In Conversation with Interior Stylist Manuu Mansheet
What is the difference between an interior designer and an interior stylist?
Interior design relates to the designing of a space’s interiors – the furniture (fixed/movable) etc. An interior stylist, on the other hand, has more to do with the accessorisation, such as textiles, rugs, art, lamps, artefacts, accessories, flowers, plants, etc.
This styling could be permanent (if it’s for the interiors of any space) or temporary (if for a particular event/shoot/season/look, etc).
What motivated you to be an interior stylist?
I was always artistically inclined; my heart has been in decorating spaces, shopping, styling people, etc. from a very young age. Life took me towards academics, but after an MBA – I decided to pursue my passion. Destiny took me to retail and I became a visual merchandiser.
Much later, a training stint with IKEA taught me a lot more. After I came back to India I decided to give back to society and hence started teaching at all the premier institutes and colleges. One thing led to another – from stores I started styling offices and hospitality spaces. Homes became a big market for me – I love to restore spaces otherwise I’m happy to take over from wherever an architect leaves.
What can you tell us about your journey and evolution as an interior stylist?
As I have mentioned earlier, I didn’t get into styling per se by design. I was always a visual merchandiser. With the boom in the property market, a sample apartment/villa became an important showcase/tool for selling. I did many interesting projects and soon clients started taking my help for sprucing up offices and guest houses. Earlier I used to do very select homes and personal spaces but later it became a major part of my portfolio.
What is your USP?
I do not waste resources – I love to restore, reuse and innovate with given materials. I also do not want to take on huge turnkey projects, nor do I have a huge factory set up to cater to. I travel all over, draw inspiration and ideas from anything and everything and also love to collect things like art, textiles and artefacts.
My projects include a lot of mix & match, are very eclectic and sometimes very Indian (if the client so desires). I am a bit partial towards anything Indian, heritage, old world, etc.
In the realm of interior design, who and what are your main influences?
Anything and everything inspires me. I could pick up any object or colour or feeling or art and build a story inspired by it. I love interacting with people and like to understand their dreams and aspirations. Beyond every other aspect, I truly feel that the best reward is a well-done and well-delivered project that brings great joy to the owner/occupant.
Your home in the capital has reportedly been called “An interesting confluence of Indian and International design”. Can you elaborate on that?
I’m very used to doing beautiful interiors, commercial spaces and with a lot of perfection and specifications. Half the time we are looking with an eye glass for minute flaws and areas of improvisation. When I had to design my own dream house, I had a free hand – I didn’t need to please anyone, nor was there any brief. I wanted my personal space to be extremely comfortable and organic, very me, very mix & match. Hence none of the furniture, art, colours or themes is rehearsed, matched or formulaic. The house is an amalgamation of ideas, collectibles, art and influences. Every corner and every piece has a memory for me; each piece tells me a story. There are no thumb rules followed in my home. In fact, I’ve shattered all the the cursory rules of ergonomics or colour themes or design theories that I’ve followed in others’ houses.
We noticed that none of the walls in your home are alike. Where did you get the inspiration for that from?
I wanted my house to be this large fluid space with all my different moods and influences. It has been treated like a huge gallery. As I just mentioned, I didn’t have any parameters or formulae to follow. In fact, there was a lot to break away from and just run riot; nowhere else could I have gone so mad or crazy. As everyone I know who visited my home has said, “Only you can do something like this and actually get away with it.”
For inspiration do you lean more towards the Indian or the Western school of thought?
Both – I oscillate between both sides. My heart is towards Indian materials, arts, motifs, colours, etc. but at the same time I like the Indo-Saracenic, Mughal, French, Italian and Rococo styles of design. It all depends on the project I’m doing and the people for whom I’m creating or styling the spaces.
Can you tell us more about your personal space being “slightly rustic” and “country-like”?
I started off with this massive collection of pieces, artefacts, rugs, textiles, etc. I was clear I wanted a fluid space, not a restrictive kind of interior design and definitely not the all matching thematic houses (that I design sometimes). My home is Vastu-inspired. Since I grew up in a huge colonial bungalow in Lutyen’s Delhi, the architecture and style was deeply etched in my mind. Plus, since I studied at Modern School, Barakhamba Road, the architecture of that institute has left an indelible influence on my psyche. I have also been lucky to visit some of the best palaces, buildings, homes, etc. all over the world. All these influences teach you, define your style and hone your skills.
I also have an elephantine memory – I remember aesthetics in detail and this leads me to design even today. I’ve also taught myself a little bit of architecture, interior design, artistry, photography, etc.
My house comprises of all my influences, my errors, my memories, my collections, etc. put together by a trained visual merchandiser. Since there were budget constraints, you will see a lot of innovation and DIY influences. The workers and the builder were flabbergasted when I told them not to plaster a few walls and leave the concrete ceiling as it is. When they asked me ‘Why?” I told them the truth – no money. They couldn’t believe me, nor do my friends. But that’s the truth.
Tell us something about your early days as an interior designer.
I come from an academic background. My designing and painting were always considered only a hobby. I got into visual merchandising by chance, but worked hard and really enjoyed myself. Back then a lot of people looked down upon design as a career choice, but I enjoyed it tremendously and I never wanted to go anywhere else. My brain is my personal processor – I don’t use any software or drawings, etc. To be honest, I don’t know how to use any architecture drawing software and I do not intend to learn any either. I’m happy the way I organise and do my projects. I have a design firm (Mansheet Design Pvt. Ltd.) but I consider myself a one man army.
In the realm of fine art, who are the main artists that you look up to and why?
My first inspiration is the Indian craftsperson, the Indian houses and architecture. Second are the Indian weavers and artisans. My heart bleeds to see people ignoring this vast wealth of art, design, motifs, colours, symbols, creativity and character right around us. Look anywhere and you will find so much to get inspired by and material to use. It’s so sad that people just want to blindly ape the West. Having said that, I’m partial towards the old and discarded – nothing gives me more joy than to restore an old piece, or better still innovate and make something functional out of some trash, thus making it more economic and eco-friendly.
What is the future of Interior Styling both in India and abroad?
The future is great. There was a time when only the very large budget homes used to seek my help. Now a lot of young couples with limited budgets also approach me and ask for help. I enjoy these diverse experiences and challenges. I like this consciousness among all, but wish it could lead to more hygienic and clean surroundings as well. Also, preservation of old heritage and conservation for future generations must get top priority. The present state of museums leaves much to be desired. A lot of conditioning and consciousness among the masses is needed.
On a personal level, I love to do makeovers and quick fix interiors and would love to do huge volumes or number of spaces as soon as possible.
About the Interior Stylist
An MBA degree holder and an alumnus of Modern School Barakhamba Road, Manuu specialises in space makeovers, styling, quick fix solutions and home staging.
He is also a Senior Guest Faculty at NIFT, Pearl Academy of Fashion and the Indian Retail School.
His past clients include Taj Hotels, IKEA, Ebony, Magppie, Artd’inox, Maishaa, Om Book Shops, Godrej & Boyce, Interio, Ravissant, Tata Westside, Alsorg and Jaypee Hotels.
Manuu started his own company in 2012 eponymously named Mansheet Design Pvt Ltd. He is currently working on several retail projects as a Retail Environment Consultant/Creative Head/Aesthetics Director.