Less is ‘Moo’

Labwerk combines twin three-bedroom apartments in Mumbai into a clean-lined, relaxed and airy residence filled with clever design tricks.


Architect Shonan Trehan

Labwerk, a two-year-old design practice, is no ordinary firm. For starters, they have no signature style. “The work we do, is always a response to the clients’ needs, inspiration from the site and culture of living,” says one of its principal architects Shonan Trehan. Then, there’s the fact that the firm has an unusual modus operandi. “We give our clients questionnaires from which we glean what their priorities are. Then our whole team sits together, brainstorming and sketching and we come up with an idea bank that we present to our clients,” Shonan explains.





A view of the main living area, which has several charming pockets within a larger space. The sofas and centre table are sourced from Urbanist, New Delhi. To the right, a portion of the living room was carved into a balcony.

Enter, clients Neeraj and Natasha, an Indo-Dutch couple, who owned two adjacent, non-descript apartments, in a building in suburban Mumbai. Shonan and Dipie Mahidharia, who were taking on the project, knew instantly that they were in for a challenge. The clients are both wildly creative, and the lady of the house is well-travelled and extremely up-to-date with trends and practices of the interior design and architecture industries. The questionnaire worked like a charm. The residence (later christened The Happy Cow Apartment) used to be twin three-bedroom apartments. Now it had to come together to form one seamless, free-flowing space filled with natural light and air. The stage was set. The stars were aligned.

To the right of the entrance, a cosy reading corner is cordoned-off from the rest of the space by a large shelving unit made of Corian and white oak.

That the project had to merge two living spaces into one was an obvious starting point, but Shonan took great pains to ensure that the end product did not look clumsily patched together. “We conceptualized the centre of the house as a cloud of light and air,” she says. The best way to proceed was to have the main living area encompass functional spaces that flowed freely as opposed to boxed-in rooms. The real magic though, starts at the front door. “We wanted the entrance to reflect both the Dutch and the Indian sides of this couple. We settled on the cow — vital to both cultures — and painted an outline in Dutch Blue,” she elaborates. The cow has cleverly been frozen in the act of moving. Visitors outside see one half of the animal, and when they enter they see the other half on the other side. “It’s the one fun and quirky element we’ve used,” smiles Shonan.

The workspace, also fitted neatly into the large common living area, boasts of some impressive on-site custom-designed storage and furniture.

Once you step in, you encounter a large seamless space, with what Shonan calls “configurations within”, all visible to the eye. To the immediate right of the entrance, a floor-to-ceiling bookcase made of white lacquer and white oak, serves as a screening element for a reading corner directly behind it. Further down, your eyes zero-in on an elegant seating arrangement with furniture sourced from Urbanist, New Delhi. The natural tones of this corner set-off the bright orange window seat. This orange is echoed in a sliver of a study that flaunts accents of the shade and some clever on-site customized shelving. The elevated dining area breaks away visually from the rest of the predominantly white space. This is a cosy, somewhat warmer-toned area, with engineered hardwood oak flooring and patterned wallpaper. The ceramic pendant light, above the Corian and oak dining table, was sourced from Amsterdam.

Another elevated area in this large, central space is a pleasant sit-out, separated from the main area by glass sliding doors. This little slice was originally part of the living room. and now offers a verdant view of mangroves and a lungful of fresh air. The kitchen, with its sliding panels, a granite counter and a clever use of white Corian and lacquered glass, looks out into the main room and is partitioned by a charming breakfast counter for two, ideal for a quick morning coffee.

The elevated dining area has a dining table made of Corian and white oak, a ceramic pendant light from Amsterdam and little niches for photographs.

There are two things that strike you immediately about this common living space. First, the unique way each individual pocket shows a visual continuity with the space in which it is housed. The white-on-white scheme is brought alive with odd pops of colour — orange in the window seat and royal blue in the library. And the material palette with its engineered marble flooring, lacquered surfaces, glass, Corian and white oak, lends itself to a clean-lined, open aesthetic. Second, the great attention paid to small details. “Most of the storage and furniture was customized on site. And since our contractor was used to working with luxurious materials, we found that all the carpentry work achieved a very neat finish,” says Shonan. This is apparent by the conspicuous absence of protruding storage units. Neatly concealed shelves slide carefully into walls, niches are revealed in unlikely places and if you were to take a cursory glance, you’d imagine the owners had no personal belongings.

A view of the master bedroom and glassed-in bathroom. A custom-designed bed and headboard lies in front of some clever storage space.

A good example of this on-site customization comes through in the master bedroom. The storage keeps popping up in unexpected places. Take the mirrored wall behind the bed — it opens up to reveal its hidden identity as a cupboard. Inside the master bathroom (housed entirely in glass), a vanity opens upward to reveal several clever niches for toiletries. The master bedroom is large and airy and has a stunning view of mangroves. As for the two guest bedrooms on the other side of the common space, Shonan decided to leave well enough alone. “We only cleaned those up a bit and let the design follow the language of the rest of the house,” she confirms.

With its eight-hour long meetings over tea and long sessions of brainstorming, the whole project was delivered in 6 months. The team constantly took cues from the idea bank drawn up at the beginning, but left some play for improvisation on site. “When you’re on site, you’ll always notice something you didn’t account for before — like the direction of the light or an exceptional view,” she says. But whether the ideas were pre-conceived or came to Labwerk like a light bulb switching on, the end result was worth every minute of the time spent. The Happy Cow apartment is everything its owners desired — beautiful, functional, clever and unique.


To create a seamless residence by combining two apartments, while making the most of natural light and using a luxurious material palette.


Walls Wallpaper Floor Engineered marble flooring, White oak hardwood Lighting LED strips, cove lighting Furniture Woven fabric sofa from Urbanist, Delhi, custom-made pieces in white oak and white lacquer Ceiling White Gypsum Ceiling


Project Happy Cow Apartment Area 2,500 sq feet Client Natasha and Neeraj Location Mumbai Principal architect Shonan Trehan Design team Dipie Mahidharia Contractor Gautam Wadhwani, Harish Trivedi Project duration 6 months


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