Where technology meets ecology

Anjali Jhangiani
Sunday, 26 May 2019

Sarah Sham, founder, Essajees Atelier, talks about the integration of technology and eco-friendly practices in designing today

In 2014, Sarah Sham established the interior design arm of the 106-year-old company Essaejees, calling it Essajees Atelier.

She will be participating in the Design Dekko, a platform for architecture and design professionals to network, engage and collaborate with peers and consumers at Keshav Nagar today.

“The Design Dekko is a fantastic initiative in a city like Pune where there are so many new homes being built and so many home-owners who are looking for something new and exciting,” Sham says adding that she is eager to hear all kinds of different perspectives on home building because there can be no one right answer. “It’s just about what works for you and your project,” she shares. 

Currently, the interior designer has her hands full with projects — four luxury homes in Goa, four-five apartments in Mumbai, one lovely bungalow with a pool and garden in Lokhandwala, a four-storeyed retail store for a clothing brand spread over 7000 sq ft, a 5400 sq ft gym for a UK-based fitness brand which is setting up shop in Bandra, and more. We speak to her about upcoming trends in interior design which involve integration of technology, photogenic set ups, and the essential eco-friendly factor. 

Home and the environment
The way human beings are harming the environment, it is becoming extremely important to integrate some eco-friendly practices into all of our designs. “We are already trying to integrate them as much as possible. There are lots of certified clean building materials that are available, that’s because there is an awareness about the importance of using eco-friendly material,” says Sham, who insists on using clean materials in all their projects.  

A very simple way of doing this is waste water management in your bathrooms. “Water used from the tap and the shower can go through a treatment plant and that same water can be used for the commode or even for watering plants if there is an irrigation system put through the landscape of the project,” she says, adding “There is also a good practice that is being built in by some of our clients where our fee is being tied to how many eco-friendly practices the designer can integrate. This is a welcome change that has only come in the last year, but I have noticed more and more builders are including that in our contracts,” she says.

Talking about homes, which are getting smaller by the day, how do you maximise utility of space and balance it with aesthetics? “Homes are getting a lot smaller and builders are getting a lot more thrifty. In Mumbai, when people say they have a three bedroom home, usually the third bedroom is so small that it barely accommodates a bed without even leaving enough circulation space left. I think the key is to build multi-functional spaces. We make more furniture that folds down from walls, like coffee tables that become dining tables that can fold away. We have to do a lot of multi-functional spaces in order to maximise the utility of the home. Another trick with small homes, apart from obviously having storage at every point, is to add in a lot of greenery. Even if you do not have a good view outside your house, putting plants in the house gives you a breath of fresh air and makes you feel a lot happier even within the small space,” she says. 

Restaurant space
What goes hand in hand with food? Technology. With newer technology being introduced, not only is the food getting upgraded, but people are also rethinking restaurant spaces. “A lot of restaurants, primarily in America, are using artificial intelligence to track data — who has come in how many times, what they are ordering, what they should order next, where do they prefer to be seated, what time do they usually eat, the frequency with which they order certain items — so that they are able to use this information to order all of their supplies in a timely manner and provide a better experience for the customer. So, we are having to integrate technology into restaurants that want to track consumer behaviour and use the data later to help them perform much better,” says Sham, adding, “Another trend we’ve noticed in this space is that they want us to build restaurants that are very Instagram-friendly, which wasn’t the case earlier. Now many restaurateurs come to us and specifically ask us to put up an Instagram wall or an art installation or some feature with which bloggers or even regular customers are urged to take pictures with and share them on their social media. This works as a free marketing tool for the restaurant.”

There’s no denying that Instagram is affecting everything from the way we serve our food to the way we decorate spaces. Taking pictures of everything we see wherever we go, has become a habit. And interior designers are equipping themselves to deal with this behaviour, but at what cost? “While living in the Instagram era does have positive connotations, I do feel design should stay pure and true to the space. But, the prevalence of people wanting to put selfie corners and other gimmicky items into their space is becoming very common. There are quite a few studies on how even people in the age group of 50-60 are going to places that are more picturesque and more Instagrammable to share on social media. This behaviour has percolated to a restaurant, home, public space and absolutely everything that you design. So, while we have to stay aware of that, as designers it is our duty to put functionality first and then put Instagrammable appeal next or perhaps a few ranks below it,” says Sham. 

Working together
With the boom of start-ups, which prefer to work in co-working spaces, interior designers are now having the most liberal time designing workspaces. Even offices that are not co-working spaces are rethinking on how they structure their desks. So, the idea of having a permanent workstation is slowly becoming a thing of the past. While some clients ask for just one conference room and meeting room, others opt for completely open areas where employees can set up a desk and sit wherever they want everyday, because they are not required to have a designated work area,” says Sham, adding that she feels this is a wonderful thing because it blurs the line between upper management and employees and makes everyone feel like a part of the same team. 

The new mantra to manage an office is to make work fun. Many offices are doing this by providing their employees with play and rest areas. “Because of the rise of co-working spaces where they are integrating a lot of fun and team-building areas like a play, rest area, even regular office spaces are starting to see the positive effects it has on employees and want to build such an area within their premises too. I see it as a very positive move and I like that we are now reaching a point where we are rethinking the way an office should be structured,” says she. 

ST Reader Service
Design Dekko by Godrej Group, is organised at Godrej Infinity Keshav Nagar, on May 26, 12 pm onwards

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