Exclusive: Lockdown diaries with celebrated architect and designer Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar
Finding his calling in design was natural for Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar whose growing up years were heavily influenced by two women - his mother, an alumnus of JJ School of Arts and an interior designer, and his grandmother, who would rope him into creative activities like glass painting, weaving Chindy rugs or storytelling during his vacations.
With an apprenticeship under his mother’s guidance at the age of 14, followed by a degree in architecture design from Parsons School of Design in New York, Kunaal was set to enter the world of design on his own after his return to India in 2012 and that very year, he opened studioHAUS - an avant-garde studio for architecture services. Five years later, he launched Koy, a lifestyle brand that houses an array of interior furnishing elements and products.
In less than a decade, Kunaal’s multi-faceted design practice has grown into a state-of-the-art studio and workshop and his work has gained him recognition in some of the biggest design shows around the world. After achieving so much in such a less time, how is he finding this lockdown phase, we reached out to him to understand his life in lockdown and asked him to share some tips for our readers. Excerpts:
Q: When did you find yourself getting fascinated with the world of design?
My upbringing was heavily influenced by two extraordinary women, who are both creatively charged and awe-inspiring in their own style. My mother is an alumnus of JJ School of Arts and an Interior Designer. My first apprenticeship was under her guidance at the age of 14, where she groomed me to the nuances of design that one only learns on the job. Secondly, my grandmother, who from my early childhood days would rope me into creative activities during my vacations like glass painting, weaving Chindy rugs or storytelling. Till date, I am seeking their ideas when it comes to referencing ancient Indian art or craft forms, as their cumulative knowledge in the matter is beyond any virtual library.
Throughout my schooling, I have been involved in the arts, from my education in the International Baccalaureate (IB), where I undertook art studies at a higher level, including my dissertation, to my further studies at Parsons School of Design in architecture.
Q: How would you describe StudioHAUS and KOY to people who aren't familiar with the brands and your work?
Upon returning to Pune in 2012, I launched studioHAUS, with the idea to create luxury products and spaces that would appeal to a discerning, contemporary clientele. It is a multi-disciplinary design practice, where I work closely with a passionate team of thinkers, designers, architects, craftsmen and creators.
KOY is a concept store with an eclectic mix of furniture and lifestyle products that encapsulate the spirit of contemporary India and celebrates our country’s rich culture and heritage, with an aim to take it to a wider audience. The name is derived from ‘koi’ fish. I like the Asian philosophy about the koi fish, where it is said to swim to the top of the waterfall and were rewarded by being transformed into golden dragons – connotative of power and strength. That is also the philosophy of KOY – imagining utilitarian pieces of furniture as pieces of functional art.
Q: Now that it has been some days that you are confined to your home, how are you finding this phase? Also, what is keeping you occupied?
With each passing day hitting harder, we are all uniquely placed in this situation yet tied together with a common thread of empathy. This excess of time has allowed us all to take a breather from the everyday race as a universal reset. I’m grateful to be at home, in my ‘happy place’. I have taken this time to virtually connect with friends from around the world, spend quality time with family and pets and brush up on skills by indulging in online masterclasses.
Q: There must be some things that you would have put under 'when I will have time, I will do this' wish list. Were you able to do any of it during this lockdown?
I have been working on collaborations with prominent international brands, designing and producing collections for them. This time has allowed me to stretch my creativity and create more variations and designs.
I love collages, I consider it my hobby and I have been devoting some time there to create computer-generated renditions of my concepts for clients and brand proposals.
Q: Has this lockdown brought any change in how you perceive life?
Home is my happy place and my desk has always been the place where I design but during this time, it’s been difficult to be productive with the stress and emotions. This year started off very busy as we were preparing for my solo showcase at Milan Design Week. The lockdown just came and overtook everything, reminding me that nothing is in our control. I have decided to take it in my stride, as a sign from nature to embrace and adapt with time.
Q: Can you please suggest some tips and tricks for people who want to use this time to redo their homes?
Play with textures, tones and materials to find what best suits the aesthetic of your home. Revealing floor surfaces as much as possible will help keep your home cool in the heat of an Indian summer; a cold stone floor is extremely relaxing to walk on during this season. Woollen rugs trap a lot of heat, ensure that you skip these as the temperatures soar, alternatively use hemp or jute rugs if need be.
I would recommend maximising passive design strategies - incorporating cross ventilation, reducing direct heat gain, and adding plants not only for shade but also for cleaner air. Do not miss out on bathroom and kitchen ventilation which is key to remove to trapped heat. Summer is taxing on energy usage; decrease its consumption as much as possible. For instance, one can reduce the amount of lighting used to cut the heat and create an environment of tranquillity and restrict the amount of AC usage by substituting it with cross ventilation and a fan.
Q: What are some don'ts one should keep in mind while designing their own house?
I think it is important to focus on the essentials in a space; a statement piece of furniture combined with an eccentric art on the wall is the perfect way to be personal yet expressive of your individualistic style. By studying the spatial flow of the house and using that to highlight these features is favoured while designing homes.
Q: You are also an actor...
I think most of my dreams revolve around the creative world; I always wanted to be in this field professionally. So, being creative is what drives me; movies, fashion or design, I would like to keep exploring in any form I can.
Q: Lastly, what’s next?
I have an upcoming collection of designer products exploring novel materials from around the world. The range consists of glassware, furniture, wallpapers and architectural finishes with my international brand collaborations. I am also working on my own ready to wear fashion label, KOYTOY, a young, inclusive homegrown brand that includes clothing, jewellery and wellness products.