How a sharp pencil inspires the architect of Neuma Ashiesh Shah


Scenes from the new season of Bollywood filmmaker Karan Johar’s talk show “Koffee With Karan” may be making the rounds, but a few weeks ago Johar marked his entry into the hospitality industry. Together with Bunty Sajdeh, CEO of talent agency Dharma Cornerstone, and True Palate Cafe, a Delhi-based hospitality company, he co-founded a restaurant in Colaba, Mumbai, called Neuma.

In the days since it opened, the food has been variously reviewed. But one thing stood out: the interior of the restaurant. Housed in a 19th-century bungalow, named Garden Chalet, where the iconic Indigo restaurant previously stood, the interior of the 220-seat Neuma was designed by architect Ashiesh Shah.

A graduate of the Parsons School of Design, Shah worked with the bungalow so that “each space has a distinct character…providing the restaurant with a series of experiences…much like creating a world within a world”, he said.

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Of all the spaces in the restaurant, Shah says Verdé, the private dining room, is one of his favorites. The powdery green room is filled with plants, and is lit by the lingam-inspired by the Guccha ceiling lamp, an iconic creation of his passion project “Atelier Ashiesh Shah”, through which he works with various Indian artisans.

Neuma is also littered with collectibles from around the country, reflecting Shah’s eclecticism. There is a Manipur longpi pottery vase, a hanging lamp and curtain bead tassels from Channapatna in Karnataka, a display of Naga dolls and just at the entrance a fountain made from one of the Claymen heads immediately recognizable by designer Aman Khanna.

Around the time Neuma opened, Shah added another feather to his cap. Atelier Ashiesh Shah has become the first Indian project to feature on The Invisible Collection, an online luxury e-commerce site launched by former Dior creative director Isabelle Dubern-Mallevays and entrepreneur Anna Zaoui.

Ashiesh Shah works in his studio
(Courtesy of Atelier Ashiesh Shah)

“I’m thrilled to see it make a global presence with its launch on The Invisible collection,” Shah said. “It has been an enlightening journey to collaborate closely with artisans across the country while pushing the boundaries of scale and technique, and celebrating and reviving craftsmanship, while giving them a voice on a global scale. .”

In this interview with Living roomShah talks about bringing together various artists and designers in his Atelier, the power of a sharp pencil, and more. (Conversation edited for clarity and brevity.)

Tell us about your current workspace.

I started my practice with the interior design studio. But over time, I also extended this to the Atelier. The Atelier serves as a space for design thinkers to assemble and integrate experimentation, craftsmanship, materiality and technique into a creative ecosystem for design collaboration and development. Interior design and technical aspects are usually done in the (studio) and I constantly move between these two spaces while working.

Has it always been like this? Or has it evolved over the years?

Currently we have expanded to several other units in the same building – so we have definitely evolved from what it used to be.

How would you define your daily relationship with this workspace?

I consider it to be very fluid since I don’t limit myself to designing from a single space. I seek the pleasure of working from different spaces, whether at home, in a café or even abroad. I don’t limit myself to working in a single space and I like to move between different environments.

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Tell us about some of the eureka moments you’ve had and some major work you’ve done from here.

The Atelier is where we have pushed the boundaries of craftsmanship through research, development and constant innovation. Having been a revivalist and an integral part of the Indian craftsmanship movement, it has been special that the work we have done here is recognized on a global platform such as The Invisible Collection.

A view of Ashiesh Shah's desk in his office

A view of Ashiesh Shah’s desk in his office
(Courtesy of Ashiesh Shah)

If you had to trade this place for another, what would it be?

A heritage property where I could have a space for myself. I would like to be part of a historic building.

What’s one thing that’s always been in your workspace over the years? Why?

Extremely sharp pencils because they help me think and visualize better. When I see a sharp pencil, it encourages me to design and get on the drawing board.

Is there a style or material that you prefer never to use in the projects you take on?

I refrain from using artificial materials, like plastics or even laminates, in my interior projects. I am a strong proponent of natural materials and make a conscious effort to use them in my spaces. They bring a sense of wabi-sabiwarmth and authenticity to my spaces.

Who are your architectural heroes? How has your work been influenced by this?

I was greatly inspired by Le Corbusier’s design philosophy and his invaluable contribution to the field of architecture and design. I designed a collection of carpets called Chand LC whose shape and geometry derive from the facades of Corbusier’s emblematic buildings in Chandigarh.

creative corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creators and their relationships with their workspaces.


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