Behind the poetics of space with Disha Bhavsar and Shivani Ajmera of Quirk Studio

In an exclusive interview with STIR, Quirk Studio details the intricacies of designing the Mysa Home in Mumbai, and what it takes to build a substantial oeuvre in the Indian design circuit.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Oct 06, 2021

Underscored by quiet resonance and a modest elementality, the Mysa Home by Quirk Studio emerges as a warm beacon in the heart of the upscale coastal suburb of Bandra in cosmopolitan Mumbai, India. Citing Scandinavian and Nordic influences, the quaint residential design hints at comfort and envelopes itself in functional minimalism and warmth. Simplicity outlines the chosen medium of expression of Hygge (to be laced with a feeling of contentment and well-being), evident in Mysa’s soothing colour palette of whites and beiges, tactile textures of warm wood and marble that arrange themselves with sleek furniture, luminaires, and pieces of art for an uncomplicated chorus of design.

STIR interviews Disha Bhavsar and Shivani Ajmera of the India-based Quirk Studio about their experimental journey in interior design, growing into their intuitions and their latest undertaking, the Mysa Home.

Disha Bhavsar and Shivani Ajmera of interior design practice Quirk Studio | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
Disha Bhavsar and Shivani Ajmera of interior design practice Quirk Studio Image: Kuber Shah

Jincy Iype (JI): What was the reason behind naming yourselves Quirk Studio?

Disha Bhavsar (DB): Shivani and I have always wanted to start something of our own, and when we decided to take the plunge years back, we got to thinking of what we could name ourselves. Quirk really resonated with us, because it means distinctive and individualistic and that is what we wanted our designs to stand for. That is what we always strive to be, through our work and demeanour, and all of that summed up in the name, “quirk”, it just fit and we loved the ring of it. 

JI: How would you sum up your journey in interior design till now?

Shivani Ajmera (SA): I did my Bachelor’s degree in mass media after which I had a slight change of heart when I did a small interior design project for a family member, which cushioned my decision of wanting to pursue a career in it. That led to an education in Italy, followed by experiences with some of the best architects in the country. And finally, Disha and I met at ELLE Décor at our last job and that is when we began Quirk Studio (QS).

The interiors of the Mysa Home are inspired by Scandinavian and Nordic schools of thought | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
The interiors of the Mysa Home are inspired by Scandinavian and Nordic schools of thought Image: Kuber Shah

DB: I grew up in the Middle East and did my schooling there. I came to India after that, and I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to do interior designing. One of my aunts is an interior designer and that really helped me steer myself into the industry. I pursued a Bachelor's degree in interior design here and went on to study at the Winchester School of Arts in South Hampton for my Master's program in design management. We have both been in the industry for over 13 years now, and QS is an eight-year-old company, which for us, has been adventurous, to say the least! There have been lots of learnings, milestones, victories, and failures, sometimes disguised as each other.

JI: How does a friendship cultivate into a professional relationship? Can you highlight some learnings? How do you manoeuvre times when you differ on design decisions?

SA: We get this question a lot (chuckles). The thing is, it is wonderful how it has panned out with us, both professionally and personally. What really works for our partnership is the fact that we began as colleagues, we have seen each other in a work environment – that became our foundation and our equation evolved from there, and so did our friendship. Once we started QS, certain rules came about organically, whether it is mutual respect, trust or keeping egos at the door, we endorsed all of this inherently and with our team members.

JI: You must be together all the time!

DB: Yeah, we sort of are! We have branded ourselves as work wives, husbands, whatever you want to call it. It has worked out beautifully.

A corner of the living room | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
A corner of the living room Image: Kuber Shah

JI: How would you describe your firm's design language and philosophy?

DB: Both of us have always believed in the ethos of “less is more”, and our spaces subscribe to a contemporary and minimalistic design language. We want to create a difference in a person’s space, to completely transport and centre them when they enter it. It is also about creating change and uplifting people's lives through these curated pockets of being.

JI: What underscores the core concept of Mysa Home?

DB: Mysa (meesa) home was designed for a young couple who were extremely passionate about building their first home. We imbibed so much of their heart and soul when they shared their brief with us, we were instantly inspired to create a simple and cosy haven for them, a safe space that spelled homeliness, and that became the creative take off. We decided to saunter into the whole minimal and functional Scandinavian, Nordic themes of design and built on from that aesthetic, infusing a tranquil colour and material palette, and keeping it as minimal, clean, and straight-lined as possible.

SA: Mysa is clothed in a very neutral colour palette, purposefully straying away from a loud, busy aesthetic that would come across as a cumbersome interior design.

JI: What does Mysa mean?

DB: Mysa is Swedish for a warm and cosy space or temperament that makes you feel at home. So that made absolute sense when the space came together.

Mysa Home displays a neutral colour palette | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
Mysa Home displays a neutral colour palette Image: Kuber Shah

JI: Can you walk us through the residence and elaborate on the airy material and colour palette it partakes?

SA: The apartment unfurls into an open-plan, living-cum-dining area laden in neutral hues, earmarked by a two-tone, colour blocked half wall that interjects the space with visual warmth. Evocative of a snug cottage in the Swedish landscape, the space has been dotted with pattern-play via art, muted upholstery, and a dash of powder blue in the console that is bookended by minimalist prints. The restrained, yet impactful choice of furniture assists in the tactful demarcation of fluid zones, steering clear of the need for physical barriers.

DB: Melding seamlessly with the living section, the dining area is anchored by a solid wood dining table and spindled bench that are coupled with modern upholstered chairs; the grains of the wood further exaggerate the brilliant craftsmanship of the pieces and emanate a welcoming sentiment for the family to dine and converse. This nook is accented by an amber and grey cluster globe pendant light and a warm blue geometric credenza with fluted shutters. The rustic art prints and an assortment of bric-a-brac pepper the space to create a greeting vignette.

Stitched into the layout using a partition system composed of clear glass and black metal, the kitchen becomes a homogenous part of the home. Daylight streams across glazed surfaces and illuminates the galley kitchen, further elevating the all-white pristine interior. The hardware-less cabinetry amplifies the expanse, allowing it to retain its clutter-free visual palette. Vertically stacked white subway backsplash tiles accentuate the volume of the compact, yet pragmatic kitchen.

The dining room | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
The dining room Image: Kuber Shah

SA: A connective passage flanked towards the private zone of the home prologues the ensuite bedrooms. Keeping in line with the overruling identity of the abode, the passageway is punctuated with ashwood-hued doors and a collage of watercolor pastel geometric art. The bedroom suites in are honest extensions of the communal spaces and a nod to the pared-down aesthetic.

The master bedroom is utilitarian. The taupe Venetian-plastered walls anchor grayscale still-life prints that grace the plush upholstered bed’s headboard. Complementary suave nightstands are paired with amber glass globes and black metal sconces that further iterate the colour scheme in the bedroom. The canvas of the space has been softened by the introduction of monochrome tropical prints that endow the resting space with a rooted demeanour.

Steeped in white, the guest bedroom puts the senses at ease with the first rendezvous. The objet d'art in the room is the floral wallpaper that is swathed with white cherry blossom florets against the faintest mint. The all-presence of white across the furniture complements the inconspicuously tucked beige wardrobe. The brass and white globe pendants hang daintily against the patterned wallpaper that paints the scenic visual of a sprightly summer morning in Stockholm.

The kitchen | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
The kitchen Image: Kuber Shah

JI: What are some materials and colours that always find their way into your projects?

DB: We tend to stick to neutral tones and natural materials that come alive with small flecks of colour in the form of accessories like rugs, art and sculptural pieces, furniture and accents. Warm woods and concrete is an absolute favourite with the studio, and so are cement finishes, stones, hues of white, grey and beige. We love the earthiness and warmth these bring to a space.

SA: At QS we really believe that accessorising is the soul of the space, whether it is art, soft furnishing or indoor plants, and we encourage all our clients to embrace that vision, to see their project finish in that capacity. The point is not just to fill bookshelves or dump pieces on a TV console, but to make sure these pieces are carefully choreographed to tell a story, to dress a space and not just inhabit it. We use art accessories deliberately, and never just for the heck of it. They are always part of the narrative.

The interior design revels in minimalism | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
The interior design revels in minimalism Image: Kuber Shah

JI: Which part of the Mysa Home did you love designing the most?

SA: Definitely the living and dining area! It sets the tone for the rest of the house.

DB: Surely. It grew and made for a beautiful vignette; when you walk into that space, it encompasses everything we imagined for the house.

JI: Your clients must come to you because they love your design aesthetic and how your spaces grow into their own. How do you ensure elements that are unique to each residence?

SA: We are certainly glad and humbled that we are recognised for that, it takes a lot of hard work and it is an ongoing endeavour. Growing into your own aesthetic and style as a designer takes time and substance, and we are happy that we have managed to carve out our own niche over the years. It is imperative that we design each space keeping the client and their personalities at the forefront – to bring their likes and dislikes into play, and then add our own little nuances to truly make it a QS space.

JI: Having worked in interiors for over a decade, what is the biggest misconception about the design industry in India today?

SA: People believe that we are very disorganised and ad hoc, and that is simply not true. There are many practices that are exceptionally professional and coordinated and they make sure they deliver on time and quality. The industry has come into its own over the last decade or so, and it has made phenomenal leaps in terms of formalising and sustaining itself.

One of the suites | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
One of the suites Image: Kuber Shah

JI: What are some things that you wish interior designers would stop doing and why?

SA: I think both Disha and I agree on this one – designers here follow trends and aesthetics blindly.

DB:Yes, even clients come in with Pinterest images and ask us to recreate that to the last detail, unfortunately. There is a lot of blatant copying done in the name of “inspiration”. You will see replicas of furniture, rugs, and interiors like that, across the board.

SA: It is quite disheartening to witness. As designers, somewhere we must put our foot down and steer the client in the right direction. Everyone just sort of allows it to happen, and it is difficult to curb that.

DB: I understand that you can be inspired but blindly replicating someone else’s design is sad. Now, more than ever, with so much exposure to social media and the internet, it has become a common practice.

JI: Do they not realise that it is unethical to do so?

DB: Oh, absolutely! But not many see it like that, regrettably. Some designers might feel flattered because their designs are being copied, which is also not the right way to boost your ego, so it is immoral at both ends. There is a fine line between being inspired and duplicating something unashamedly. We too are “inspired” occasionally, we have friends and seniors in the same industry, and we find so many things to appreciate with every project they undertake, but that does not mean we have the liberty to steal it.

A quaint corner of the dining area | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
A quaint corner of the dining area Image: Kuber Shah

JI: How do you deal with it?

SA: We have come to accept it now. Initially when we realised all this, we were quite rattled but now, there is no other option but to move on from it.

JI: Is there a way that this can be tackled on the legal front?

DB: No, it is not practically possible, not just in India but world over. There is no way you can copyright designs because it is so relative.

SA: It might be easier to battle this elsewhere, but definitely trickier in India. We have had this discussion with various architects and designers here, how we could curtail something like this. But unfortunately, we know that we are wasting our time because there is nothing you can do about it, to bring about a significant change.

JI: An advice for aspiring designers who dream of setting up their own practice as you did?

DB: Just take the plunge. Do not try to weigh everything along the way, you do not start otherwise, and starting is the biggest and hardest step. That intuition is garnered over time, and it only happens over the course of the journey, not without. We have listened to our hearts often and we have had our fair share of pitfalls, but we have also had bigger victories. We have come out stronger, wiser, and more resilient. Everyone’s journey is unique, and your authenticity and hard work will direct the course and success of that journey. Put your blinkers on, thicken your skin and work hard. Really hard. Don’t spend time looking for formulas and shortcuts to success.

You will find purpose if you have your heart in the right place.

SA: Trust your gut. Take advice, listen to critique, work on yourselves, but do not convince your inner voice to always seek validation from outside sources when it comes to your own work.

A splash of colour in the otherwise muted tone of the interior | Mysa Home by Quirk Studio | STIRworld
A splash of colour in the otherwise muted tone of the interior Image: Kuber Shah

JI: What are some things to be careful of in the Indian architecture and design circuit? Because a lot of students, and I count myself in the same pool when I graduated years back, are inundated with apprehensions about the industry.

SA: Be honest with yourself. You can’t find fulfilment in this industry unless you are sure that you want to belong. You need to sit down with yourself and figure out what excites you. The only way to find out if this line of work is cut out for you is to gain some experience in it, obviously. There is so much to the entire field, and in college, you are too sheltered from it. So that awareness and participation will give you insight.

DB: How much ever you learn in those four, five years of design school never comes close to an actual on-site project. Once you start working you realise that it might be too much for you, or is just not speaking to you at any level. So, it is better to switch or seek something else than force yourself into it. Do not take your commitments lightly. I think it is more important to listen to yourself than blindly follow what everyone else is doing just because you took a certain course because that results in half-hearted work.  

SA: You have got to take it personally because that is the only way to survive and sustain in an industry that is so demanding. As students we often only see the glamourous side of it, it’s a very curated lens but it is not the real thing.

JI: So would you say that you have made it, done what you set out to do and tasted success?

SA: We do not come from the school of thought where we will ever feel like we have truly arrived. The day we feel like that, we will not be the same passionate people that turn up on time to work daily. For instance, every Monday I step out feeling like it is my first day at work. And I want that feeling to stay with me for the rest of my life. We both want that. We know that we have bigger and many things to learn and achieve. Ever grateful for where we have managed to reach thanks to our team, our amazing clients, and everyone we have worked and interacted with till now who have shared our love for what we do.

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