Her recent avenue of work is the “Modern Kitchen” campaign in rural areas. Along with her thoughts on the current scene of interior design in Bangladesh, freelancer Saba Homaira Ahmad has shared details of her journey in the arena of interior design so far.
What inspired you to study interior design and become an interior designer?
When I was a kid, I wanted to become an architect or a pilot. But when the time came, Dhaka University’s BBA unit held its admission test first. I reluctantly took the exam and surprisingly got in. Saying yes to BBA seemed like a good way to get away from studying for any other admission tests at the time, so I accepted. In my late twenties, I realized that I should have studied spaces after all. It was too late for architecture, and by then, I had also developed an interest in interior design, so I decided to pursue that.
What aspects of your life from childhood to present have shaped your design principles and philosophies?
I was (and to some extent, still am) a sickly child with severe dust allergies. Too much furniture or intricate woodwork would irk me. I was weak, so a sticky door would frustrate me more than anybody else. I couldn’t play much, so the forced inactivity made me more observant. I learned early on that a good environment serves and supports its occupants/users in their worst days. I realized that good design is much like good health; you don’t think about it until you fall sick. A well designed space may not always manifest itself through eye-catching objects or structures, but will rather dissolve into the background, and let the occupant just ‘be’. Of course, it is different for recreational spaces, retail outlets and restaurants; but for homes, hotels or hospitals, if the space does not ‘embrace’ the occupants as they go about their days, then the design is not doing its job.
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In general there are more female interior designers than men. Why do you think this is happening?
Women are intrinsically caring and nurturing. It is women, who typically protect the seed, the soil, or take care of the children and the elderly. It is only natural that women would be more attracted to a profession that requires empathy.
Share with us your experience with Global Alliance for Clean Cookstove’s “Modern Kitchen” campaign.
The Alliance leads the way in promoting clean cooking stoves and cleaner fuel all around the world. In Bangladesh, the Alliance is promoting several modern stoves and fuel, primarily to reduce indoor air pollution.
I was approached by Purplewood Ltd – the Alliance's strategic communications partner – to lead the makeover activity. It was an interesting idea – creating clean cooking awareness by repositioning the kitchen in people's minds. While doing this project, we realized that rural kitchens are largely ignored because they’re considered a “women’s place”, therefore not worthy of investments, or even improvements. We needed an innovative approach to create interest and dialog, in order to elevate kitchens to a modern platform, compared to its usual relegated position.
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Describe your style as a client of yours might describe it.
My style can be best described as ‘warm modern’. It is part Scandinavian, part Japanese, and inevitably, part Bangladeshi. Just like a Scandinavian approach to design, I appreciate spaces that are unpretentious and lived in. I’m very particular about lighting – warm, layered, diffused and dimmer lights are always my first choice. I like soft corners, and smooth, fluid circulation. My design is part Japanese for its humble, edited approach. I don’t do ego, and I don’t get glitz.
Any designer or architect who has influenced you?
Humility and empathy in design attract me. I love Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. He designed, in his exact words: "for the little man in the street."
I like English interior designer Ilse Crawford’s work for how she thinks about material, and weaves past into present. She guides her team by saying: “we have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. We should use those in that proportion.”
In Bangladesh, architect Salauddin Ahmed’s cafe Mango was one of the first “designed” spaces that I visited, and it surely planted the seed of curiosity for small spaces in me.
What is your view regarding the state of interior design in Bangladesh?
Right now, in our country, architects do interior designers’ work, and designers to the decorators’ work. With so many modest apartments or spaces that often struggle to offer what the residents need, interior design has a huge prospect. It can help pack on more functions or more storage out of those tight square footage, and make the most of the existing structure.
Designers need to be included in the interior planning process, preferably as early as possible. These days, in design savvy countries, a designer’s work even starts from the interior to the exterior, in parallel with the architect’s. We need that kind of appreciation and inclusion. We are getting there though; slowly, but surely.
Among all your projects, which one have you been satisfied with the most?
That would probably be the one with the Global Alliance for clean cook stoves. This particular project showcased that interior design, as a profession, has the potential to touch lives on all levels. It’s a democratic profession, it is not for the elites only, and it is beyond decoration. It showed that even a few well thought out details can add drastic improvements in the users’ lives.
Saba Homaira Ahmad can be reached at [email protected], and on instagram saba_h_ahmad