Catching up with Isprava’s friend, Adil Ahmad on his work and design philosophies
TETE A TETE with ADIL AHMAD
Known for designing spaces that resonate not with him, but with those that will occupy each space, Isprava catches up with maestro interior designer Adil Ahmad
He calls his career a journey. A journey that began thirty years ago at the ripe age of 13. At a time when neither the term or word “interior designer” really existed. In fact, he’s never thought of himself as one, not even today. Rather he believes he is someone who is intellectually evolved to do something different. And so he has, on a journey with many stops and stays along the way. One that still continues. For Adil Ahmad, there are no fullstops. “You spend a weekend, sometimes you spend a fortnight, but you have to move on a journey, you can’t stay put. And for me, it is all about the quest of continuous layering, learning and creating living spaces.” On this journey, Adil Ahmad has been a part of Good Earth wherein he transformed it from a mere souvenir shop for mugs and cushions into a renowned home collection space. He helped launch Ritu Kumar Home where he played creative director for a short while. He’s been a part of many restoration projects, most recently the restoration of a beautiful 18th century haveli in Rajasthan, crafting it into a luxurious boutique hotel. He even worked on an Isprava cottage in the hills of Kotagiri.
“I created Rajmahal as a space for a young maharaja, a 21st century individual who has grown up with the best of the west, is well travelled, but is still rooted in his Indian sensibility, family heritage and past. If I made it into a painted little pastiche of the City Palace, he would have run away. What would he do in a boring, dead museum? But today, he tells me that I have created a space for him which is his bolt hold. And that no matter where he is in the world, he knows he has his anchor in Rajmahal. And that’s the biggest compliment for me. I describe the style of Rajmahal as contemporary colonial. And with the royal family leaving it entirely up to me, I made that the brief to myself,” explains Adil.
So what is Adil Ahmad’s signature style? He claims he doesn’t have one single one. Who is his mentor? Again, he claims there’s more than one. But if he had to choose, a designer whose style he does not ape but admire—he admits it would be Alberto Pinto. He loves his maximalist style and the fact that he is into layering, just like him. He goes on to explain, “My style is not subtle. I feel subtlety is the lack of style. I am very much into layering: you will see a patterned wallpaper, Central Asian textiles on the cushions, there will be a Persian carpet, on that carpet there will be a silver table. On that table you will notice a protrusion of objets d’art, and on top of that there will be a protrusion of flowers. It’s all there to form a sensory explosion.” Having said that, he believes there is a method to everything—a method to the madness. It is all perfectly symmetrical, and he believes that a person who really mastered this kind of style was Alberto Pinto.
But perhaps one of his most known works has been the restoration of the beloved Rajmahal Palace, Jaipur.
Though for Adil, he doesn’t consider it his most seminal work. For him, each and every project is just as dear, it could be a 1000 sq ft project or a 100,000 sq ft project. But sometimes certain projects take on a life of their own—and Rajmahal Palace was one of them. It definitely is close to his heart because he nurtured something that has stood the test of time. But even so, he doesn’t consider it as ‘Adil Ahmad’s Rajmahal Palace’. “It’s come way before Adil Ahmad, and it is going to live on way after Adil Ahmad”, he quips. But for the rest of the country and world, it is a masterpiece that’ll stop you in your tracks.
When asked about his design inspiration behind it, he said ,“I did not want to create a pastiche. Rajmahal itself wasn’t initially made as a palace. It started off as a garden pavilion, then it became a British residency and later a country home for the royal family. Today it is the current home of the titular head of the family, a 20 year old boy. And my design inspiration was to create a young, happy home for him. Something crisp, coherent and contemporary, while still borrowing cues from the City Palace. I did not copy or create that typical painted Rajasthani palace look—because then that would have become a pastiche”. Instead he took inspiration from the old and transformed it into the new, by creating a series of wallpapers, a more contemporary intervention, uniquely inspired by the murals, paintings and spaces inside the City Palace. His inspiration was drawn from the slightest details—it could be a flower, a colour or a motif. The result was 50 different beautiful and bespoke wallpapers, each one specifically created for these spaces.
When we ask him about how he adds luxury to his creations, he professes that he does not set out to use luxury, because for him, luxury is an essence. “Today’s connotation of luxury has a very nouveau riche material meaning to it. But for me, luxury is about sight, smell, sensibility, style, space and soul. Not about the intrinsic value or all the gold and glitter used. My idea of creating luxury is by the hush you get enveloped in the moment you enter a space. Luxury is the lilting sound of music, the trickle of water, the languid air about a place. I like to create a ‘time-stood-still’ kind of feeling. That for me is luxury. Not a Fendi sofa or a Bulgari clock on the mantle. Luxury comes from the bazaars on the street”.
Additionally, he doesn’t follow trends. “Following trends is what travesty is all about”. He does admit that he is relatively Rubenesque, but you would never catch him flaunting a designer trend, instead only in a cotton kurta and pajama—a style he finds artistic, eclectic and most importantly comfortable. Another “no” on his list is about seeking perfection. He does not. Because he knows he can never find it. “Perfection is ultimately only a mirage. And so, in my journey I have no final destination, and continue to move forward, living, learning and loving things as they are meant to be.”