Name: Sonal Kotecha
Company: Rumah Interiors
Position with company: Founder & Design Director
Tell us a little about your background in design (education, experience, etc)
I studied Interior Architectural & Design at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, where I graduated in 2007. Immediately after graduating, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to study Mandarin in Beijing in the summer of 2007. My flight had a transit stopover in Dubai on my way back, where I met up with some former design colleagues – it was then that I decided that I would like to try and gain some international experience and focused my efforts on eventually moving there. I ended up moving to Dubai in early 2010 where I worked as an in-house designer for a property developer for 5 years. I then spent 2 years at a boutique design firm, after which I set up my own company, Rumah Interiors, in 2017.
How would you describe your personal design style?
I would call my personal design style very eclectic, and that is probably a product of my background. I grew up as a second generation British-Indian, to parents who were born and raised in Kenya, by their parents (i.e. my grandparents!) who themselves were born and raised in India!
I have spent over a decade in the Middle East now – which is very much the place I now call home, with my husband who, just to add to the mixture, is born and raised in South Africa! I feel drawn and connected to many different people and I feel that the same is translated in my work and personal design preferences.
Where does your design inspiration come from?
I’m naturally inclined to say my biggest source of inspiration is travel. Of all the places I have visited, I would have to say there are two special places that get me excited by all things related to design, spatial and otherwise – Japan and Bali.
Japan – For the attention they pay to detail in everything you see, feel and experience from the architecture, right down to the minute detailing of simple product packaging. Then there’s Bali, for the way they are able to connect spaces with nature, which, at least in my eyes, is second to none. Bali also holds a special place in my heart, because it was during a trip there in 2017, that my deep rooted desire to start my own company, specialising in residential design, was solidified. In fact I named my company ‘Rumah’ because it means ‘home’ in Indonesian. Just hearing it connects me back to my purpose and reason for doing what I do.
In what direction do you feel that design is moving towards in a general sense?
My answer to this question would have probably been very different just 5 months ago, but right now I would say that design would likely be driven by a pragmatic purpose. History is one of our best teachers and it’s interesting to note how much the pandemic in 1918-20 played a huge role in influencing the modernist aesthetic. The pure forms and rejection of ornamentation served a functional purpose, as they helped to deprive dust and germs of breeding ground, and made sanitising more effective and efficient.
I think similarly, designers are going to be forced to think about how the current day pandemic will affect the future designs of our day to day objects and spaces. It goes without saying that we will see changes implemented in the design of commercial spaces such as shops, offices and restaurants, to control the numbers of people meeting and sharing the same spaces. In the context of the home environment, with this being the main arena that I work in, I think we are going to see home offices take a more important role than they used to in people’s room wish-lists, as more people have quite abruptly had to adapt to working remotely, and many are seeing the benefits of this so may continue to do so even once the pandemic is over.
Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2020 and beyond.
As a designer, I am not a big fan of themes or trends, as by their very nature they are transient. However, in an extension to the question above, I think that some tangible impressions will be made on our built environment, specifically as a result of the larger global situation that we have found ourselves in.
- The concept of open plan living will be challenged now that there is an increasing need to be connected, yet disconnected from others in your household, especially children – while people are juggling their work and home lives simultaneously. That does not necessarily mean people will be moving into bigger houses, but that rooms will become multifunctional and I think good quality architectural hardware will play a key role this, to allow us to be able to easily adapt room sizes and functions depending on the time of day.
- Like many things, I think the pandemic has accelerated the inevitable – as such I think integrating touchless technology will be a key facilitator of how we converse with our built environment.
- While the merging of indoor and outdoor spaces has become quite clichéd, I think we will find biophilic design become more of a necessity than a trend. For its ability to evoke the sensation of peace and reduce the feeling of confinement, which is particularly pertinent during these unstable times.
- Materials purchasing will be increasingly driven by their anti-microbial qualities. As designers we do look at more than the price tag of a product or finish, but it’s not uncommon to see contractors or clients value engineer our selections to search for the ‘best deal’ instead. However, I think that now, even end users will be more mindful about the choice of materials being used particularly in their living environment.
- Generally speaking, I think once people’s situations have stabilised, we will see a spike in demand for interior designers. I expect that a lot of people will be keen to invest in upgrading their home environments. Not just to beautify their home but in order to make them more energy efficient and sustainable as the pay offs such as reduced utilities bills will be felt over a longer duration.
If you could offer one piece of advice when it comes to design schemes, what would it be?
I think of the most important part of a design scheme is having a strong concept to connect back to, to aid the endless list of decisions that have to be made during a project. Whether the concept is defined by a personal storyline, an interesting site, or based on a material palette – it’s important to establish a strong concept with your client early, as it reverberates throughout the creative process. While we do generally run projects through an order of pre-established stages of work, design is a dialogue, and as that dialogue evolves, as does the relationship with the client and the space, and at times you have to pivot, but the concept is always there to come back to when you get stuck.
How important are The International Design & Architecture Awards?
I think it is important to recognise and encourage designers to participate in these awards and enjoy the fruits of their labour. There is nothing more fulfilling to a designer than a completed project and a happy client, and the awards are a celebration of this achievement. The fact that this is a global celebration which unites the design community opens up the potential for collaborations that may not have otherwise been possible.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on variety of residential projects – mostly renovations over new-builds. One such villa is in Emirates Hills in Dubai. The recent changes to the way we work have opened up opportunities for us to work on properties in other countries on a remote basis. We are working on a project in New York, USA and another in the Midlands, UK.
What are your aims and goals for the next twelve months?
To keep growing, keep designing and keep learning.
Final thoughts; tell us a little more about yourself and your daily inspirations:
Your most treasured possession? My passport
Your favourite holiday destination? Bali
Your favourite hotel, restaurant & bar? Silo Hotel, Cape Town
Your favourite book? Michelle Obama – Becoming
Your favourite food and drink? Anything my mum makes
Your favourite way to spend an afternoon? With my husband with some good food, good music and fresh air.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be? A cognitive psychologist
Rumah Interiors have been shortlisted for 2 Categories in The International Design and Architecture Awards 2020.
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