'Kareena and Saif's new house is classic, colonial and timeless, just like them'
Darshini Shah, the interior designer who has styled the Bollywood couple’s new 4-floor residence in Mumbai gives us a sneak peek into the cozy space
When you are tasked with putting together an abode fit for Bollywood royalty like Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan, one would expect opulence to override other design elements. But for Darshini Shah, an interior designer with over 13 years of experience in the field, who had designed the couple's first home together, it was only a matter of replicating the previous design aesthetic but, admittedly, on a much larger scale. The Bollywood actors’ new abode in Mumbai spans four floors and has been landscaped with balconies and terraces to bring the outdoor element in and provide a cosy, intimate space for the celebrity couple. Darshini, who was recently lauded with the AD100 Award by Architectural Digest India for being among the top 100 Architects and interior designers for the third consecutive year from the Indian subcontinent, confesses it was a challenge to make the new home as warm and cozy as their previous one, considering the scale of the new place. We catch up with the designer and stylist who has worked on residences for Imtiaz Ali, Katrina Kaif and Karthik Aaryan, and significantly also on the restoration of the famous Pataudi Palace to find out what goes into creating a warm, intimate living space for a couple used to living their life under the public glare.
How did you first get into design and architecture? Can you recollect any one memory that made you want to get into this field?
Spaces, and how they make one feel, got me thinking about design ever since I was 13 years old. I’ve always been fascinated with art in a form that is functional. I was studying foundation art at Sophia college when I felt drawn to learning about the multiple dimensions and forms of design. Being able to interact with people, understand what they stand for and then bring alive their personalities and dreams in the spaces I do up for them is very exciting and gratifying. I see a space not just from the perspective of its interiors but in all its fluidity — its foundation, structure, the outdoors, placement of furniture, material, flow of energy and movement and light, and of course, how the inhabitants of that space finally become one with it when we’ve finished it. It’s a hard graft but ultimately it’s a vocation for meticulous eye for detail at its heart, something I love.
How did you first meet Kareena and Saif?
Dinesh Vijan who helms Maddock Films, has played a very important role in my journey as a designer. Over the years, through multiple collaborations we’ve formed a deep bond that goes beyond work. I was doing up Dinesh’s home in 2009 when he introduced me to Saif, who had just starting dating Kareena then. Our aesthetics matched instantly, and the Fortune home was designed followed by the wedding and Pataudi.
What was the brief given to you for Saif and Kareena’s new residence?
Their new home had to be styled as an extension of their old home, which was again styled by me. However, it had to take care of the requirements of the new members of the family. The new house has a balcony, a nursery, spacious rooms and of course a spacious library, where Saif Ali Khan is typically known to spend most of his time. The couple loves to host family gatherings and prefers spacious uncluttered spaces. However opulent their life might appear for outsiders, the duo prefers warm, cosy, and intimate spaces that reflect their personal tastes and preferences.
How different is the new house in terms of aesthetics?
Like I said, it is an extension of their old home, but larger, airy and spacious. We’ve added a lovely stairway and open terraces and balconies that are landscaped beautifully. For Saif, the voracious reader, there is the library and a reading room. Since it is much larger than their old home, we had to rework the aesthetics to suit the space, natural light and outdoors. The renovation of this home took a few years as they got busy with work and Taimur and were extremely comfortable in their old home. We took up the last leg of styling and furbishing in 2020 amidst the pandemic but we pulled all stops and finished in time given the new addition to the family. The creative synergy we share along with K (as we fondly call her) being very involved and chilled in spite of the progressing pregnancy made the final setting up and staging a fun ride.
We see a lot of books - and black and white tiles and generally a busy background whenever Kareena posts images from the house. In an age where minimalism is celebrated, how do you balance out your clients’ taste with your own aesthetic?
Well, extreme minimalism has never really been my style. I do, however, like design that is clean, timeless and functional. My clients should see the space I’ve designed for them and not be able to imagine it any other way. They should be one with that space. The biggest achievement for any designer, I think, is to seamlessly marry his/her aesthetic with the client’s lifestyle and taste and create a unique space that brings joy to everyone.
This resonated with Saif and Kareena’s sense of style too. The classic black and white marble floor has long been a part of my design sensibility. It is very colonial and old-world and classic, very much like the couple’s taste.
Do you believe that Covid has made us re-evaluate our living space and want to bring the outdoors in?
Absolutely! Covid has made us appreciate more the priceless gift of nature. Open spaces in urban cities like Mumbai, however, are a great privilege. Light, airy spaces have always been an integral part of design but the pandemic has made people aware of the need for nature and open spaces, making them re-evaluate their living spaces and their lifestyles. We have, however, always planned the homes we design with a meticulous eye for detail and functionality, and they have proved to be very practical and great fun for our clients throughout the COVID lockdown.
What was the most challenging part of putting together their new residence?
I think making their new home as warm and cozy as Fortune was a little challenging, given that spread across four floors, it is much larger. More importantly, what we really had to rack our brains about was to accord the high-profile couple their privacy in the outdoor balconies and terraces, without compromising on the light coming into the home. We used oversized folding parasols, trellis’ with lovely bougainvillea and aligning furniture placements to make it more private.
How would you describe Kareena and Saif’s new residence in terms of the deco element and the overriding feel of the house?
Like them, it is classic, colonial and timeless. Their love for England is well known and their home reflects that very English understated luxury. It also has a little bit of Pataudi, cricket, films, family photos and their lovely collection of art. It bounces off a slight Mediterranean feel from the many lights, mementos and art that the travel-obsessed couple have picked up on their many sojourns.
Was there any one segment of the house - say the library or the nursery - that you were asked to pay special attention to?
Not really. Every corner of the home was lavished with equal attention and love. We did, however, spend more time doing up the outdoor spaces just right.
What is the first thing that strikes you when you walk into a living space?
The vibe it gives off. Every space I’ve worked on has carried its own energy and feeling. It’s that first intangible feel about a space that tells you whether you can work with it or not. After that, it is the flow of natural light into and around the space that draws my attention. The visual elements follow later.
Very often people feed off social media, and peep into a celeb’s living room and try and replicate it for themselves. Your comments.
That is but natural because we all strive and aspire to live the lives of people we admire. If you like something you’ve seen in a celeb’s home on Instagram, draw inspiration from it but don’t forget to improvise and be innovative to make it work for you. It’s all about comfort and not how it looks in a photograph. What might look good virtually might not quite work as well in reality. Each individual, each space and each home functions differently. Your home should look good and feel good to you, not to the neighbour.
What is the Darshini interior deco stamp?
Everything that spells understated luxury, timelessness, functionality, authenticity and a warm, soothing aesthetic. I like playing around with decor allowing certain key elements to shine while muting others thereby layering spaces with varying elements. I love unique craft and hand-made pieces rather than stuff that is mass-produced. I use natural wood a lot because it makes spaces so warm and inviting. Mixing bright vibrant colors with balanced neutrals is another hobby horse. The homes of my clients are comfortable yet every little element we add to it is of high-end quality. Making spaces feel lived in yet giving clients the unbridled joy and excitement of moving into a newly done up space bring me great joy. My ability to meld the heirloom with the bespoke, the antique with the contemporary results in rooms, which feel authentically evolved.
What’s the one interior design trend that is here to stay according to you?
For me, it would be to bring the outdoors in. Allowing natural light to fill your home and using natural materials like wood in functional homes.
An interior design trope you feel is overused.
That would be the use of distressed furniture and fluted wood in spaces where they don’t fit in! Distressed aged furniture is lovely if it fits into a space. Ageing of furniture is a process which if done well works wonders. Mass produced aged furniture a trend which caught on in the last few years is overused.
Darshini’s top tips for living space
1. Functionality should be your top priority. If you cannot function optimally and efficiently in your own space, no amount of visual appeal can do justice to it.
2. Draw inspiration from spaces, projects, people but ultimately, let your space be a true reflection of your personality and the things that bring you joy, let it be a true reflection of your life journey. Don’t imitate something you’ve seen at another’s house, because what works for them might not work for you.
3. Don’t be driven by trends. Allow certain key elements to shine through while muting others.