Scoring on Style

What it lacks in footprint, the 270-square-foot Mumbai office of design and build company Zero9 makes up in stylishly resolved details, thanks to the company’s founders and principal architects Anu Chauhan and Prashant Chauhan.

Text: Rupali Sebastian
Photographs: Pulkit Sehgal, courtesy Zero9

Architects Prashant Chauhan and Anu Chauhan

It was the window that clinched it. Outside it grew an Indian Almond whose dense foliage created a lovely point — green for some months, russet in others. “We were looking to move our office from a rented premises to our own,” discloses design and build company Zero9’s co-founder Prashant Chauhan whilst telling us how the sunlight and the tree are now their constant work companions. “But we didn’t want to settle on the first thing that came along.” Then, serendipitously, they found this space, in the very same complex where they rented their office premises. “It was like any other typical gala, and it wasn’t exactly in great shape when we saw it… But it had this window!”

The exercise of doing up the space began with a lot of undoing. Taking off wall plastering, demolishing space-fragmenting cubicles, getting rid of the false ceiling, relocating the staircase, exposing the bones… At the end of this exercise the 135-square-foot footprint was augmented by a mezzanine that allowed them to separate the general staff area (lower level) and the principals’ workspace (upper level). “This also allowed us to enjoy the full beauty of the tree. The lower level sees the trunk and foliage, but the full beauty of the canopy is actually enjoyed from the upper level,” disclose the architects.

As the studio is accessed by appointment only, walk-ins are minimal. This negates the need for a formal reception area. An anteroom with a high table and bar-style stools functions as a multipurpose area for discussions/reception. A column near the entrance serves as board to display the firm’s many accomplishments.

To create a clutter-free lower level, which would have to meet the demands of a general staff area, its 8’ x 16’ rectangular footprint was zoned into an anteroom (parallel to the entrance) and the remaining portion was sectioned into three linear portions. While the two to the side would accommodate the staff area, the central one was kept free. This delineation was underscored by outlining the central portion with thin brass strips inlaid in the terrazzo floor and further ornamenting it with brass inlays of various types of leaves: oblong simple ones of frangipani, broad cut ones of the monstera and a palmate one of a roadside weed. “It creates a welcoming gesture of sorts,” says Prashant. “The layout follows the concept of parallel lines with its workstations, lighting layout, brass inlay lines on the floor — all aligned to the two walls. The white terrazzo flooring has inserts of brass leaves to maintain the continuity of the view of plants/trees seen through
the window.”

The anteroom — which was created in lieu of a formal reception as this is a by-appointment-only studio — is a multipurpose area. Its casual nature is communicated by its furniture: a high table accompanied by stools. “It serves for a quick chat if anyone does drop. The absence of anything formal discourages needless conversation,” elucidates Anu.

The lower level or the staff area has sandfaced plastered walls. The linear footprint was apportioned into three long zones. While the two on the side were designated as staff seating, the central one was kept deliberately free of any encumbrances and delineated with thin brass strips inlaid in the terrazzo floor. Within this section were ‘sprinkled’ more inlays, this time in the form of variously shaped leaves. This strategy achieved two things: a clutter-free look and an exaggerated linearity, which was again underscored with the central strip-light which runs through the ceiling. The window at this level is shaded against the bright sunlight. The niche in the ceiling houses an air conditioner.

The vibe of the studio is informal and friendly, rendered through materials imbued with high tactile and textural values. Having taken down the old plaster, some exposed brick walls have been simply painted over; others have been finished in sandfaced plaster. Columns and beams, denuded again of plaster to expose concrete, have been machine-polished to grey smoothness. The staircase block, the flooring of the upper level and some parts of its walls are clad in concrete micro-topping to harmonize with the structural members. The ceiling of the upper level has been roughly handplastered in POP. Furniture and some storage units feature woven surfaces. Mirror, used on overhead storage (lower level) and a wall (upper level) to illusorily expand dimensions, adds a counter-point to this rusticity.

The principal architects’ cabin is housed on the mezzanine, and affords green views of the Indian Almond that stands almost next to their window. The floor and the desk is lined in micro-topped concrete, while the ceiling is partly hand-plastered and partly machine-polished. The latter portion, which is clad in concrete, has concentric contour-map-like rings which add more visual interest.

The design process eschewed waste — and indeed the philosophy is boldly proclaimed on the staircase wall: waste is a design flaw. This is why there are no regular office chairs. “They have too many parts which, when damaged, have to be simply thrown away,” says Anu. “Plus, today’s office chairs are so comfortable that people tend to lounge around in them. We wanted to change that; we wanted an alert staff. So now we have metal chairs instead. They are comfortable, of course, but not so much that staff can slack off,” she smiles. Another shining example of the thrifty approach is the staircase wall — what Prashant calls the ‘sample wall’ — and the shutters of the storage in the principals’ cabin. Both use samples collected over the years, now transformed into eye-catching collages. “This is the heart of the space,” says Prashant of the staircase wall. “We wanted a sleek staircase that was more of a hang-out space than a transition element.” The shutters — an eclectic amalgamation of tiles, stones swatches, veneers and the like — are actually mood boards which can be easily removed and carried to client meetings.

These compositions show the coming together of different materials and textures: the beam is machine-polished concrete; the wall is painted exposed brick; the ceiling is rough hand-plastering while the portion to the left and the floor is topped with a thin 3mm concrete coat. To this, the weave of the long shutter and the collage of sample materials on the shutters of the console-like storage, add another visual overlay.

Given that this was their own space, the founders of the practice could indulge in a fair amount of experimentation. The concrete micro-topping of the staircase block and the upper level is one instance — the architects are keen on seeing how the material behaves with constant use. The wickerwork of the sample baskets — which carry materials, project-wise and are neatly stored under the staircase — is another. “We got these done locally, from people who are traditional basket-weavers,” reveals Anu. “This was a learning process for us; there are so many types of weaves. We have one that’s not commonly done. It’s all about how strong you want the product to be.”

The sample baskets are also an example of how functionality and requirements has been aesthetically resolved as one smart solution. There are others too. Like the wood-and-wicker panels that can be suspended near the workstations, should the staff area need visual privacy, with the denser work at the centre and the more porous work at the top and bottom.

The staircase block is clad in concrete micro-topping — a material which is continued to the mezzanine. The space under the stairs is used for storage — which isn’t a novelty by itself. The smartness comes from the fact that the architects have put in customized woven baskets that store materials for ongoing projects — one basket, one project. So when there’s a site meeting, all the team has to do is grab the right basket, and they’re ready for it! The staircase wall features samples, interspersed with inspirational quotes. The wall is a dynamic element, and can be easily added to or subtracted from

Similarly, the rounded junctions of the ceiling and walls (of the lower level) which are fitted with lighting to create a levitating effect, to alleviate the compactness of space. And the air-conditioner of the lower level which has been recessed into the ceiling such that its housing protrudes into the mezzanine and functions as the support for Prashant’s table above.

Zero9’s office shows smartness and stylishness operate independently of size and budget — all it takes is thinking out of the box.

To create an efficient workspace that would exemplify how small samples can be tailor-made to specific requirements and create an impression at the same time.

Walls/wall cladding: Sandfaced plaster, concrete micro-topping, mirror, painted exposed brick, hand-plastered POP with embossed writing
Staircase block: Concrete micro-topping
Ceiling: Paint, rough hand-plastering, machine-polished concrete
Finishing of structural members: Machine-polished concrete
Floor: Terrazzo with brass inlay, concrete micro-topping
Storage shutters: Mirror, collages of eclectic sample materials

Project: Zero9 office
Location: Oshiwara, Andheri (West), Mumbai
Area: 270 sq ft (including mezzanine)
Principal architects: Anu Chauhan and Prashant Chauhan
Styling for Photography: Zainab Badani and Prerna Mehra