Sense and Sensibility

Refurbishing projects have an appeal of their own, finds out architects Huzefa Rangwala and Jasem Pirani, of MuseLAB, as they give a Mumbai apartment a fresh new start while ensuring its old treasures enjoy a prominent place in the new design.

Text: Carol Ferrao
Photographs: Sameer Tawde, courtesy MuseLAB

As you enter the refurbished apartment, the newly-introduced foyer greets you with its stylized white composite and grey quartz flooring. The pivoted fluted glass shutters in pine wood screen the living area.

A perfectionist (read: passionate) client, an airy, well-lit 4BHK Mumbai apartment, a treasure trove of art collectibles and books — lots of them — and a shared design sensibility are the key elements of the story we’re about to unveil. MuseLAB was trustingly handed this residential project by a new client out of pure merit, thanks to their digital presence that impressed them from among the sea of firms they came across online. “After they found us, it was a call on our landline, an introductory meeting on site, three calls to our previous clients — who thankfully recommended us — and we were on board,” explain the firm’s principal architects Huzefa Rangwala and Jasem Pirani.

Both architects were impressed with the apartment’s “extremely positive vibes,” mainly the great cross-ventilation and natural light that flooded the space all day long. They noticed right away that the plus-shaped, 700-square-foot living cum dining space had a lot of potential. Their role would be to “reimagine the space planning-wise, and also use a lot of the existing furniture and art (collected over the years from various travels) whilst meeting the client’s brief.” Specifically, they — the matriarch of the home — wanted Huzefa Rangwala and Jasem Pirani Architects a formal living area, a dining room, a den or a sack-out space and a very large library since everyone in the family is an avid reader. “Apart from this, we had to create a utility room which was the heart of the house for the client, a stickler for perfection herself,” add the architects. Two of the bedrooms also needed a makeover, but, the other two rooms and the kitchen were excluded from the scope of work.

Vibrant blue walls form a perfect backdrop for the mostly up-cycled heirloom furniture, some of which dates back to the 1940s.

As they set out to design the space, the architects reached for a mid-century modern aesthetic, which would give them the desired blend between formal and organic, and was “stylized with a certain effortlessness”, thus perfectly responding to the client’s wishes and her tastes. The design, which is integrated with nature, relies on open floor plans in the living space, where the function is characterized by simplicity in forms and natural shapes. Impressively, no vast civil changes were made to the apartment; even the living room flooring was retained. “The clients really liked the marble provided by the developers. We only polished it to a matte semi-mirror finish,” point out Huzefa and Jasem.

With minimal intrusions, the architects fused the new requirements in an organic manner. The entrance was now transformed into a foyer, cordoned off by pivoted shutters in A close-up of the faceted Flexi-ply cabinet whose form and finish respond to site’s soft and hard landscape. Both adults and children find this furniture element extremely fascinating. A close-up of the faceted Flexi-ply cabinet whose form and finish respond to site’s soft and hard landscape. Both adults and children find this furniture element extremely fascinating. fluted glass and stained pine wood.

Towering with different configurations, the bookshelf is designed in MS box sections and coated in PU finish. An existing diwan unit is tucked into the architecture of the library, creating a cozy nook by the small windows.

To the right of the foyer is the kitchen, whereas the utility is given a dedicated space on the left. The white composite and grey quartz flooring distinguishes the foyer, almost like a rug in patterned stone, which flows partly into the living area through the shutters. “The width of each row reduces as we move towards the shutters thereby creating a skewed perspective. The challenge here was to cut the existing marble flooring and place the new tiles within it,” highlight the architects.

The vibrant, bluish green palette from the foyer, too, spills into the main living area. But it is the large library bang opposite that gives the home its identity. Heirloom furniture and an envious collection of books all enjoy a new place of prominence in the house. “In front of the library is the formal living area comprising up-cycled sofas and a set of cane furniture from the 1940s that belonged to the client’s mother,” share the architects. “We went around refurbishing a lot of the existing pieces of furniture and in the process, gave a new lease of life to them — some of which ended up being our favourites like the coffee tables and side tables whose glass tops were replaced with stretched hexagonal tiles in light and dark grey.”

A forested dining ambience is created by the painstakingly sourced suar wood table, which is set aglow by the pendant lights from Voylite.

Built from scratch, the trailing bookshelf was the first design presented to the client and despite initial requests to modify it slightly, the architects were able to convince them to retain it. In the end, they loved the result. A sliding tall unit, made in stained pine wood and fluted glass, serves as an extension to the main unit and maintains the sense of versatility in the design. The CNC milled bar, the deep daybed in the den, the fabricated console in white composite stone and the suar wood dining table are the other new additions to space, which, surprisingly, don’t fight for attention but still refresh the ambience. “We love to customize our furniture pieces and each of these were designed and built by us,” mentions Huzefa.

One of the quaintest space in the house is the eight-seater dining area to the right of the living room. The suar wood table that defines this space is not only a customized gem but a labour of love. “The client personally went to the lanes of Mustafa Bazaar in Mazgaon and Kurla (both in Mumbai) to source the wood until she found a few pieces that she liked,” says Jasem. Together, they shortlisted this particular piece for the dining table and fitted it with fabricated, mild steel legs to complete the ensemble. This process alone took a month but it was “well worth the time” for all involved. There is almost, a rustic, outdoor dining vibe present in this space. The table is paired with wooden wall art and hanging planters in the corner, and drapes filter the light like tall trees would.

Seen as an extension to the cane sofas in the living room, the matriarch’s room
is framed by the cane headboard and cane bedside table.

A similar quaint ambience is seen in the matriarch’s room, which, along with the son’s room, falls to the left of the library. Painted in a light English green, with cane furniture as an apt offset, this room is subtlety at its finest. The cane headboard and the bedside table drawer are an intentional extension to the cane sofas in the living room. “She leads a simple life, and the aesthetics such as the warmth of the wood furniture pieces combined with the English undertones matched her personality perfectly,” explain the architects. The son’s room is just as subtle but with a hint of youthfulness that is exemplified by the laminated wooden flooring in a fishbone pattern, the tiled brick wall that is painted in white and the rather large teakwood bed and its bold aztec-patterned headrest.

Be it the use of bold colours and patterns, the choice of materials or construction techniques and the details, the design philosophy and aesthetic sensibilities of the client and the architects aligned perfectly resulting in this inviting, unpretentious abode. “This was a collaborative process in the true sense of the word. As designers, normally a client’s involvement can be seen as interference that might hinder the progress of the project. In this case, it was extremely resourceful. Her involvement actually helped further the design. Of course, there were a few arguments along the way, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable process,” quips Huzefa. A good tussle is a further proof that two passionate teams came together to give this home a fresh new beginning.

To re-imagine the spatial planning of a home, giving it a simple yet sophisticated upgrade that incorporate key elements such as the client’s collection of art, books, and heirloom furniture.

Floor: Existing Diana marble floor
Walls: Paint
Ceiling: Paint
Display Units: Mild steel fabrication and PU coating
Partitions: Fluted glass, stained pine wood shutters
Furniture: Wood, stone, mild free fabrication

Project: 4-BHK apartment
Location: Sion, Mumbai
Area: 2,000 sq ft
Principal architects: Huzefa Rangwala and Jasem Pirani
Design team: Akshaya Mestry
PMC: Shree Interiors
Furniture: Mass Interiors
Electrician: Ram Bachan Yadav
Plumbing: Rajendraji