Thinkspace Co-founders Shaharia Nasrin Reta and Lava Biswas Nandini talk about interior design, functionality, colours, and design philosophy.
How did Thinkspace come to be?
Shaharia N. Reta: Thinkspace started in 2018 but we had been working together for a long time before that. Right after we graduated in 2015, a family member asked me to design a tile and ceramic retail. It was a big opportunity for me, but the scale seemed too big, and I asked Nandini to help me design it. At the time, Nandini was an intern and I was looking for a job as well. We got to know a few vendors and they assured us they could help us complete the project. Two fresh graduates working on a 3000 sq. ft. retail was no small task, but we pulled through.
Lava B. Nandini: This project opened the door to several new opportunities. An office opposite to the retail was impressed by our work and asked us to design the interior of their pavilion at the 2016 National Trade Fair. We were the only females working in the project, working late hours overnight alongside male vendors because we were so dedicated to handing the project over successfully. We succeeded and realised how passionate we truly feel about interior design. And so, in 2018, we officially established the name Thinkspace.
How do you structure an interior design project?
Shaharia N. Reta: We structure our services in a manner that gives flexibility to our clients. It starts with a consultancy proposal. As soon as clients give us their requirements, we quote the per square feet cost and explain the design process, the time it will take to complete the project, and the instalment amount and duration. We then move on to the design. This is a creative process so we need to brainstorm ideas, find inspiration, and bring everything together to make our client’s dream come true. At this stage, we provide 3D renders, especially for commercial spaces, so all parties are on the same page before we can move on to the next stage.
We present a working drawing where all the details are provided to our vendors. It is only at this stage that we can provide a budget to the client. The working drawing gives a concrete idea of the materials, dimensions and volumes needed for construction meaning a definitive budget can be presented. Once the working drawing is finalised, we move on to the final stage, which is construction. The overall structure of our process allows us to hand over projects in the expected time, with maybe a few days here and there at most.
Lava B. Nandini: We rarely do turnkey projects. We make it clear to our clients that they have the option to take design services only and manage the materials and construction on their own. If we are overseeing the construction of the project as well, we prefer to go with our vendors as they can read architectural drawings and understand our design philosophy. The cost for that is slightly more per square foot, which is why transparency is a crucial factor in our structure. We clear everything out beforehand and ensure our clients understand they can take only consultancy and supervision from us as a turnkey project might be a significant investment. Also, because our vendors are so familiar with the work process, we can confidently hand over projects with short turnaround times.
Our primary focus is functionality. Yes, creativity and aesthetics are crucial in interior design, but the space must serve the purpose of the people living in it.
What guides your firm’s approach to creating innovative and aesthetic interiors?
Shaharia N. Reta: Our primary focus is functionality. Yes, creativity and aesthetics are crucial in interior design, but the space must serve the purpose of the people living in it. Parents and children utilise their living space differently, so one single design will not suit everyone’s needs. We spend time with each and every person who will be using the space and understand their expectations. We then share a mood board so we can understand whether we have accurately envisioned our client’s dreams.
Lava B. Nandini: Sometimes the client’s taste will differ from ours. It is possible that a client’s vision serves an aesthetic purpose, but compromises functionality. That’s when dialogue and conversations become very effective in managing expectations. Most of the time we are successful in showing them the potential problems of specific design requirements. The main challenge is understanding their mood as these spaces are often their dream homes. We must then have the capacity to explain to them what the whole scenario is.
What are some of the challenges interior designers face in Bangladesh?
Shaharia N. Reta: The concept of interior design is still fairly new in Bangladesh. As it is common practice to undertake turnkey projects, you might see a civil engineer completing an entire building without an architect or an interior designer. So the main challenge is explaining what interior design actually is. The other challenge is explaining the design process to a client. Quite often, clients come to us with extremely short deadlines for commercial spaces that need to be up and running in under a month. That might not be long enough to even understand what exactly the space needs.
Lava B. Nandini: We also have to make sure our designs are unique and reflect the characteristics of the space; whether commercial or residential. Some of our clients who have made significant investments to work with us end up with a beautiful space, and other clients might request that we replicate that. But that goes against the design philosophy we stand for as we cannot simply hand over the same design. This problem exists all across the creative sector. Architects, designers, and artists need time to find the right inspiration for the right ‘canvas’ and to explain that vision can take a lot of effort. It will take quite some time to overcome that challenge, and we are trying our best to change this situation.
It is possible that a client’s vision serves an aesthetic purpose, but compromises functionality. That’s when dialogue and conversations become very effective in managing expectations.
Are there any new projects you’re particularly excited about?
Shaharia N. Reta: We are blessed to already have achieved a lot of recognition in our country. Our vision is to take our services to the global platform. We both travel a lot and love observing spaces, which also helps us with our creative direction. But we want to expand our creativity and explore spaces where we can think outside the box to make something unique. We are constantly experimenting with new colours and there are two ongoing retail projects where we have created an emotive experience through the use of colours.
Lava B. Nandini: We are also exploring different design theories. ‘Japandi’ is quite an interesting design theory that has intrigued us. It’s a combination of Japanese and Scandinavian interior design and leans towards minimalism. So we have a lot to look forward to; a lot of things to try out, and we are looking forward to these exciting times ahead.