SMALL TALK WITH SIAN PASCALE, ARCHITECT AND DESIGNER
I bonded with Sian Pascale the first time I met her over our shared adoration for her hometown Melbourne, where I too lived in a past life. I quickly fell in love with her work when I discovered Pi ke puht, her terracotta chai cups embedded with seeds, designed and destined to germinate once they are discarded. I've kept up with her online since, enjoying her fun experiments and fresh eyes in the city. In 2013, Sian launched her own design studio Young Citizens, responsible for the interiors at Kombava and the ArtLoft, Yoga101, and the ultra charming Abode, Bombay's first boutique hotel.
There's a lot to love about Abode, a sweet little sanctuary from the mental chaos of Bombay, a contemporary space that borrows heavily from Bombay's heritage. Thoughtfully designed and artfully decorated, it has high ceilings, art deco furniture, beautiful Bharat tiles, clawfoot bathtubs, locally sourced blooms, and an already well stocked library amongst other good things.
Last week I paid her a quick visit.
So what brought you to Bombay?
I got to a point in my career where I wanted to explore and come overseas again. And there were two people who I really admired. One was Olafur Eliasson and he’s based in Berlin, he’s an artist. The other was Bijoy Jain, he’s an architect who runs Studio Mumbai. So I decided to come to Bombay, explore his work and see if I could meet him or see what comes of it. I thought look, if it works out, it works out. If not, I’ll head down to Mysore and do my yoga teacher training. And I came here and ended up staying for two years.
How did you first get involved with architecture or design?
I studied architecture. I’d always made things, and I had always been a very spatial person. The way I thought about my room, when I was young, I’d be redecorating, I’d be painting, I’d driving my mother mad. But I never had the influence in my life to say 'hey you would be a good designer', it wasn’t part of my schooling and no one was an architect in my family. So it was just kind of luck that I came across architecture. I loved design and also I loved history so I thought I’d do the course just for the enjoyment of doing the course. But it changed the way I saw the world, so it was through university I suppose.
What is a project that is particularly special to you?
Tell me a little bit about Abode - particularly about the concept and inspiration.
I was approached by the client for this beautiful old bulding in Colaba. It was an existing hotel that hadn’t really been looked after. It didn’t really have any design but you could see that the bones of the building had something interesting and it had great history.
So the client asked me to provide a concept and my concept was the building was a microcosm of the city. In the building itself I saw all the moments of history of Bombay. When it was a coconut grove, a fisherman’s village and a series of islands, the Raj era when it was built, art deco Bombay, then crazy, modern day kitsch, plastic-traffic-air-conditioning Bombay. I conceptualized it as these four moments that I wanted to draw upon in a nicely layered way.
Then what I wanted for the guests was to experience was a soft landing because you can get to this city as a tourist or traveller and feel completely overwhelmed by the chaos and madness of it all. But if you come to a space that is clean, quiet, warm and cosy and at the same time, it’s not a blank canvas but has these moments where you can learn about the city and culture in small ways, then it’s interesting.
What were your favourite aspects about working on this project and what are your favourite things in the building now?
How I was able to have complete control over the entire design process and every detail. I was able to work with a really great team and amazing craftspeople so I could get what I wanted made. My client was incredible, they had complete faith in me and my decisions and ideas which is really rare, and I could collaborate with them too.
For me, the tiles are a huge one because the focus in the rooms is really on the tiles. Everything else is quite black and white and kind of simple. The double height spaces. There were no existing double height spaces, they were covered and filled so those I Iove. The other thing I love the most is the furniture pieces that I created. We made side tables inspired by bhel puri stands and those hand thrown ceramic lamps with Mughal dome inspired shapes.
What were some challenges you faced during the project?
The entire project was a huge challenge. I enjoyed being able to do all the things I could but it was really tough. I don’t speak Hindi. I was working directly with labourers who had probably never worked for a woman, definitely not a white woman. It took time for them to trust me and when they did, it created some great collaborations but it was extremely frustrating at the same time. I think the major thing was communication, getting them to do things on time and also to get the level of detail I wanted. They haven’t worked with architects before so asking them to do a shadow line detail and to have things recessed or flush was mind blowing for them and a lot of work for me.
What can people expect from a product or space designed by you?
I have two sides to the way I work. One is social and the other is contemplative. So I will design spaces or objects that I hope will bring a sense of community and then there’s the other side which is looking inward. I’m always thinking about these two aspects while designing – am I wanting people to communicate and socialize or look within themselves.
I think the other thing is without even meaning to when creating a space there tends to be a comfort level that people always talk about that I don’t think about consciously but it’s a feeling of homeliness and ‘oh it feels so warm and comfortable’ which is lovely.
I don’t think I would do well to create a super minimal space. There’s a level of materiality that I appreciate and I like to bring to a project but people also say I keep things simple. That’s my architectural training. I stick to white walls, timber, concrete, and try to keep materials as they are.
Where do you look for inspiration when designing?
I find most of my inspiration comes from craft. Coming to India I’m so inspired. There’s always in my work, the intersection between local crafts and the way people make things and then my background as a western designer.
What gets you excited about India or Indian design?
The craft for sure. It’s the colour, and texture. It’s that accidental amazing colour combination that you know the guy never thought about when he started sign painting. There was no branding involved, he just mashed orange, blue and purple and it’s inspiring, it’s so cool and it’s the handmade quality for sure.
What is your favourite neighbourhood in Bombay.
Probably Bandra. It’s where my friends are and I have this great community there. It’s got some nice leafy parts, I’m glad I ended up living there but I can appreciate Colaba too.
What are your favourite places in Bombay to -
Eat and drink: Having someone who comes and cooks for me is heaven for me because I’m so used to cooking for myself. I love home food and I love going to my friends for home food. One of my most treasured memories of food would be, one of my flatmates, we’d have chai and parathas made on the weekend and we'd eat them covered in butter, chutney and dahi.
Shop: I don’t shop in Bombay.
Hang out and spend time: Now I really like hanging out at Abode in the lobby here. When I was in Bandra I’d always be at Suzette. My chill out time would come from my yoga.
What is the best advice someone has given you that you could pass on to us?
The neon sign outside the hotel, it's a quote by Rudyard Kipling.