From designing a nursery for film director and producer Karan Johar’s twins to designing the flagship store for Ralph Lauren in the national capital, Gauri Khan, founder and chief executive of Gauri Khan Designs, has established herself as a designer who can work across a wide range of projects with equal élan. That is why the 47-year-old, a National Institute of Fashion Technology alumna, makes her debut on the Fortune India Most Powerful Women list this year. The last year has been particularly busy: She designed a party room for Nita and Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia, opened her flagship store in Juhu, Mumbai, and designed interiors for the ‘one night only’ party in Mumbai by London-based nightclub Cirque le Soir. In an interview with Fortune India, she talks about her work style and plans. Edited excerpts:
You work across an array of projects. How do you manage expectations?
My design style is focussed on comfort and my speciality is mixing colours. As a designer, it is easy for me to understand what each assignment stands for. It is not just a job. For example, designing a nursery comes naturally to me. I have raised my three children. Apart from designing a place which looks beautiful, I think for a nursery, the most important aspect would be the comfort factor; you have to keep a lot of factors in mind for a baby who is coming into the world.
The designing has to be very calm and soothing.With experience, you tend to understand people’s minds better. As you travel more, experiences in life equip you to design multiple spaces for people from different backgrounds and age groups. I have gathered that experience through my travels, of being a mother, a student, and a designer now. These experiences give me the comfort and confidence to design for different spaces.
What has been your best decision so far as a designer?
Opening the Gauri Khan Designs store was one of my best decisions. I started with a 500 sq. ft. store in 2011, and then went up to 2,000 sq. ft. I wanted to see where the business goes, how it grows, and what kind of opportunities I have.
And I think we have done well. Over the past seven years, business has been growing more than 30% year-on-year and that is when we decided to open a bigger space in Juhu.
Will we see Gauri Khan Designs expanding to other cities and countries?
We are not looking to expand at the moment. Multiple projects would mean devoting more of my time. Hence, getting consumed in retail is something I don’t want to do right now. I want to focus on projects which are key to me and that is not something I can have multiples of. I would not like to do a mass business; it would have to be about something I love. And I want to give my personal attention to each and every project. The minute we expand, it would mean I need to keep ‘x’ amount of stock, designers, ‘x’ number of architects and then it becomes mass. I don’t know if I’m ready to go there yet.
Tell us more about the store.
Gauri Khan Designs is a multiple-brand store and we have international brands such as Roberto Cavalli and Ralph Lauren Home, who we have tied up with to bring their products [home decor] to India. The key is also to have my own designs, to cater to clients and their needs, which vary from modern to eclectic to classic. So our plan is to keep the client happy and offer them every kind of brand and style.
What do you look for when you pick a project?
First, what excites me is how interested is the client in designing a particular space. That is an important criterion for me because if the client is not interested in how the project is going to shape up, it becomes hard to give shape to their aspirations and dreams. If they have a casual attitude about the space and they are not going to be involved completely, it is not exciting for me. The client has to show clear interest in me and the project which we are going to drive together. That’s what keeps me going in any project. Designing is a tricky job—giving a face to your client’s expectations and aspirations is not easy. It takes a lot of effort and time but it all falls into place when you know your client well.