As we enter the plush, artful yet elegant office of architect Ritu Chanekar at Bharat Nagar in Nagpur, she greets us with a cheerful smile. Interiors of her ‘home studio,’ as she calls it, comprise classy artefacts, abstract paintings and hanging lights. The vibrant colours, decorative Madhubani artwork and the antiques add up to the classic décor. She believes in creating and designing spaces, which exude comfort and positivity. Fourteen committed years of work have earned Ritu a distinguished style and a lot of accolades, because of which, today, she has quite a few ambitious residential and commercial projects in her kitty. In a tete-a-tete with Nation Next, Ritu Chanekar speaks about why she’s not averse to being tagged as an interior designer despite being an established architect and how it’s different being a woman entrepreneur in her industry.
Usually interiors designers and architects clutter their offices with lot of glamour. Your office is more on the innovative side; one doesn’t see money being put on the walls…
I never believed in having a very formal office. I’ve been fascinated with the word ‘studio’ ever since I was a kid. So, I wanted my office to have a look and feel of a studio, where even visitors can feel at home. I have also kept my favourite belongings i.e. paintings, lights, cushions, etc. here, so that my clients get an idea of my personality and taste.
I can dismantle all the thick walls here and do glass décor. It’ll look more glamourous but won’t make me happy. I need a very peaceful setting to work in. Though at times, I feel my clients may think that I’ve not spent on my office, I haven’t met a single person who has not liked my office.
Does that mean that your clients have to settle for your taste?
I like all things simple, and simplicity reflects in my designs too. I don’t like things to be unnecessarily dragged to an extent where it becomes ‘fake glamorous.’ My clients need to tell me if they want my work to be a bit more glamorous. Otherwise, I give them a very peaceful, calm and a quiet house, which reflects their own personality. I give my clients the right surroundings, which are best suited for themselves.
But for many, glamour is design and design is glamour…
Yes, that’s true but it should go with the purpose of the space we are designing. I just did a rooftop lounge ‘Ru-oo-fh 180’ at Tuli Imperial, which reflects glamour as it portrays high-end luxury. Even there, I tried to put certain features and designs, which exhibit the ‘Ritu and Associates signature style.’ Still, we’ve managed to give the glamorous effect. So, Ru-oo-fh 180 relates to the Tuli group; it looks like their product.
A know-all client is a nightmare for any architect or interior designer…
Knowledge is a good thing, but the client’s knowledge should not become an obstacle in my work. There are clients who give me a free hand, and their projects till date have turned out to be really good. It becomes very difficult to work with people who just keep nagging. As designers, when we lose interest, we just finish off the work, and the creativity suffers. Clients should understand that when you hire professionals, they should be allowed to implement their creativity.
Despite being an architect, you have become more popular for your interior designs…
I’m doing more of interior projects because I have been trained under architect Habeeb Khan, who’s more into interior designing. I just liked his working style and I follow the same. But of late, I’ve been doing a lot of architectural projects also.
But isn’t the ticket size of an architectural project is bigger than that of interior designing projects?
I like interior designing more because it is a very fast moving process. I can finish one interior designing project faster than an architectural project. My design moves forward faster and I get to see the end result fast. Contrary to the general perception, there’s more money in interiors than architecture.
Many say that architects usually look down upon interior designers.
Absolutely not! In fact, it’s the other way round. Architects feel that interior designers are earning more than them. I’m blessed to be both an architect and an interior designer. For interiors, you need to be more skilled and prompt.
What would you recommend to a student to pursue – architecture or interior designing?
Interior designing is one of the wings of architecture. It’s easier for an architect to become an interior designer but not vice versa. In fact, it’s almost impossible for an interior designer to understand architecture because it’s a different field altogether. The thought processes are different. An architect can do interior designing because a lot depends on the level of detailing he wants to get into. For an interior designer, it’s very difficult to do what an architect does, considering the knowledge of physics and arithmetics required. You have to be academically sound to pursue architecture. It’s a full-fledged course, which is equivalent to engineering and other similar courses. Architecture is not as easy as learning interior designing. For e.g. a secure structure of a building is a question of life and death. It has to be properly planned. Interior designer doesn’t have to worry about all this because they are not doing any structural changes. They are just playing with the spaces. It’s more about what appeals to the eye.
You come from a conservative Maharastrian family and now for your work you have to hob nob with the stylish who’s who of Nagpur. Do you see it as a dichotomy?
Transformation is for them; it’s not for me. I just have to handle them and I’m able to do it. I don’t have to adapt their lifestyle to work for them.
You are known to be a fierce professional who manages the contractors and the unskilled labour well. What difficulties you face being a woman in your profession?
There’s a certain body language that works with contractors. Otherwise, they are a bit too casual about their work. I travel extensively for my work; sometimes with a male client, sometimes alone. Being a woman, it’s more difficult in every profession but it’s just about how you carry yourself.
Though at times, certain clients simply refused to pay me and then they just disappeared. I’m not that great at the recovery part of it. I feel had I been a guy, there would have been lesser bad debts.
As you need to travel extensively for work, how do you strike a balance between work and your family life?
If I’m not working, I’m at home. I don’t believe in having a social life where you don’t even know the people around you properly. I don’t know if my acquaintances need me to be in their parties but my kids surely need me more than anybody else. I feel if I socialise more, I might get 12 projects instead of 10. That’s it. When money is involved, people don’t make wrong decisions; and in our projects, crores of rupees of the clients are at stake. Socialising doesn’t yield business.
Your father Devendra Bhagwat has been a close aide of Mohan Bhagwat, who has been a frequenter at your place. Are there any plans to diversify into politics anytime soon?
Since my childhood I have seen RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) culture. What I could understand from whatever I have seen about RSS is that they are so disciplined. I would definitely like to be a part of RSS and work for them.
You are a very good singer and so is your father but despite that he didn’t let you get into professional singing. Was he insecure about your future as a singer?
Yes, he was insecure about my future because we both had the same mindset. If he starts singing, he can go on for hours, irrespective of who’s sitting in the drawing room waiting for him. He wouldn’t even bother about his meals. He knew that I was exactly like him when it came to singing. He also knew that if he taught me music, I would continue pursuing the same, and that would affect my academics. I was good at academics too, so he was a bit insecure. He feels that nobody cares about artists.