Interviews

Sitting With…Huzefa Rangwala + Jasem Pirani of MuseLAB

Founded in 2012 by Huzefa Rangwala and Jasem Pirani, MuseLAB was built around a passion for design.  Labeling themselves a design engine, MuseLAB is an end-to-end design studio, able to offer customized environments, interiors, and furniture.  Giving every project the same careful thought and consideration Huzefa and Jasem provide pure and focused experiential design to help each client tell their story through their space.  Inspired by their designs we reached out to MuseLAB to find out more about what drives them.

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Have you always been drawn to design?

Huzefa – Great design is always about how we use objects. My arts teacher from grade school, in retrospect, influenced me to a great extent, in how a pen and a paintbrush performed the same task but were designed to be held differently. And being surrounded by a photographer for a father and a fashion designer for a mother, subconsciously reinforced my interests towards everything design.

Jasem – Yes! I am a KFI (Krishnamurti Foundation of India) product. The curriculum at KFI boarding schools is grounded in the belief that a school is a place where one learns about the totality, the wholeness of life. Here besides academic excellence great emphasis was given to self development and discovery. This approach at Sahyadri School and Valley School where I attended from 7th grade to 10th grade and then 11th to 12th grade has influenced me greatly.  These schools had great art and culture programs – when in school I spent a lot of my time in the art village – drawing, painting and exploring various art forms.

What’s the biggest influence on your design aesthetic?

Huzefa – I have always been a keen observer of everyday objects and events. What appeals to me is not merely the aesthetics of the design, but the details that create the design. Details allow me to experience nuances and it is these experiences that influence my sensibilities at various scales of design, be it architecture, interiors or products.

Jasem – I often ask myself these three questions when I see a simple but appealing object or space. What is the purpose of this object or space? How or what would I change or do differently?  What is unconventional about it? The context and materiality of the object or the space needs to be relevant to the lifestyle of the culture of that place. These conversations about culture and context are big influencers on the design aesthetic especially when there is so much global influence and homogeneity.

What is your favorite color palette to work with?

Huzefa – Each project is different, in terms of the program and context; so is the client. Hence, at MuseLAB, we do not believe in having a favorite palette to work with; because we simply love colours. Our strength lies in putting them together – in groups of threes or tens. It is a bold yet studied approach which is confidently executed in our thoughts and then, on site.

Jasem – I am not sure if there is a favourite but we definitely do not shy away from colour.  There is always an underlying warm or cool base which is layered with texture, pattern, prints and splashes of colour and in some cases bold colour.

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What has been your favorite project so far?

Huzefa – Of the built Interior design works, Free-spirited is my favourite project thus far. The balance of warm undertones with bold pop colours, advanced machining techniques with hand craftsmanship, customized furniture and curated accessories and most importantly, a free hand by our clients, truly reflects the mindset of MuseLAB and the level of details we have to offer. It was one of our first projects and still remains my favorite.

Jasem – X-Stitch boutique is my favourite project to date. Here we looked at traditional details under a lens and reinterpret it to match modern sensibilities. By collaborating with the client and the inclusion of the cross-stitched pattern combined with the cement sheet panels we were able to design a space that looked at both traditional craftsmanship method and materiality and the result was a design that is looking determinedly forward.

Has traveling had an influence on your designs?

Huzefa – Travel has been an integral part of my life. It opens my mind to culture, food, architecture and above all, sustainable global design trends, both past and current. A lot of our projects reflect our love for patterning, colours and textures; needless to say, these are derived from visions captured during our travels.

Jasem – Yes, most certainly as traveling helps me, get outside my own comfort zone and allows me to adapt to a different culture and place. It unravels complexity by giving fresh perspective to ideas, as well as helping us experience issues that affect different cultures or even tiny details that we might miss out on. It is often interesting to observe and understand diverse ecosystems when traveling and the hospitality of these places. These experiences enable us to understand how to design for emotions and different lifestyles as these touches can completely change a mood.

Through your travels, where do you think has the most exciting designs?

Huzefa – Travels take you to the most progressive cities and the remotest corners of the world too. My time spent in walking the streets of Paris, New York and Mexico City allowed me to experience and interact with design stores, museums, boutiques and restaurants. However, it was the sustainable construction techniques and the use of indigenous materials in the architecture of the secluded villages of Korzok (at the Indo-Tibetan border) and Ban Na Pa Paek (at the Thai-Burmese border) that excited me the most from all of my travels.

Jasem – Traveling the course of Mexico in 2008 I vividly remember how well as one crossed various cities the wayfinding and signage was all uniformly designed and each place had a symbol. Seeing that attention to detail through the length and breadth of the country made me very happy. Besides that all the small hidden boutiques and design gems through the city of Mexico were all a delight to experience. The new and the old exist together at ease.

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What is your dream project?

Huzefa – Pardon me, but I might rant here because this is my favorite question of the lot (and also because I love talking about dreams). I have two dream projects. The first, albeit a bit selfish, is a dream home for myself. I have always wanted to own a farmhouse with a horse stable by a lakeside. The material palette, the ideas, the aesthetics are all in my mind, waiting to be thawed once I zero down on that dream site.

The other selfless passion project is to design a foster home. As an architect, I would like to put to use my knowledge and skills to collaborate with like minded people in creating a model of sheltered happy communities for the less fortunate elderly people in India, and across the world.

Jasem – My dream project would have to be a hospitality project, it could be a bed and breakfast but one where I get to design every part of the experience from the communication design to that last detail of tableware. If that does not happen through a client then I shall have to explore it by means of doing a self-propelled project. In addition to this project I would like to spend some time studying and documenting a neighbourhood within Bombay and then present a design guideline that stresses on sustainability and supports and accommodates local vendors and organic markets.

You’ve designed some products (I love the pet-table) as well as interiors, which do you enjoy doing more?

Huzefa – In the formative years of MuseLAB, we reached out to product design during our downtime. In doing so, we realised how much we enjoyed the process of creating objects and furniture pieces through a process of research and development with material vendors, fabricators and craftsmen. Today, our product brandMuseMART, boasts of 11 bespoke products ranging from architectural wall hooks and modular wine racks to kids wall art and tangrams, amongst others, all in Birchply.

Jasem – The need to do products arose from the simple desire to design and explore self-propelled projects or products that are not necessarily client driven or are based on a brief designed by us. In addition to this product designing also helps us look at minute details and there is no denying that it is a great feeling to be able to hold an object in hand and say that this is designed by us.

Who are your favorite furniture designers?

Huzefa – I have always enjoyed the furniture designed by the modernist master, Le Corbusier.  His style is distinctively restrained yet powerful, just like his architecture. Amongst our contemporaries, I avidly follow the works of Doshi Levien. Their collaborative series of design objects in dialogue with the iconic architecture of India by Corbusier is inspiring.

Jasem – The classic Eames chair is my favourite and the most exciting part of the chair is how Herman Miller is continuously evolving Charles and Ray’s work to adopt the latest advances in materials and technology. Amongst the contemporary designers I have been keenly following the work of Jory Brigham and appreciate his approach to materials. His pieces though asymmetrical are well balanced and the little details that he incorporates are both aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.

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What is your design process?

Jasem – The need to tell a story with every object or space. Stories influence our thought process. In our initial interactions with clients besides developing the brief we also observe and discover the client’s story. That helps us with building the concept and once we have the concept in place the materials and details all fall in place forming the design narrative.

How does the Indian aesthetic differ from the American one?

Huzefa – India is a diverse country, a result of a jambalaya of design theories from around the world given that our country was visited/invaded by scholars/rulers from the East and the West. The availability of homegrown skilled craftsmen who are pursuing century old techniques of their forefathers, allows us to marry the modern with the traditional. This cross pollination of cultures has transcended into an exciting multi-dimensional design aesthetic that is part Indian and part global. The American aesthetic on the other hand is far more focused; the play is on a single style. It is pure in its entirety, even if it is influenced by global design.

Jasem – Though the Indian aesthetic with it’s global influences is pluralistic in some form it can best be described by the sanskrit word “rasa” an Indian concept of aesthetic flavour, an essential element of any work of visual, literary, or performing art that can only be suggested, not described. It is a kind of contemplative abstraction in which the inwardness of human feelings suffuses the surrounding world of embodied form.

I noticed a lot of little animal accents in your projects, do you like animals as a design element, or have you just happened to work with a lot of clients who enjoy animals?

Huzefa – That’s a great observation. I would like to believe it is a mix of both.

Jasem – Animal accents bring in that quirky playful vibe making the space whimsical and they make for great conversation starters when entertaining guests.

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What’s the hardest room to design?

Huzefa – It has to be a kitchen. And not just any kitchen. It has be a kitchen for the “Indian Household.”  We Indians love food and everything connected to it; and this involves hours spent cooking in a kitchen, ideally designed with the principles of form follows function. It is the most frequently used room of the house by the entire family, braving the chaos at breakfast and enjoying post dinner conversations, all in the same day. As architects, we have to ensure the design rides on the virtues of longevity, functionality and aesthetics.

Jasem – I could not agree more.

What one thing would you like people to know about MuseLAB?

Huzefa – MuseLAB was conceived as a curated practice; at the onset, it was clear that we would focus on everything design, design that we believe in. We are a small, boisterous yet resourceful bunch of creative individuals. The scale of the projects change, but the approach remains unaltered. Thus far, we have worked on projects ranging from the master planning of a resort to a public toilet prototype, birchply key chains and concept boutiques stores to possible collaborations with ceramicists and rug makers. And we promise you will hear extended bouts of laughter every time you pass our studio – our mantra to good work is to stay happy.

Jasem – We are a process driven firm and we stress on the ideation stage to ensure that the concept is something that everyone who is a part of the project is convinced with and on the same page. In studio we often encourage our junior designers to explore different avenues, to be wanderers and share experiences.

What do you think the future of design looks like?

Huzefa – It is exciting. Globalization has made the world a smaller place. Social media has connected me to world architects and designers I would have otherwise not had any access to.  Collective collaboration is being accepted with an open mind and being practiced by various design disciplines. There are banes too (with the Pinterest pandemic). But there are more boons. How else would a small Mumbai-based practice owned by two individuals (who have lived and worked in New York and Atlanta almost a decade ago) be invited for this wonderful interview collaboration for a New York based blog.

Jasem – There is certainly a demand for good designers and therefore often times the process of design is accelerated and therefore an idea is not nurtured enough which is a huge challenge.  The pace is a threat to the quality of the craft. Everyone is looking at Pinterest and Instagram and therefore styles and trends are getting saturated pretty quickly. We need to take more time for the creative process and look outside of design for inspiration. And with globalization as access to products, objects and information becomes easier more and more people will respond to design that offers adaptability and individual expression.

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Thank you so much Huzefa and Jasem for answering our questions!  We know you’re busy and it means a lot that you took the time to share your answers and perspectives with us.  We can’t wait to see what designs you have in store next.  To stay up to date on what MuseLAB is working on check out their website or follow them on Facebook.

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