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Parmesh Shahani has very specific adjectives that he uses to describe himself. He has much clarity about his preferences, and his epithets—“rasik”, “sensuous”, “queer”, “maximalist”, “exuberant”—are as if shining from every pore of his being lending him a neon glow that makes everything else in his vicinity appear staid. “Minimalism is a cop-out and makes me gag. I can’t imagine, why, when you can have five textiles layered on eachother would you want to pare it down to one? Only more is more!” he tells me.
At his home it is not just the furniture and art we need to discuss, it is also the thoughts and philosophies that led to those choices. And most importantly his queer identity which defines what fits, woven like a thread through everything he owns, from fashion and books to rugs and art. Parmesh heads D&I at Godrej Industries Ltd and is an award-winning author of two books Queeristan (winner of the CK Prahlad Business Book of the Year) and Gay Bombay. “The larger framework of queerness is a way of questioning the world. It’s not just about your sexuality; it’s about saying that the world can be different. It is about imagining various alternatives and possibilities. So, for example when I wear a kurta-pyjama and then add a bowtie and this leather harness on top of it right—in a sense I’m winking at a bunch of different things in the world through that,” says Parmesh.
Parmesh purchased his first home, a two-bedroom apartment in Vikhroli, Mumbai that he then designed himself. Read on the interview to get behind the inner workings of the man for whom his design choices need to come together like a big, wonderful Indian thali. Edited excerpts:
Beautiful Homes: Did you have a clear idea of what your dream home will look like?
Parmesh: I’ve always had an idea. My aesthetic outlook has been very, very clear while growing up and it’s evolved more and more strongly. I think just the way I write as an author, the way I construct my clothes and my look, is exactly the way I did the apartment. They are in a sense my billboards for the world.
BH: How would you describe your taste in design and décor?
Parmesh: My décor choices are a leap from my fashion journey. For example, I will combine Ikat fabric with an African print in my outfit, wear those with a bow tie and a slouchy Kimono from Tokyo, along with a tote bag from Bhuj. It is about contemporary Indian-ness for me. I am proudly Indian and very, very invested in craft and tradition. But I’ve also had a range of very trippy experiences around the world whether it’s through travel, or study. So, how do I bring elements of those journeys together? There is also my queer identity, which is implicit in the way I dress and also in the way I make my home. And then in all of this is maximalism, which to me is about many things coming together but not clashing. It is about layering, about juxtaposition. How do you place one thing next to another so that the story of both of them is enhanced right? I like drama and heightened emotions. In my aesthetic I go to the edge of bad taste but I pull back.
BH: Take us through some of the details of the décor.
Parmesh: I was clear that I wanted an exuberant home; every room I enter I want to feel both relaxed as well as turned on. When Sabyasachi came out with his collections of wallpaper with Nilaya, Asian Paints I loved that for my walls. So, of course, I went overboard and now my living room for example has three different wallpapers. I love Indian textiles, so these are like textiles for the wall. I got my couch custom-made to my height from Tranceforme, while Latika Khosla from Freedom Tree printed 20 metres of the fabric for it just for me. My dining table has a mother-of-pearl inlay—I just love the level of craftsmanship available in our country that can be turned into contemporary designs. I have been collecting art for years and a lot of the art is contemporary, by artists who are around my age and speak of the India I have grown up in. I’ve surrounded this with found objects like a sculptural tree trunk that my partner and I got in Coonoor, and even some sculptures from Chor Bazaar. I also love Bollywood and the drama of it. I commissioned Rahmanbhai, who used to actually hand paint posters of movies, to make some for me. In the midst of all of this are pieces passed down to me that are deeply personal to me. It’s all a sensory overload that I love.
BH: How has the pandemic and lockdown changed your relationship with your home?
Parmesh: When I did my house design, I was alone, but since then my partner moved in and that changed a lot for me. He doesn’t care about things and has made me also feel less precious about the home. Pre-pandemic our life was different, I was travelling a lot so we would essentially be using the bedroom a lot for sleeping. Our fabulously done living room was hardly being used. Post pandemic the guest room became a study, the sofas in the living room were re-arranged because we spend hours of our life now lying down flat and watching Netflix. So, we had to reconfigure the furniture in a way that was conducive to us just spending 8-9 hours in the living room; it’s no longer a show living room. The more you live in the house, the more you kind of re-configure it as per your needs and not what a magazine might think.
BH: Do you think your home is going to see some more changes?
Parmesh: I don’t think my home is complete at all. I hate the fact that I have white ceilings. Why do I have white ceilings? I want to paint clouds on all my ceilings. I just realised all my doors are so boring. They’re the same old wooden doors and I want to do stuff with the doors. I realised that there are still some corners in which we can squeeze in some more art. My space is a work in progress and also you evolve, learn more, see more and then you want to translate that as well. I think I am going to be adding layer upon layer of things. We will not remove anything, but what goes below will kind of fade away while another thing will come on top.
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