior of the 220-seater Neuma has been designed by architect Ashiesh Shah.

A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, Shah worked with the bungalow such that “each space has a distinct character…offering the diner a series of…experiences —much like creating a world within a world,” he says.

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Of all the spaces in the restaurant, Shah says Verdé, the private dining area, is one of his favourites. The powder green room is filled with plants, and is lit by the lingam-inspired Guccha Ceiling Lamp, a signature creation from his passion project ‘Atelier Ashiesh Shah’, through which he works with various Indian handicraft artisans.

Neuma is also littered collectibles from all cross the country, reflecting Shah’s eclecticism. There is a Manipur longpi pottery vase, a pendant light and curtain bead-tassels from Channapatna in Karnataka, a display of Naga dolls, and right at the entrance, a fountain made from one of designer Aman Khanna’s instantly recognisable Claymen heads.

Around the time that Neuma opened, Shah added another feather to his cap. Atelier Ashiesh Shah became the first Indian project to be featured on The Invisible Collection, an online luxury e-commerce website started by former creative director of Dior Isabelle Dubern-Mallevays and entrepreneur Anna Zaoui.

Ashiesh Shah works at his studio
Ashiesh Shah works at his studio (Courtesy Atelier Ashiesh Shah)

“I am excited to see (it) make a global presence with its launch on the The Invisible Collection,” Shah says. “It has been an enlightening journey collaborating closely with artisans from across the country while pushing boundaries of scale and technique, and celebrating and reviving craftsmanship, while giving them a voice globally.”

In this interview with Lounge, Shah talks about having various artists and designers come together at his Atelier, the power of a sharp pencil, and more. (Conversation edited for clarity and brevity.)

Describe your current workspace to us.

I began my practice with the interior architecture studio. But with time, I also extended this to the Atelier. The Atelier serves as a space for design thinkers to assemble and integrate experimentation, craftsmanship, materiality and technique into a creative ecosystem for collaboration and design development. The interior drawing and technical aspects are usually done in the (studio) and I constantly move between these two spaces whilst working.

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

Currently, we have expanded to several other units within the same building – so, definitely evolved from what it was.

How would you define your daily relationship with this workspace?

I consider it to be very fluid since I don’t restrict myself to designing from a single space. I seek pleasure in working from different spaces be it home, a cafe or even abroad. I don’t limit myself to working in a single space and enjoy moving between different environments.

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Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.

The Atelier is where we have pushed the boundaries of craftsmanship through research, development and constant innovation. Having been a revivalist and an integral part of the Indian crafts movement, it has been special to have the work we’ve done here result in recognition on a global platform such as The Invisible Collection.

A view of Ashiesh Shah's desk at his office
A view of Ashiesh Shah's desk at his office (Courtesy Ashiesh Shah)

If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?

A heritage property where I could have a space to myself. I would love to be a part of a historic building.

What's the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years? Why?

Extremely sharpened pencils because they help me think and visualise better. When I see a sharpened pencil it encourages me to design and get on the drawing board.

Is there one style or material you prefer never to use projects you take up?

I refrain from using artificial materials, like plastics or even laminates, in my interior projects. I’m a strong advocate for natural materials and make a conscious effort to use them in my spaces. They bring in a sense of wabi sabi, warmth and authenticity to my spaces.

Who are your architect heroes? How has your work been influenced by them?

I have been greatly inspired by Le Corbusier’s design philosophy and his invaluable contribution to the field of architecture and design. I have designed a collection of rugs referred to as Chand L.C deriving their form and geometry from the facades of Corbusier’s iconic buildings in Chandigarh.

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.

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