“I don’t feel like a stranger here, I was made in India.” For architect and interior designer India Mahdavi, the land of her conception is yet another well of inspiration. The Persian-Egyptian-Scot has designed spaces true to their provenance everywhere from Mexico to Hong Kong. But this instinct for what makes a place homey is always rendered in Mahdavi’s signature style, which is alive with colour and a powerful femininity.
In the country for the India Design ID Symposium, Mahdavi was happy to report that the world is finally waking up to the possibility of colour. “When people think of luxury, they think of beiges and whites. But you can use colour in a very elegant way, there’s a way of doing it that’s not ‘popular’.” Mahdavi is a wizard at this art; it’s come instinctively to her from the start. She sees her work as not unlike film-making, her original ambition. As an architect, scenographer and designer, she creates identities for spaces from the ground up. “I write a scene, make a storyboard and form narratives for the places I work on.”
This dexterity in multiple disciplines is what drew Mahdavi to her current profile. It allows her to immerse herself in projects ranging from homes to nightclubs and aircrafts to yachts, and gives her the flexibility to switch between forms — and quickly. As an architect, she understands the science that undergirds a structure. As a designer, she knows how to create harmony between what feels good and what looks good. As an artist, she fills in the colour.
You’ll recognise Mahdavi’s work by its abundance of sensual textures. You want to rest a cheek on that lacquered table, fall backwards into that immense sofa, bury your toes in that rug. She has her own line of furniture and objects, but uses the work of other artists and designers liberally too; the half-Indian brand of Doshi Levien is one of her favourites. Given her natural proclivity for colour, it’s actually surprising that Mahdavi hasn’t worked on a project in India yet. But although she adores the art and craftsmanship (her embroiderers are all based here), she is less than thrilled with the contemporary design landscape. “They’re all tending towards international values, following the trends abroad and not [drawing] enough [from] local heritage.”
Evoking that sense of place is important to Mahdavi, whether she’s working on a Paris apartment for fashion designer Alber Elbaz, a plush bar in London (Coburg at The Connaught) or a luxury resort on the Mediterranean (Monte-Carlo Beach). It’s won her Designer of the Year at Maison et Objet (2004) and the EDIDA award (2016) for a series of tiles handmade in Tunisia. She often refers to herself as a nomad, a fact evidenced by the number of influences she manages to fold into her design. After all, no one has a keener instinct for home than a wanderer at heart.