Yellowtide!

Cocooned in a cheerful yellow minimalistic shell, and dotted with handpicked contemporary artworks and succulents; it’s “happy hours” 24×7 at the Kozhikode office of Limotex, designed by Humming Tree.

Text: Deepa Nair
Photographs: Justin Sebastian, courtesy Humming Tree

Architects Mohammed Afnan and Arun Shekar

“Life is too short for boring, plain walls…” say the young architect duo Mohammed Afnan and Arun Shekar who are the mains of Kozhikode-based creative studio, Humming Tree. This statement is the apt tagline for their recently concluded project, an office space for construction and infrastructure company Limotex, also based in Kozhikode. With 40 years of experience in the industry and having close association with the design community, the chief at Limotex knew exactly what he wanted in his new office space. He partnered with Humming Tree after visiting Paddock (a premium auto showroom in Kannur, Kerala) created by Afnan and Arun — the client was impressed with their quirky taste in design. The brief to the architects therefore was extremely sharp: the office was to have two lives.

Walk into a happy space… the reception, resplendent in a mustard yellow hue, is the most striking of all the areas of the Limotex office. Note the sunlight streaming through the glass wall which faces the west. It was a conscious decision by the designers to break open an existing wall to allow natural light into this space.

Simply put, it should be a dynamic space which wears an “enjoy-work ethos” and one which is filled with daylight. Most importantly he wanted the workspace to shun the typical exposed material avatar prominent in most builder offices. The typical requirements for the office was minimal: a reception, lounge, workspace for five, a manager’s cabin, a multi-purpose conference room, a small pantry and a washroom. As Limotex was working towards a paperless office (they were going completely digital), the storage requirement was minimal.

A view of the entire office from the entrance — the waiting lounge is placed next to the reception, while the manager’s cabin appears on the right followed by the conference room at the far end.

These unique requisites gave way to an equally distinctive design philosophy. “We did not want to make something having complex aesthetics,” Afnan and Arun explain. “And as the client was after a minimal, outlandish look, we decided on the design language of contemporary art galleries for the office,” they add. But before the actual work on the design, the 1,010-square-foot space on the ground floor of a building which Limotex identified as their office-to-be had to undergo a few structural altercations. “The space was claustrophobic with walls here and there,” inform the architects. “We had to break open few walls to let natural light in, and to keep the plan open. It also had this beautiful area which had a west opening, towards the reception, and it was closed by walls. We pulled it down. The internal walls were removed and glass was proposed instead,” they add.

The flow of space after the structural changes is linear — one enters into a west-facing, sun-kissed reception area, and next to it is a waiting lounge with a Prussian blue couch adjacent to a small workspace divided by a black glass partition. Ahead of it is the cabin for the manager and a beautiful mirror reflecting conference room which brings the outdoor greens in and makes the most of pleasant, ambient daylight, which in turn saves on electricity.

The black and white waiting lounge is marked by a couch in Prussian blue fabric and a centre table which was picked from Dubai. The floor lamp is customised by Humming Tree from a local lighting shop. The only artwork here is made in marble which is displayed against the white hued wall. The Ficus Elastica plants with its rich dark green leather finish textured leaves also adds interest.

Although the space planning may seem elementary, Afnan and Arun made sure that each nook and cranny of this compact office is filled with character, and a sense of wow! For the same, every single element and colour added here has a well thought out and clever design move. Let’s go back to where it all starts, the reception. As soon as one enters the office, they are enveloped, or as the designers like to call it “punched” with a warm and summery yellow hue. Moving in, the palette slowly shifts between blacks, whites (at the waiting lounge) and a glimpse of green (through planters) giving the workspace depth. But primarily, yellow dominates the Limotex office… a choice which was made after witnessing the sun setting in the west and the light hitting the reception area. As the designers wanted something bright which just makes the ambience of this place cheerful, yellow was a natural choice. “All the colours we choose go hand-in-hand in interior design schemes. We wanted to somehow break the vibe of yellow, which can be overpowering at times, and have control in the colour palette. Office interior design is not just about furniture and ambience. We have to deeply understand how all of these colours could co-exist creating a uniform balance within the interiors,” explains Arun.

Behind the waiting lounge and a black see-thorough glass lies a work zone for few people. While the straight-lined table is made from plywood with a Corian top finish, the chairs are crafted in metal. The only storage unit in the office is flushed into the wall here.

While colours add the punch, the other elements (read furniture, accessories and artwork) add to the drama. Although the furniture and some artefacts were sourced keeping in mind the latest trends, the lighting and artworks (paintings, prints and sculptures) was curated by Humming Tree. So you’ll find the famous Balloon Dog created by American artist Jeff Koons proudly sitting atop the sleek reception desk. Also subtly making its presence known are the two bespoke statement rod lights which highlight the Balloon Dog.

Vintage postcards were recreated to adorn the walls of the passageway and manager’s cabin. Also seen here, the striking San Pedro cactus.

The other tailor-made lighting pieces strike a pose in the lounge area, the manager’s cabin, and the conference room. Staff and visitors who use the conference room are greeted first by the elegant Eames Home Crow in black, another art piece designed by Charles and Ray Eames. Other artworks — which can be found in the passageway, and manager’s cabin — have an interesting story. “The client had these vintage art postcards which he had acquired on one of his travels. They were quite dear to him so we had them illustrated from the office, blown up to the desired scale and framed,” says Afnan.

Another talking point of the office is sculptural, albeit in a more fresh and living form — the San Pedro cactus — which can be spotted at strategic corners through the office. “San Pedro cactus is our bae for the season,” smile the architects. “We always like to experiment with the interior landscape of a place. Very few designers use cacti in India as a potential element in design and we love to give new elements a try. We have used tropical plants in most of our previous projects and when we studied about San Pedro, we found it is locally available in Kerala. It is one of the most beautiful landscape elements we have come across; easy to grow and maintain. It also looks amazing in interiors and creates a perfect contrast to yellow walls,” they explain.

 

The conference room is filled with natural light and freshness thanks to a glass window beyond which Calathea Lutea plants stand tall. The table is customised using a nano white marble top fixed on mild steel framed legs, while the chairs are sourced from Dubai. A mirrored wall helps reflect the rich green from outdoors to the indoors and also makes the space look larger. Note the Eames Home Crow in black which sits pretty on the table.

Talking about the challenges in this project, Afnan and Arun tell me that the decision to have the reception painted three-dimensionally in yellow was a tough choice to make. That this bold move certainly paid off is evident when the client send them wonderful compliments. “This reception space is certainly Instagramable, and they now call it the wall of the office!” beam the young architect duo. Now that calls for a happy dance!

CONCEPT
A light-filled dynamic space which wears an enjoy-work ethos and one which is filled with daylight.

MATERIALS
Floor: Vinyl
Walls: Paint
Partitions: Glass
Lighting fixtures: Metal

FACT FILE
Project: Hello Yellow
Client: Limotex
Location: Kozhikode, Kerala
Area: 1,010 sq ft
Principal architects: Mohammed Afnan and Arun Shekar
Lighting engineers: Lights, Kozhikode