Natural Charm

Surat-based architecture and interior design firm Design Ritmo rejuvenate a dilapidated structure to create an office for themselves that is at home with nature.

Text: Rupali Sebastian; Photographs: Ravi Kanade, courtesy Design Ritmo

Architect Ranjitha Govindraj
Designer Dipesh Kheni

“The roots of a beautifully grown design, lie where there is a perfect sync of nature and workspace.”

This is how Surat-based Design Ritmo view design, and when it came to setting up an office for themselves, the 11-year-old studio treated this statement as their design lodestar. Thankfully, the site they identified for their future workspace allowed the inclusion of nature in great quantities. “The first impression of the site was mixed…” reminisces Design Ritmo’s principal designer Dipesh Kheni. “The site was untouched since eight years. It was ravaged… with a lot of wilderness around it…” But the tangle of green brought with it fauna, the chirping of birds, and triggering visions of a workspace that respected the homes of the local fauna, where the landscape was planned such that the structure became part of it. “And the thought was translated into reality by having a lush belt of green on three sides of the structure, acting as a screen from the surrounding residential locality and making the inner space more concentrated,” reveals principal architect Ranjitha Govindraj. The intention, she adds further, was to create a home-like workspace for the “Design Ritmo family”.

The entrance porch with river-washed kota flooring, the vertical garden and the terracotta-hued wall communicates the design ethos within: earthy, natural, welcoming…

Internal alterations involved gutting down internal walls, rejuvenating the structural framework and a small intervention to the configuration of the fenestration. The zoning of the rectangular footprint was dictated by a logical work-flow and usability of space. The centrally positioned entrance on the west wall facilitated this by enabling the positioning of the master cabin and conference room to the right and the general staff area across it, keeping the central space free for a waiting area. Thus, “the clients who come for a meeting can directly go to right without disturbing the studio, and the agencies who have come to receive data or information can go to left, and do their work without disturbing us or any meeting,” reason the heads at Design Ritmo, which evinces special interest in projects that lie at the intersection between interior design and architecture. The most challenging aspect of the project revolved around working out services in an existing structure — which the design team smartly circumvented by retaining the position of the services, and planning around it.

The office thrives in seamlessness and visual connectivity. For instance, the reception looks into the master cabin and conference area through wood and glass partitions, allowing the design team to see visitors.

The three main zones — the waiting space, studio and the executive/principals’ area — enjoy different ambiences. For instance, the central waiting owes its welcoming, lounge-like appearance to the warm colour palette and limited use of lighting elements. On the other hand, the studio is an unapologetically extroverted entity with chilled-out, fun vibes, open to the north with a multi-functional deck that becomes a workshop, a place for model-making or an area for al fresco meals. The executive area is inward-looking, softly lit and with minimal openings; a spatial manifestation of intense thought and deliberation. The lighting strategy also arose out of the zoning: the studio area receives daylight through the day and therefore is minimally dependent on artificial light; the conference area, waiting room and main cabin have “concentrated” artificial lighting. Additionally, the main cabin, which has openings on the south, has a thick screen of green which blocks harsh sunlight.

The studio spills into an extended deck, making refreshing greens a part of the work-day.Delicate terracotta pendants create strategically positioned pools of light.

Elevationally, the core design thought of being one with the natural surroundings was chromatically expressed as simple terracotta-coloured expanses punctuated by a vertical garden. Internally, the material and colour palette was an outcome of budget constraints, a conceptually-driven overall ambience and a desire for artistic indulgence. Thus, recycled wooden legs for supports, modified terracotta lighting fixtures, jute ropes, kota, and plywood polished in its natural grains. “The subtle and cost effective materials… obscure the boundary between a budgeted project and achieving the desired aesthetics,” discloses Dipesh.

The principals at Design Ritmo are very satisfied with the way things have turned out. “Designing for one’s self allows you to achieve everything that was thought and imagined,” they say. “And our office is more than what we expected.”

To create a homely workspace using an earthy material palette and elements; one that would be respectful of the local flora and fauna.

Entrance stairs: River-washed kota
Porch: Metal sheet with handprinted elementsWalls: Paint
Internal flooring: Mirror-polished kota
Ceiling of waiting area: Rope-work of jute
Storage in master cabin: Plywood and paint
Pendant light fixtures: Terracotta

Project: Design Ritmo office
Location: Althan, Surat
Area: 780 sq ft (carpet)
Principal architect: Ranjitha Govindraj
Principal designer: Dipesh Kheni
Design team: Jinkal Virani, Krishna Bhanderi, Priyanka Italiya, Nidhi Kheni and Ronak Khambhadiya