Shabnam Gupta is the creative genius behind many celebrity homes and offices in India.
Around this time last year, shots of Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan’s newly decorated house broke the internet. The old adage started doing the rounds again – “A house is an extension of one’s personality.” But it won’t be incorrect to infer, in this case especially, that it is also an extension of the designer’s personality.
In its unabashed rustic exuberance in an asphalt jungle – this house screamed rebellion; much like its creator, who rejected the path that women are routinely forced to follow, and dared instead to create her own.
Meet Shabnam Gupta, a Forbes-lister and the multi award-winning creative genius behind many iconic celebrity homes and offices in India.
Designed for greatness
Born and raised in Mumbai, Shabnam’s father worked in the film industry while her mother was a landscape designer. She was always heavily exposed to nature and the arts, as the family traveled extensively.
“I was a complete rebel growing up, constantly surprising my parents. I just knew that design was integral part of who I was. But at some point, my dad was afraid that I wouldn’t turn out to be the lady that he thought I should be, so he forced me to take up Home Science. In the first week, I was asked to sew a baby’s dress. I decided to leave right then, for good, and enrolled myself in design school, not realising at the time that it was meant to be,” she recounts.
Shabnam has a degree in Commerce and a Diploma in Interior Design. She started working at the age of 17, interning at her father’s office. “I worked as an office assistant, doing odd jobs. My father believed that it’s very important to start from the bottom to reach the top and his daughter would have to go through the same struggle. I believe those five-six years helped me understand and react to situations better,” she says.
She completed her degree while working and went on to work with well-known architect Tushar Desai. “I started with Rs 850 per month and would walk to office as I could not afford to spend on transport. But I soon realised that I was bursting with ideas and perhaps, needed a change,” she recalls.
The 'Lane' not taken
Around 2003, Shabnam felt she was ready to set up her own practice, given that she had picked up the necessary skills from her internship and the business acumen from her stint with her father.
Under the banner of Orange Lane, a design consulting firm that also provided complete turnkey design solutions, she created her own “corner office” –in a room in her house.
Her first big assignment came along soon enough – director Aditya Chopra’s bungalow. She and Aditya went back a long way. The successful wrap on that project opened the doors to other big banner assignments – the next one being Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s office.
Shabnam however, recalls that it was a rather unpleasant experience. “I realised that whether you work with stars or regular clients, the experience depends on the creative sync between the designer and client,” she explains.
She then went to work with celebrities like Tanuja Chandra, Bijon Das Gupta, Raveena Tandon, Parineeti Chopra, Irrfan Khan, Rani Mukherjee, and other prominent clients, and also took up prestigious corporate assignments like the Intercontinental Group of Hotels in Mumbai and the Jasminn Group of Hotels in Goa. “My firm and I have grown very organically, just by doing what we love to do, that is design. Our projects speak for us and attract design enthusiast clients that make us big,” she says.
Creating iconic spaces
The Orange Lane has created many iconic spaces that have reflected their clients’ persona very well. But one of her most well-known assignments, that went viral on social media – was Irrfan Khan’s residence.
“It was creatively a challenging project. I am so proud of how the space is an example of an artistic home in midst of a busy life. It’s a space with distinct features and corners while the overall feel emulates that of a cosy home,” she says.
The world may see Irrfan’s house as her masterpiece but The Bar Stock Exchange at Mumbai’s Kamala Mills is what garnered her widespread attention in the design fraternity. For Shabnam, this project was all thrill and anticipation. It went on to win the National IIID Award and the Asia Pacific International property award, and was featured in a number of publications.
It is not only her spaces that have won laurels; as a designer Shabnam has won the IIID National award and the International Property Awards three years in a row and received recognition at the WADE (Women Architects & Designers of India) Awards. She also featured in the Forbes India 2010 list of top 10 designers to watch out, the Elle Club 2012’s top designers list, and was felicitated as one of Architects and Interiors i-Gen – India’s top 50 Interior Designers.
To channel another cherished dream and capitalise on the buzz that her work had generated, she established a retail venture, Peacock Life, specialising in design furniture, lifestyle, and interior products came in 2010. “Peacock Life offers a collection of earthy, recycled and environment-friendly furniture and products that embody both the old and the new. There are unique lighting fixtures, quirky wall hangings, playful accessories, and curios handpicked by me,” she says. The young brand now has two stores in Mumbai, located in Andheri and Bandra, and Shabnam reveals it will also be entering the online space soon – even as Shabnam looks at going international.
“Currently, my most fulfilling project is Kangana Ranaut’s vacation home in Manali,” she says.
Looking back at her challenges, she still shudders at the thought of that free-spirited gulley cricket and wall-scaling aficionado being confined to a home science course – but she has no one but her own rebellious spirit to thank, for translating her dreams to reality.
As her work gains popularity and increased success, she realises that a strong support-system makes or breaks not only your journey to the top professionally, but is also incidental to happiness and well-being.
“Working round the clock, a house full of drawings and samples, a beautiful design studio in Andheri and two retail stores - I feel we have come a long way, and having a supportive partner has made a big difference,” she says.
As a designer, she feels the challenge is not in the design but in managing people. “I used to be more emotional about my design. Now I realise that it’s about the client or the brief and less about me. It teaches you to be more detached and also to say no when you know the project and you are not on the same plane,” she says.