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A visit to interior designer Ritu Nanda’s light-filled studio in an unusual building


“I love to translate materials and spaces into lifestyles,” says Mumbai-based interior designer Ritu Nanda. Many years ago, the former fashion photographer forayed into interior design as a way to flex her creativity. “I loved the medium of photography, but I also felt that it was a very isolated way for me to function. I was very interested in the spaces in which I photographed people, the furniture, clothes, and colours. Eventually, I realised I needed a wider canvas than what photography gave me,” she explains.
 

Her design journey started out with a lifestyle store called Camelot, housed in a beautiful old building by a river in Goa. “I combined all my interests through that shop. Slowly I started getting a lot of interior design work after people appreciated the way the store was setup.” She eventually closed down the store in 2004. Today Ritu believes that her lack of formal training as either an architect or interior designer is a strength rather than a weakness. She says it has released her from the confines of a particular style of design process. The designer is deeply inspired by Geoffrey Bawa whose work she feels is very relevant to tropical environments like ours. Having also worked with Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte, who trained with Geoffrey Bawa, Ritu says she’s very drawn to that sort of tropical island-style design. “While interiors remain relevant to where you live, I do also appreciate the vein of European influence in India, especially in Goa. I think there is a certain Indo-European style that is prevalent in whatever we do. I am driven by generosity in design and proportion, to me, is key.”

Ritu’s own studio is a great example of her approach to design. The light-filled airy studio is located on the top-most floor of an old building in Colaba, at the tip of South Mumbai. To get to the studio, one has to walk up two floors to the very top of a spiral staircase. Once you’re at the landing, Ritu Nanda Design opens out like a bright ray of sunshine. It is a very unusual sight in Mumbai to look out the window and see the tops of verdant trees, but this is 

Ritu Nanda in her studio.

the view from this unusual spot. The 1,500 sq. ft. studio is office to 16 staff members, with Ritu’s office located at the end of the room. 

Much of Ritu’s designs feel like the well-put-together space of an individual interested in books, art, travel and photography. The studio, with an abundance of books and artwork, is a good representation of those very inclinations. And within her little office, the scent of coffee, which can be credited to the little red powerhouse Nespresso machine in the corner. We asked her about her space and her style…

Beautifulhomes.com: What guides your design philosophy?
Ritu Nanda
: I find that I give my best if I stay true to myself. I am very careful to not pretend to know something that I don’t. My work is driven by the idea of how people would live in the home. I think about the details of their daily life—how they walk from the bedroom to the kitchen every day, what they would pass along the way, how the transition spaces affect them, how to use and enhance the quality of light, how they entertain. All these details matter a lot. It’s not just about using Italian marble or ostentatious furniture, it’s about how you would use this space.

BH: How would you describe your style?
RN:
 I love spaces that are not permanent, that have the flexibility to change in the way they are displayed and used because people change, their likes and dislikes change. Additionally, as a designer, I do have certain reservations about the idea of modern in India. I don’t think the modern language is one that is true to ourselves. We are a country of handmade creations and a culture of using craftsmanship and workmanship. There exists a human element to what we create, and I’d rather lean into that than avoid it. I don’t seek purity in design, I love the mix of what history has left us with.
 

A blue sofa by Nandini Kamdar occupies one end of the office. The artwork includes (from left to right) a glass painting from Ahmedabad, a framed embroidered habit from a priest’s clerical attire bought in Cochin, and a photograph by Sharon Nayak.

In a corner of her private office, a vibrant cherry red coffee maker adds a bright contrasting pocket of colour to the calming neutral palette.

A beautiful spiral staircase leads to the studio on the second floor.

BH: Give us a quick walkthrough of your studio.
RN:
 As you enter, we have one large table wooden table in the welcome area. It’s a great multipurpose space for meetings and presentations. Then we enter the main room where most of the office sits. At the end, behind fog glass panels, is a small office for me replete with a plush blue sofa by Nandini Kamdar and a cherry red coffee maker that brightens up the corner. We also have a sample room filled with wonderful pieces followed by a small kitchen and dining area. We are very fortunate to have the spatial generosity to fit in these corners. It’s a luxury I greatly appreciate.
 

Ritu’s private office is filled with pieces that have a story to tell. On the left is a print of hindi text that spells out ‘Dope’. It was given to her by her team to describe how they felt about her. On the right is a charcoal self-portrait by Leeza Mangaldas, her daughter, created when she was in art school.

BH: What attracted you to this location and space?
RN: My studio is located at the very end of Colaba in a beautiful old building. It’s a quiet and calming space surrounded by trees that house migratory birds during winter. Located on the top floor, the studio is accessed via a spiral staircase that leads to a generous, light-filled space complete with 23-foot high ceilings and exposed wooden rafters. It’s a completely surreal experience to have an office like this in a city like Mumbai.

BH: What did you have in mind while designing the studio?
RN:
 I definitely wanted the studio to reflect the personality of the work we do as a firm and the people who work with me. I knew I wanted an open plan layout for the office. There are certain skill sets that people who work for me have which I don’t and we can all learn from each other. I wanted an open space to foster good communication among the team.


BH: How did you turn your vision of the space into reality?
RN:
 I love that it is comfortable and unpretentious. While the décor is contemporary, the studio also has an old-world charm to it. Fortunately, we didn’t have to change too many details before moving in about four years ago. The space came with wooden flooring, which I loved, as well as the original exposed rafters. I did, however, want a clean, white canvas for the walls. We used a beautiful colour from Asian Paints called Raw Cotton which is the perfect backdrop for all the colours and textures we present for our projects or displays. There is also a long table that runs the length of the office which I turned into a display area for books, art, photography, music and samples. I didn’t want people to be sitting there and facing the wall as according to Vastu, one shouldn’t face that direction. So, we turned that table into an inspiration zone that keeps changing.

BH: What are the essentials in your work space?
RN:
 Pencils of every kind and paper. I love to sketch and I do have the ability to translate my ideas into drawings.

BH: Lastly, what would be a dream project for you?
RN:
 I would love to design a boutique hotel. With a residence or office there has to be a certain practicality to everything, with a hotel you can just unleash your creativity.

 

Photographs

Isha Shah

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