IN CONVERSATION WITH NEW YORK BASED INTERIOR DESIGNER AAMIR KHANDWALA
‘The future of interior design will have more focus on sustainability and incorporating unique works by fine artists and local artisans’
Aamir Khandwala is an inspiration to many, a top interior designer, who’s currently based in New York, is taking over the design world with his expertise, attention to detail and passion. He was born and raised in the cosmopolitan melting pot of Karachi and went to New York to earn his bachelor’s degree and since then there has been no looking back for this talented designer – he began a 14-year career at the office of design legend, Robert Couturier. As Head of Decoration at Couturier, Aamir successfully led multimillion-dollar luxury residential projects, travelled the globe, and honed a unique aesthetic sensibility. His design studio, ‘Aamir Khandwala Interior Design’ came into being January 2015 and with a diverse set of clients and projects in New York City, Miami, Minneapolis, Vermont, and Palm Beach, Aamir has an impressive portfolio. Today, we learn a little bit more about him and what inspires him to design incredible architectural and interior design projects in an exclusive interview with HELLO! Come with us on an intimate approach to Aamir Khandwala design experience and inspiration...
Hello Aamir. Thank you for doing this interview with us. Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in Karachi and came to the U.S. when I was 20 to study interior design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I received my BFA from FIT and then started working for some of the finest design studios in the industry. I honed my sensibility over the years while working with my mentor—the internationally acclaimed French designer Robert Couturier. I launched my own practice in 2015.
How did you develop a passion for interiors and architectural design? Tell us about the moment when you decided this is the way to go.
I was interested in design from a very young age—spending hours building imaginary houses with my Lego set and scouting the local markets for decorative elements for our family home as a teenager. I knew from the get-go that design was my calling.
Can you remember your first design project?
My family ran a travel agency and my father, in an attempt to encourage me to take an interest in the business, had me spend my spare time in the office when I was a teenager. I rolled up my sleeves to help but completely focused my energy on redesigning the office space! My first professional interior projects included luxury retail spaces for brands like Saks Fifth Avenue but I quickly focused my work on designing high-end residential interiors.
‘I approach every project with a new lens—for me it is always an opportunity to start afresh’
How do you approach decor and adding in your own signature touches?
I approach every project with a new lens—for me it is always an opportunity to start afresh. My team and I spend time getting to know our clients, their interests, and their spaces. That initial and intimate effort informs our process of designing homes that are sophisticated, eclectic, and a thoughtful extension of our clients’ sensibilities.
Is there a certain furniture or art piece you are especially attached to?
Yes—to a miniature painting in the Kangra style by my partner Atif Toor which he created during his undergrad years spending a semester at the National College of Art in Lahore.
How does your own style reflect in your home?
Our home has a well-travelled feel as we have collected lots of interesting rugs, objects, and artwork from our various trips around the globe. We have North African and antique Persian carpets mixed with Mid-Century modern European pieces along with artisanal works acquired from New York and international furniture makers. It is unique in style as it truly reflects both our personalities.
‘My philosophy is simple – to gain a deep understanding of my clients and design harmonious spaces based on their needs and aspirations'
You’ve created quite the career for yourself . I imagine you’ve ‘developed’ your own personal philosophy… (please elaborate)
My philosophy is simple – to gain a deep understanding of my clients and design harmonious spaces based on their needs and aspirations for their homes. Many designers forget to consider this simple fact and design with their egos instead. Imagine my clients living in and loving their spaces. This helps me provide an end-product that is unique, customized, thoughtful, and expresses their own individual personalities. My job is to provide guidance and develop a curated collection of furnishings, fabrics, lighting, and architectural elements that resonate with my clients. With this in mind, I constantly have to shift my way of thinking based on what the project calls for—which is both challenging and rewarding.
How do you combine beauty and function?
My work encompasses both by letting the space and how it will be lived in determine the outcome. It also involves building relationships with the best carpenters, artisans, collectors, and furniture brands to ensure the highest quality in materials and execution. Beauty can be achieved with functionality by going the extra mile.
What advice would you give to someone setting out to decorate their own home?
Listen to your space and be open to what it communicates with you. Let go of any pre-conceived notions about style and trends. When you take that approach, the results may surprise you and open you up to new possibilities. Also—collecting images, clippings and photos of spaces, textures, places and works of art that inspire you can help you hone your vision.
There are multiple styles running through your projects ranging from the modern look down to the classic style. If you were to tilt towards one particular style which one would it be?
Definitely modern, but not minimalist. For me, it is about creating the right balance and not hesitating to combine modern pieces with antiques and unique works by both accomplished artist-makers and emerging talents.
‘For me, it is about creating the right balance and not hesitating to combine modern pieces with antiques and unique works by both accomplished artist makers and emerging talents’
In your opinion what is the most frustrating aspect of your job as a designer? And the most rewarding one?
When a client and designer are not aligned in their individual tastes and visions, it can lead to some frustration. On the flip side, when the two are aligned it is a match made in heaven. Often the most rewarding aspect of my work is the collaborative process of working with a client in elevating their vision of what their home can be and pulling together all the creative resources needed in order to realize that vision.
What do you consider the most crucial thing that one must not lose sight of when individuals are in the process of building and doing up homes?
Budget! We invest a lot of effort in sourcing materials and furnishings that work with our clients’ budgets. It’s also important to appreciate the value of high-quality pieces and workmanship. Decorating a home is an investment in a better way of living and that should be reflected in a realistic project budget.
‘Dressing a home is much like dressing oneself. One needs to put the same thought and effort into one’s home as it’s a reflection of who we are’
What makes a house a home?
A home should reflect the personalities and interests of its owners. Thankfully, I have not encountered a client yet who has come to me and said ‘I want what my best friend has.’ Dressing a home is very much like dressing oneself. Most of us do put an effort when dressing up for different occasions. One needs to put the same thought and effort into one’s home as it’s a reflection of who we are.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, we are working on projects all over the U.S. — in New York City, Vermont, Palm Beach, and Minneapolis.
What do you see for the future of design?
Definitely more focus on sustainability and incorporating unique works by fine artists and local artisans into interiors. During our time of isolation due to COVID, we have been putting more energy into our homes. My hope is that this growing interest in bringing beauty to our spaces will continue as we eventually emerge from the pandemic.
NTERVIEW: SUNDUS UNSAR RAJA
COORDINATION: HEAD & HAND PR
PHOTOS: JACOB SNAVELY