“As an architect, I was looking for a style and strong foundation that would define my work—serving as an architectural signature in everything I built,” recalls Tanzeem Sarguroh, when looking back at how she found a way to blend Japandi (Japanese-Scandinavian) design within the context of Indian living spaces. “I started reading up on minimalism and the quality of our surroundings in the book The Architecture of Happiness, and realised aesthetics weren’t as important as the way our spaces enriched us. I also saw the immense potential in converting wastage in landfills into resources we could use to build sustainably in a practical way.”
The best space to discover her fluid skill for balancing form, function and simplicity is in her new open-plan office in Mumbai, where a humble-sized floor plan of 450 square feet fits in her cabin-cum-meeting room and communal desk tables, as well as a powder bathroom, pantry and store room. “At 13 feet, I noticed the ceiling was higher than usual, and decided to create a mezzanine in one corner to maximise space. This served as the perfect nook to tuck away most of the utilitarian requirements like storage and the pantry,” she points out.
However, the most striking design is found in the lounge area created against windows that spread across an entire wall. Displaying a low floor table called chabudai and tatami floor mats, the Japanese-style arrangement serves as a space for dining as well as taking a break between work. “We spend a majority of our lives at work, and most offices are either monotonous and uninspiring or colourful yet cold. While I knew this space would take up a large part of our floor plan, I felt it was important to come to work every day to a place that felt warm and welcoming. It’s also my attempt at bringing in a sense hygge for everyone working here,” she relates.
“For the wood used across the office—a core element in Japanese and Scandinavian design—I turned to our local markets and stumbled upon old Burma teak. After restoring it, I found it brought in a spirit of Indian-ness within the rest of the Japandi décor,” she shares. It also brought about a solution for Sarguroh to tackle the problem of indoor toxicity. “Most homeowners aren’t aware that numerous building materials and furnishings emit indoor pollutants containing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) such as acetone, formaldehyde and butanol which adversely impact the health of its inhabitants over a period of time. Instead, I used bio-based paint on the walls and natural oils for polishing the wood. Instead of PVC, the electrical pipes were made from galvanised iron, while vitrified tiles were shunned for stone flooring,” she explains.
She also points out how it is wasteful to import materials or furniture from another country, when we have the richest resources available locally that weather better in Indian climate. Looking back at the project she muses, “The irony of simplicity lies in the difficulty in achieving it—but in the end, I think we ended up building so much more than what we hoped for!”