Trained as an architect, Shalini Misra moved over to interiors after she was asked to design the decor for a four-bedroom flat in London, and never looked back. She uses an architect’s eye to understand volume and the flow of residential spaces, yet her love of surfaces, textures and materials make her finished projects far from pure and minimal: they are often richly, sensually layered, yet perfectly balanced. Here she speaks about curating and displaying art, letting nature inside and other secrets behind such eye-catching interiors.
How did you move from architecture into interiors?
I finished my Masters at the Bartlett; someone I knew was moving and asked me to do the interior design. At that point I didn’t know anything about interiors and it was a steep learning curve – even a window dressing seemed to need about 20 components. But I really enjoyed learning all about textures, materials, contrasts – and that’s how the journey into interior design started. I started to do two or three projects a year for friends and family and then five or six years ago I set up my business.
What does your architectural training bring to your work?
Being able to interpret and play with volume comes very easily; just walking into a space and knowing how to subdivide it. We do a lot of creating double-height spaces, because of the magic and drama that can create.
When I first did interior design, I did it with the attitude of a hardcore architect – all the floors would be the same, every window would have the same treatment, and it was very simple and harmonious. But then I discovered the joy of materials and textures and combining them, and now I think, it’s not ‘less is more’, it’s ‘more is less’. The ceilings will have one finish, the wall will have another, the floors might have two or three different finishes. It has to blend in though – every detail is thought through, and the client is very much in sync with it.
On of your talents is for mixing materials to create spaces with personality – are materials one of your passions?
Materials can totally transform a space. Architectural volumes – how you move from small to large spaces, the contrast between dark and light – are how you create drama. But materials are the thing that creates intimacy, and sets the mood.
What other elements might make up a home you have designed?
I’m very interested in mid-century design – a lot from Sweden and Denmark and also Italian designers such as Gio Ponti and Franco Albini. I like how each piece looks as if it’s been crafted with so much thought. Very sculptural, and very functional.
I also have this concept of ‘addition through subtraction’ – using sliding walls, almost like the Japanese idea, so you can use beautiful screens that then become almost invisible when you don’t need them. A lot of people still want to add a lower-ground floor that has easy access to the garden, with a kitchen, family room, maybe a guest bedroom. You could have it quite open plan, but it needn’t be that large all the time – we still want to feel cosy and nurtured sometimes – and sliding walls can divide up those spaces.
Can you explain more about the holistic approach you take to interiors?
Most of my designs are holistic – mind, body and spirit – and whether clients specifically ask for that or not, it’s always prevalent. It stems from studying eastern philosophies; I always bring feng shui principles and design around the sun’s orientation, for example. The flow of a house is very important. It should be cosy but not feel too cluttered, with a flow of passage. A lot of architects don’t mind if the staircase goes up anticlockwise, but for me it’s a complete no-no! For me, clockwise is the natural way for energy to travel. I also try and introduce nature in every room, which could be symbolically through art rather than something more obvious.
Your clients have wonderful art collections – what’s your approach to working with art?
Our clients are putting a lot of money into art and they want to show it off, so we will often place the art first and then build the room around it. A lot of the time I find that people don’t know how to place art correctly – you either have it in you or you don’t! I think the artwork should talk to each other – there should be a conversation, even if the art is from all different periods.
I like to group a lot of small pieces together, and we’re sometimes curating art in more informal ways now – on top of a cupboard, or resting on the floor. We use multimedia art a lot, which can really light up a space, especially in basements. And the other thing we do a lot is use art on staircases: the light filters well into staircases at different points of the day, and you also get to see the art from lots of different angles as you move around it.
Has the definition of luxury changed?
A lot of clients say they want a ‘wow’ result, and our designs are strong but they’re not about crystal chandeliers. Our clients are comfortable with themselves and don’t need to show the world anything; luxury for them is how they craft spaces for themselves. How to make it perfect, just for them.