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Interiors photographer Ashish Sahi on finding the right light in his rental home

By Ela Das

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In an ongoing series titled Behind the Lens we see how the country’s noteworthy interiors photographers create (and live in) their own spaces.

In a fascinating career in publishing—spanning across two decades—Ashish Sahi has had the unique opportunity of photographing some of the grandest homes, structures and spaces across the country. “After graduating from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi in 2001, I began my career in design at India Today. However, it was during my time at M magazine that my interest in photography began, when I was called in for a shoot after a photographer backed out at the eleventh hour,” he recalls. From there, Sahi went on to become the creative director at Architectural Digest India, bringing to life the most beautiful homes in the country in its glossy pages. In his private life, he lives in a tastefully styled two-bedroom apartment in Mumbai, where every piece tells the story of his journey along the way.
 

How did you discover this home?
Ironically it was the first house I was shown when I began my search, but it took me six months of house hunting to decide to finally call this space home. I had just moved to Mumbai from Delhi, and every apartment I saw was very different from what I was used to living in before.

What was the space like when you first saw it?
Every room was in a different colour, and there wasn’t any uniformity or purpose in the style. What did catch my eye was the balcony—which I didn’t find in any of the other apartments I saw—along with the amount of greenery outside that added a sense of openness to the space. I also like hosting guests regularly, and this would serve as the perfect outdoor nook for entertaining.

Eames DSW Chairs with faux fur on the opposite side of the living room, along with a collection of objects from Puducherry and Maila.

What was your vision for creating your home here?
I wanted to maximise every inch of floor space in this small apartment without it looking too cramped. Since this is a rental, and I couldn’t make any structural changes, I wanted to find the easiest way to make the house look spacious, well-lit and inviting. I had been used to warm, dark colours for a cosier aesthetic in my home in Delhi; and I soon began to realise I’d have to create an all-white palette with pared-down neutrals to open up each room.
 

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What was your renovation process like?
It took me a month to repaint and refurnish the home. I spoke to my landlord before beginning anything and worked out what he would be comfortable with me changing and reworking—this was important to avoid any hiccups along the way. Most of my furniture was brought in from Delhi, and I soon realised everything was too big and dark in colour for the space. I had to resize everything and repaint it in matte white to make it less overwhelming.

Did you face any challenges along the way?
Finding the right people to do the job was initially tough because I was a newcomer in a big city. Also, like every renovation process, I had to be hands-on and physically present to oversee everything to avoid any rude surprises!
 

Cows found across India in wood, clay and papier mâché sit in front of a lamp from IKEA.

What are your tips for anyone looking to create their dream home on a budget?
Always make sure to observe the entire house in the afternoon to see how the light moves in each room—no matter how big a space, you don’t want a dingy home. You also want to pay attention to the view outside your window, as this will largely contribute to your décor’s style and aesthetic. And, finally, check in with your would-be neighbours and staff in the building. This is often overlooked, but you will want to share a comfortable relationship with the families and people you’ll live next to.

What are the kinds of homes have you shot?
From the most humble one-bedroom apartment to sprawling mansions of fashion designers, businessmen and notable architects. Some homes have been so big they took over three days to shoot! I had the opportunity to also shoot the stately homes of foreign ambassadors and dignitaries in the capital city. I’ve never limited myself to the kinds of spaces I photograph.

Which one is most symbolic to you?
It would be the Horagolla home designed by Geoffrey Bawa in Sri Lanka, which was originally a horse stable that he converted into a charming yet stately villa. The most significant part for me was that 

I got to live there while shooting the entire property over span of three days—so, there were times when I’d wake up and quickly run out to catch the morning light to get a spellbinding shot, and then play with sunlight at different times during the day, as well.

What are the styles you’ve learnt along the way, and which ones work best in an Indian home?
The idea of a luxurious home in India is being redefined with every new house that’s being built. I find a home more unique when’s there a personal connection you can immediately notice the moment you enter the space. Today, with a seemingly infinite budget at their disposal, many home owners have statement pieces and art works from designers and artists overseas; but an heirloom passed down for generations or a piece of Indian contemporary art immediately grabs my attention and quietly tells a story of the space.

After shooting so many homes for over a decade, what does the idea of a perfect home mean to you?
For me it is about uninterrupted views, ample sunlight in every room of the house, and big open spaces to move around in. I like having time to myself, and, if I have all this at home, I don’t feel the need to step out.
 

Photographs

Ashish Sahi

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