India Mahdavi

India Mahdavi (photo by E Morin)

After a relaxing holiday hiatus, we dive into our 2009 interview series with our long-time friend, architect and interior designer India Mahdavi. We first met India in Paris almost a decade ago and have since collaborated on projects for Jonathan Morr and more recently, NetJets. As recent articles in the New York Times “T” and Departures will attest, India is very much a part of a highly accomplished “next generation” who are already leaving their mark on the world of design.

[continued from last week]

B: You have done some fantastic projects over the years, including La Rinascente, Townhouse, The Condesa, and APT. Is there one that you consider more successful?

IM: Every project that you’re mentioning was successful in its own way. APT was a new concept when we created it. A lounge bar in the Meatpacking District looking like an Upper East Side apartment designed for an imaginary French, but NY-based, owner called Bernard. This is nearly eight years ago! Can you believe there’s a place opening in Paris soon that’s basically the same concept? APT was a very strong, unexpected concept… The Condesa is a hotel which is very identifiable. The colors, fabrics, furnishing, and in fact the whole project symbolized a new direction in my work. Townhouse was my first hotel. It was important to me because of my professional relationship with Jonathan Morr. It was the first time I could tell a story in 3D of my vision of Miami: “sea, sex and sun”. A simple yet sexy and chic but inexpensive hotel. La Rinascente was really a very interesting experience because of my connection with Vittorio Radice, CEO of La Rinascente, with whom I learn a lot about commercial spaces. Because of the scale of the project, it was closer to city planning. We were creating “streets” and “avenues.”

Condesa Bar

Condesa bar
Condesa Bath

Condesa bath
Condesa Patio

Condesa’s patio

B: You have collaborated a great deal with Jonathan Morr. What do you like about working with him?

IM: Jonathan was the first person to trust me 100%. We have these very close working sessions where we would bounce ideas back and forth until he would say, “This is great. Stop.” I’d say, “I can do more, push it further,” and he’d say, “No this is great. Stop.” In the case of Townhouse, Jonathan was creative and alternative enough to come up with new concepts of how to run the hotel (by creating the open breakfast pantry, the communal breakfast table, how each room would have its own fridge, the gym room in the corridor…). When he sees a good idea, he just grabs it. He’s a big part of the creative process, which is important because as you [Geoff Cook, partner at Base] know as well as anybody, a good project comes from having a good client. Regarding APT, it was a project I really didn’t want to do. I couldn’t relate to doing a NYC nightclub. I had a three year-old boy and I just wasn’t in that frame of mind. I said “Jonathan, I really can’t relate to this.” But I came to NYC and Jonathan took me to see every single nightclub. When I got back to Paris, he called. I said, “If you want me to do this place, the only thing I can do is create an apartment. It’ll have a bed, etc.” There was a silence and then he said, “Great.”


APT, aptly named


B: How many people do you have in your company today? What is the breakdown re job title/responsibilities?

IM: 10–12 in my company. Two take care of the showroom, two for administration, two for production. The rest are “creative”.

B: Is the client always right? We know from collaborating with you that you tend to be rather firm when it comes to defending your ideas…

IM: Well… I think that… this is my rule. If I am hesitant about a decision of mine, and the client is not very happy, I will let go. But if I’m very sure of myself, then I will really not let go.

B: What truly new elements are you incorporating into your work?

IM: More and more patterns, organics mixed with geometrical. Formica associated with wood and ceramic. More and more colors. Also rattan.


Mahdavi’s Bluffer Tricolore sofa

The Connaught, in London

The Connaught

B: You design a furniture line. Do you have certain criteria as to what prototypes make it to production for your line?

IM: You know, for me it’s quite easy. As we say in French, I “auto-produce” and “auto-distribute” at my showroom in Paris and at Ralph Pucci in NYC. If I like a piece, I put it in the showroom. If people buy it, I’ll keep it. If not, I’ll take it out. If it works but I get bored with it after six months, I’ll take it out.

B: By operating in such a manner, are you afraid it will affect the cohesiveness of the line?

IM: I never design a line as such. What I like about the showroom is the eclectic feel of it. It’s non-commercial. When I design a sofa, it’s easy to adapt it into an armchair. But I’ve never designed a furniture line for a specific room. Like, “This is the line for the living room”. I’ve never done that. It’s more about an overall mix of things that I design. I also often design for projects and I’ll take the more successful pieces and put them in the line. For example, for the Condesa, I did a peanut-shaped tray , and some of my clients said, “Can I get that?! Can I get that?!”, and now it’s coming out. Now I’m doing a light that’s crystal and ceramic and wood. It sort of came out of nowhere, and that’s fine. I don’t have a “marketing plan.” It’s more a back-of-the-shop sort of feel. It’s very personal. The showroom is a reflection of me. My furniture looks so much better in its own environment. If I was a part of a larger showroom with lots of pieces by others, it might not work.


Mahdavi’s Dot stools, with embroidery by Judy Ross

The Joker table, finished in enameled ceramic and marble

The Lollipop lamp

Mahdavi’s Luciole lamp

B: Are there any up-and-coming designers or architects whose work you admire?

IM: Tons of young deisgners that are very good. Jaime Haydon is great. Patricia Urquiola. Hella Jongerius. Martino Gamper, Jurgen Bay. There are groups of students from Eindhoven or ECAL doing interesting work. Having ideas is great, sustaining them is something else, and having the ideas endure in time is the most difficult part of all.

B: What inspires you?

IM: Everything. For me it’s a way of seeing things. How you look at things that’s inspiring.


Suka, at the Sanderson Hotel, London


B: If you could collaborate with anyone (past or present, alive or dead) who would you want to collaborate with and what would the project entail?

IM: A filmmaker on a project. It could be Orson Wells, Stanley Kubrick. Or with a fashion designer. I would love to do a project with Martin Margiela. I do collaborate with quite a few people already, like with Thierry Costes. Also a French artist, Xavier Veilhan . It’s exciting to have multiple collaborations like that. I’d like to collaborate on things I’ve never done. Like a movie, a piece of sculpture, or something in fashion. That’s what’s exciting for me.

B: Where are your favorite places to find unique décor items?

IM: Flea markets. I go to the Parisian ones a lot. Paul Bert and Serpette, and a lot of antique dealers in Belgium. Like at the Pierre Bergé gallery, Galerie 146. Also Chic by Accident in Mexico City. And I have a few private antique dealers in Paris that I work with quite a bit. I tend to buy contemporary pieces at the Galerie Kreo in Paris.

B: Is there one big goal that you are working toward or do you tend to take things day to day?

IM: More step-by-step. I always feel like I’m on a river and things will take me where I have to go. I’m not aiming to become this big company. I don’t need to be the Martha Stewart of Europe. Quality of life is important to me. Working with good people is important.

B: What does the future hold for you?

IM: I wish I knew [laughs]. I like surprises. I hope I’ll be surprised, and in a good way.

To read part I of this interview, click here.

To see more of India’s work, visit her website.