The queen of interiors India Mahdavi on life and work

India Mahdavi, Queen of Interiors
India Mahdavi

India Mahdavi, known as “The Queen of Interiors” has established herself as a force to be reckoned with since her debut as an Interior Designer. Her peers and clients alike acclaim her work and always ask for more. Her style brings color but also humour and elegance to the spaces she touches. India’s body of work embodies her diverse cultural background.

I am not an expert in the field of Interior Designing or Architecture but I am certainly an avid spectator and sometimes client and can appreciate anything that brings about emotions, especially happy ones.

When asked to interview India Mahdavi, not only was I delighted because of her work but also because of our shared backgrounds. We both come from Iran and lived in New York and Paris therefore probably share some of the struggles but also wins that arise from moving around. I couldn’t wait to sit with her and get a glimpse of her. Who is this lady? What moves her? What ticks her? What inspires her?

How do you reconcile between being an Artist and a Business woman? Is it hard to think business when all you want is to create?

When you start this profession you don’t think to yourself that you will become a business person. The business side comes as you move along and you learn how to manage people. A lot of it is common sense. I’ve never made any decision that was linked to business, it was always my intuition that led to my decisions and my intuition has never failed me. Everyone asks me where my business plan is and I tell them “I don’t f… have a business plan!”. Everything I do is totally intuitive. I do things step by step at my level so I don’t take any silly risks. A lot of people think that at my level I would have shops all over the world. I haven’t done that because I know I cannot stretch myself. I will not jeopardize what I have for something that I don’t know how to do until I find a person who understands how to expand on the business side of things. But I do have my sister who works with me and she really takes care of all the finances so I have that side very secured!

A lot of artists struggle with this topic

It’s so true. I have a good balance in a way – I have the creative side but I also have common sense and this business is all about common sense. You look into ideas and if they don’t make sense you move on. 

I think I know my limits too. Either you can overcome your limits by finding someone who can help you or you know that this is your limit and you don’t go there. I think I know what I’m interested in and good at – I’m good at creation, at putting things together but I’m not necessarily interested in doing super commercial expansions at my company for the moment. What is difficult is to fine-tune what you are interested in and where you put your energy. So first you want to succeed at what you are doing so you get your reputation going and you invest money into a studio to create a signature name. Success is something fragile and one has to be careful. What I’m interested in doing (and it took me time to understand) is working with clients who understand who I am and who can respect my work. It’s not about getting any work or any job. My time is very limited and I want to spend it with people whom I really like. 

What if you have an amazing client but your visions are completely opposite? How would you go about staying true to your brand but making them happy at the same time? Would you compromise or walk away? 

You know things don’t really happen like that. With experience you understand where your clients want to go and you explain to them that there are two ways to approach the situation:

a) either I do the complete job but I need to be free-handed or

b) you can get furniture from me and I will do the layout for you.

So you don’t have to do everything completely except for a job like Ladurée where you have full control of everything, up to the music. 

What is a typical day in India’s life?

A typical day? It’s a lot of work you know! I wake up quite early. I try to do sports three times a week – either go running or do Pilates. I have very healthy breakfasts which usually consist of fruits, nuts and chia seeds. Then I go to the office relatively early. I am lucky enough that my office is right around the block so I don’t have to go very far. I get there and I start my working day! I do a lot of different things on very different scales. For example, I have an architecture project in Iran where I am designing a building. I design identity-based projects like Ladurée. I also design furniture and objects. So my work can be as big as a building and as small as a ring!

And within my studio, we design, we control the manufacturing, we sell and we communicate. Creating and communication require about the same amount of time and today we communicate all the time! When I started it was all about creativity and communication took very little place and today it has all changed.

Do you feel that your clients have also changed?

The way we work has changed a lot. Before you would create plans, show the materials then come up with an image towards the middle of the project. Today you start with the image. You start with the end and either the clients like or dislike the image. So you have to make sure that the image you provide is sufficiently attractive from the get go.

What is your design style? Your philosophy?

That’s a big question! My philosophy is to enjoy yourself when you design. The end result need to seem light but done in a professional way. Easy looking is not easy to make – it’s actually the hardest.

Do normal people get intimidated when you go to their house?

That’s for sure! I’ve heard some people say that they won’t invite me because they think I may not like what I see.

You know success is quite isolating. There are two things that isolate you in life: Success and Failure. Once you understand that, you’ll be fine.

Have you ever failed?

I think you learn more from failure than you do from success. A failure in all reality is something that doesn’t fit your expectations. There is a learning curve to understand why you fall and how to get up. You learn so much from it and it’s part of life. 

I’ve never failed in the sense that I never collapsed but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. You are always aware of things that could happen and therefore evaluate the risks that you are willing to take. 

Rule #1: Key to success is WORK. Of course if you have talent it’s great but I know tons of people with talent who didn’t make it. 

Some luck maybe?

You create your own luck. You see opportunities and you grab them. It’s about the right timing, the right place… But you need to recognise opportunity. It’s all about seeing those windows, taking the risk and going for it. I also think that personality is very important. Today I am becoming more precise with what I want to do therefore I like to control few things. People may look at me and think of me as a Diva because of it but I am doing this for the good of the project. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

Everything inspires me. It can be a book, a movie, an object. It’s all about seeing things. I am short sided so I don’t see things clearly but with a filter. A lot of my inspirations come from my conscious and unconscious memories. For instance I have always loved working with Velvet because it’s soft and has deep colors.  And today everyone wants velvet, the Hot fabric! I’ve recently learned that it was invented in Iran, my home country – is it a coincidence or part of my DNA?

So you love colors! But what if you feel ‘blue’ one day? 

Then I see things in blue 🙂 Colors are like Cheerios, they bring you joy.

What do you think everyone should have in their home, no matter who they are?

My book!!

Home Chic

What do you know today that you wish you knew when you started your career? (life and work)

The value of time is the most important thing you realise as you move on in life. I would have done so much more! One has to nourish themselves all the time with books, movies, travels – I think I could have pushed myself harder much younger. You think that you stay young for ever!

But at the same time I think that doing nothing is also good for your soul – you have that time to mature. Many things in life require a certain amount of maturity and that comes only with time.

What kind of boss are you?

I think the way I’ve been a boss has evolved so much because I have become more precise about what I want and what I expect of people. I am also older and work with people who are much younger. My studio is also a school because I teach and when you teach you cannot touch everybody – some people will be very receptive and others won’t. I also want to protect my sensibility when I work.  I would love to be the super loving and kind boss but in order to protect myself and my practice I have to be strict otherwise I don’t get what I want. If you want to be precise and achieve things you have to be able to say “this is not what I want”.

You have a son. Are you the same kind of mom as you are a boss?

No I don’t think so. For a long time I felt like I had to switch my roles between ‘Boss’ and ‘Mom’. My son is studying Architecture in London and I see him much less now – he’s been in boarding school for five years. I told him “because I see you less, we should always do fun things together. We should make the times we have special.” So once or twice per year we do fantastic trips together.

As a student in Architecture, does he want to follow your footsteps?

He’s only in his first year so he will find out what he wants to do later.

You must have inspired him a great deal.

I think I inspired him to use his eyes. A musician will use his ears, a cook will use his taste and I use my eyes which a lot of people don’t. Learning how to see is a skill that can be learned.

Do you have a bucket list?

I would love to become a grand-mother!  I would like to make a movie about my life, build architecture, do things I’ve never done.

Thank you dear India for your time but also for letting me in your world:)

Images, courtesy of India Mahdavi

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