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Meet the book designer who shares an office with her dog

Ahead of Harper Design's launch, Bonita Vaz Shimray, art director at HarperCollins India, talks about her workspace in Goa where the magic happens

Designer Bonita Vaz-Shimray
Designer Bonita Vaz-Shimray

It’s not too often that a book’s cover design gets talked about nearly as much as the book itself. This year, however, the cover of The Illuminated by Anindita Ghose, was well received and almost unanimously praised. The black jacket, with many moons in their different phases, and some slit in, in silver, offered a gorgeous introduction to the metaphor that informed Ghose’s novel. Its designer, was Bonita Vaz-Shimray, the art director at HarperCollins India.

A graduate of graphic design from the National Institute of Design, Vaz-Shmiray is a firm believer in the importance of design, and its responsibility beyond just that of art and aesthetics. Over the last year, she’s been working on building Harper Design, the publishing house's new imprint – she is also heading it as publisher – which will formally be launched at the end of this month. 

In this interview, she talks about her current workspace in her ancestral home in Goa, how working remotely has slowly changed the relationship that she, and her family, has with work, and more. Edited excerpts.

Describe your current workspace to us.

It’s quite basic - a white desk in a white room, white bookshelf and white curtains! A whole lot of greens inside and outside the space. Since it faces North-east, there is a lot of late morning sunlight streaming through the window and the glass tiles on the roof – it is divine. Absolute essentials here include laptop, kettle, tea stash, AirPods, a chunky blind-dummy-book turned notebook that I have been using for over a year, stationery and most importantly, a Bluetooth speaker. Through the day, my son invariably occupies the other side with his crayon box and wad of papers. Plus our dog, Nori, has to be where the action is, otherwise suffers major FOMO. I have a few gifts here that have stayed with me for years – a scrabble rack with my name, a coaster with my initials set in Johnston (a typeface designed for London's transport authority) and a Steve Jobs doll. The shelf here has books that I’ve designed and worked on over the last year; work-related books – primarily design books and cookbooks that I admire; and also a collection of Monocle magazines that I dip into every now and then. The humidity here in Goa is simply cruel to books, and I miss the books we had to leave in Delhi. 

Bonita Vaz-Shimray at her workspace, with her son and their dog, Nori.
Bonita Vaz-Shimray at her workspace, with her son and their dog, Nori.

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

We moved to this home from Delhi NCR at the start of the year. It’s essentially my parents’ ancestral home built in 1919. What I now call my study or workspace used to be our prayer room growing up. We had pews and life-size statues of saints, and we prayed the ladainha (a Goan-Catholic tradition brought by the Portuguese, of singing hymns and prayers) during our summer holidays here. It still retains its sacred vibe in its transformation to workspace I think. It took us at least a month or so of work to get things in order and it’s still evolving. When it’s not too hot, I move to the outdoor table and temporary work-station and like pacing up and down the verandah and garden while ideating. 

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

I love that this also doubles up as a workspace for everyone at home. My husband operates his studio remotely too, so he has his desk at the other end of the room. My son straddles between the two of us. The pandemic has brought us closer and has blurred the lines of working, learning, playing, homework – yet somewhere through all the chaos we’ve been able to strike a balance, find new strength, learning as we go.

A selection of the book covers Bonita Vaz-Shimray has designed.
A selection of the book covers Bonita Vaz-Shimray has designed.

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

Most of the books that will be published under the Harper Design imprint have been conceptualised, designed, and developed from this space. At present, I’m working on the final touches of author and artist Namrita Bachchan’s A Full Circle, a timeless book for adults and children. Inspired by her relationship with her daughter, the book, which is a poem, urges the reader to slow down and absorb the splendours of nature and perceive the world through its art – quietly, gently, empathetically. Design is creativity, but above all it is empathy. We’re moving from human-centred design to environment-centred practices. The poem not only reflects my personal transition, but in its purity and simplicity, it is a fine prayer for creative minds everywhere.
 For me, being so close to nature in my Goa home has facilitated a deeper understanding of going back to my roots and living in the community. 

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

I’m a sucker for sunsets and would love an ocean view and my feet buried in sand. 

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

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