A Good Head Start

Mindful of the strict budget and timelines, interior designer Manmeet Arora of LOC Design House creates an effervescent Mumbai office for legal start-up Jerome Merchant + Partners that commensurate with its young nature.

Text: Rupali Sebastian; Photographs: Kunal Bhatia, courtesy LOC Design House

Interior Designer Manmeet Arora

The concerns for start-up workspaces are typical, mostly revolving around how much money is being spent on creating it, and how soon it can be used. The office for Jerome Merchant + Partners was no different. When five legal eagles decided to fly independently, as it were, they needed things to be actioned quickly — and economically. In interior designer Manmeet Arora of LOC Design House, they found a kindred spirit — in that, being a young designer herself, she was perfectly aware of how much anxiety such issues could cause. Turning the 1,600-square-foot premises rented in downtown Mumbai, therefore, for her became a balancing act between budget and delivery.

“I had to pick my battles when it came to this project. If I used mild steel somewhere, for instance, I had to offset that cost and time by using a material that was quicker in application and easier on the pocket elsewhere,” recalls Manmeet, who swears by user-centricity and attention to detail for creating spaces that are individualistic, personalized and bespoke. “We aspire to deliver spaces that are hallmarked by an experiential flavour — which can be truly admired not merely by seeing, but by using,” she adds.

A pronounced geometric flavour rendered through the solid/void bookshelves, the ceiling grid and the glass wall detail.

The space already had an existing office set-up, with a spatial configuration of a bygone era — typified by a veritable “maze of cabins”. The primary design thought was directed towards making the work-life of people lively and interactive. This was manifested through an open-style spatial configuration, bursts of colours and a play of simple geometry. The first item to be checked off Manmeet’s list was contextualizing the space to fit present requirements. Ergo, the designer gutted down multiple partitions that fragmented the floor plate to liberate the space. The only exception to this was the conference room — which was kept intact, including its glass walls. No other civil changes were made. Post creating the mandatory reception/waiting area, the space that remained had to toe the openness line. This was achieved by positioning the glass-walled private cabins of the five partners on the periphery, bordering the central space which would accommodate associates and ancillary functions. This strategy engendered a sense of accessibility that the partners sought, facilitating the partner-associate interaction. “The layouts of the cabins,” elucidates the designer, “were driven by their users… so you don’t see a standard treatment. The art, the orientation, the seating — even their chairs — are all different.”

Interior Photography by Kunal Bhatia, of P&C Legal Office designed by LOC Design House. Only Editorial Usage rights granted to LOC Design House. No rights to any third party. Copyrights belong to photographer.

With the budget and timeline being paramount, the designer wisely decided to reuse as many existing elements as possible to reduce the pecuniary burden and effect quick turnaround. Materials were selected based on cost and how quick the application could be. Wallpapers and laminate floor, therefore, seemed natural choices for walls and flooring respectively. Old glass panels were reused with wooden strips — in lieu of metal, whose fabrication is time-consuming and expensive — creating charming Georgian-style transparent expanses. “Glass was largely used for two reasons: it was available on site as part of the old set up; and it worked well with the open feel of the office. Almost 60 per cent of the glass in this office is reused,” reveals the designer.

An abridged waiting area, just outside the cabins of the partners, towards one end. The wooden floor-to-ceiling screen is visually porous, allowing partners glimpses of the associate bay that lies on the other side.

Other than glass, light-on-the-eye partitioning also respected seamlessness. This strategy takes shape as a white-painted MS bookshelf — with rhythmic solids and voids — that acts as a screen between the conference room and informal meeting area on one side and the entrance passage and work area on the other side. This was also designed to hold the firm’s collections of legal manuals and handbooks. The element acts as a design focal point and a graphic backdrop for the informal meeting room. “We used MS because of the thinness of the plates. A plywood fabrication would have been bulky. Also, it could be fabricated off-site,” discloses Manmeet. The bookshelf also reinforces another element that brings the spatial treatment together: geometry. The gridded surface of the existing panel ceiling (which Manmeet decided to retain), the lattices on the glass expanses and the matrices of the bookshelves join hands to lend a pleasing cadence to the space.

Glass was high up in the material list because of the requirement for interactivity — both within partners and with associates. The colour scheme of white and pale blue is a common denominator that ties these spaces together.

While the short timeline precluded customization of furniture, the designer ensured a curated selection from purveyors of quality pieces. The lighting strategy was kept simple: a two-layered configuration featuring functional lighting alongside a few decorative hanging lights and floor lamps. Chromatically speaking, black and white formed the base of the colour scheme, punctuated by bursts of sky blue and coral for accent. White with black lines renders a spacious, characterful feel; while coral and blue hues imbue the space with freshness. “When I started with the project, the idea was to create something that would last a couple of years. It was a rented space, and the firm was young, growing. So they’d want to move out at some point,” says Manmeet. “I got a call from the clients some time back. They’d done well, and needed to expand — but hadn’t the heart to let this space go!”

When it came to private cabins, the design eschewed standardization. The seating orientation, artwork and accessorization takes into account personal preferences.

The project exemplifies the sensitivity of the designer to the constraints and challenges faced by the clients, and the endeavour to circumvent them through contextual, thoughtful design. With a judiciously selected material palette that kept the budget in mind, reuse of elements and a short turnaround time of 75 days, the designer ensured a spatial realignment that minimized financial outlay, giving the legal start-up a good start!

CONCEPT
To create an energetic, interactive workspace for a legal start-up quickly and as economically as possible.

MATERIALS
Ceiling: Panelled, existing
Floor: Laminate
Partitions: Reused glass with wooden strips and painted MS blocks

FACT FILE
Project: Office for Jerome Merchant + Partners
Location: Nariman Point, Mumbai
Area: 1,600 sq ft
Principal designer: Manmeet Arora
Design team: Zahra Plumber, Afshan