Designer Stories

Decoding Mr. Khozema Chitalwala

An award-winning architect and designer and also the founder of Mumbai-based design studio, Designers Group.
In this episode of Design Leaders Decoded, we have Mr. Khozema Chitalwala, an award-winning architect and designer and also the founder of Mumbai-based design studio, Designers Group.

The experienced and acclaimed hospitality architecture and design expert started Designers Group 30+ years back with his wife Sujata. Today, they are a group of 50 professionals. Ar. Chitalwala has devoted more than 30 years of his practice to hospitality and is recognized as a hospitality architect and designer in the industry. With the kind of projects he has done, including Devi Ratn, Vivanta by Taj, Radisson Blu, Pride Plaza, Novotel Resorts to name a few, he is on the preferred designers’ list of most Indian as well as international brands. To understand his brand positioning and design philosophy, we asked him many questions that you, too, would like answers to. Read on.

Designers Group Vision

Mr. Chitalwala’s design studio has executed excellent projects such as Pride World City, a commercial project in Maharashtra, and a few clubhouses and residential projects. But it is especially renowned for its work in hospitality. We tried to understand from the expert how it all happened. 

“I had an urge to become a hospitality professional. And when I got the opportunity in the year 1999-2000, the experience was fabulous because creating projects in the public domain is very challenging. You can’t do a cut copy paste job. That’s when I decided that I needed to get focused. I practiced more and more, and today we are 50 people who practice only hospitality design here at Designers Group.” 

“In long-term projection, I would like to say we want to be considered serious hospitality experts. In India, we have already established a great presence. Still, we would like to step into international areas where people consider us as one of the leading hospitality architecture and design firms from India. That’s what our long-term goal is. And I am ready to work hard for it,” explained Mr. Chitalwala. 

We certainly are sure that the Designers Group will mark its presence in more international regions. 

An Award-Winning Design Studio

Mr. Khozema Chitalwala has done several exemplary projects. Also, his firm Designers Group has been awarded for excellence for its project Devi Ratn, Jaipur – IHCL SeleQtions by the World Architecture Community Awards (WA). The revamped boutique hotel was awarded under the ‘Realised Interior Design’ projects category. The Taj brand hotel Devi Ratn is designed to depict the rich heritage of Jaipur. Its other-worldly design vision exemplifies subtle nuances making a bold and captivating statement. Being a part of Taj Hotels’ line of boutique spaces, the project had to have its unique and isolated identity. 

It was achieved with several details such as the landscaping stimulated by Mughal architecture for a regal character, the glistening ceiling design and lighting elements, vibrant décor elements to add colorful hues to the design, attractive furniture configurations, and most importantly, soft furnishings depicting the Rajasthani culture. The gem of the royal project is ‘Vyom’ – the all-day dining with seating arrangements to offer the majestic views of the Aravalli hills. 

To retain the authentic structure, the Designers Group avoided the intervention with the civil work unless necessary. And this was critical in creating a harmony between the heritage architecture and new intricate details. 

A Few of Our Favorites by Mr. Chitalwala and Designers Group

Pride Plaza, Delhi

Devi Ratn, Jaipur

Novotel, Goa

Design Conceptualization for Different Categories of Projects

One thing that’s the most prevalent in the design and architecture industry is the concept of being “ unique.” So, how do professionals keep delivering one unique project after the other? We tried to understand it from the expert.  

“As far as our practice is concerned, we do all kinds of projects from 3-star and budget to premium and boutique hotels. And every property, irrespective of the budget, has to have its own identity. And that identity can be created with a storyline for that particular project. Hence, inspiration is essential. 

“For us, look, and nuances are, some things that we rely upon – it may be nature, environment, or something that may be related to art, culture, and craft. We like to bring in the look and nuances in our design to create our own personal identities for all the hotels. That also helps in designing even a minimalistic product better. We try to get a flavor that gives that little edge to a very bland or a very contemporary hotel. We create its own characteristics by doing that.”

Explaining it further, he said, “for example, we are doing a project in Mumbai where we took Bollywood as a reference point. In another project in Mumbai, we took Mumbai’s lifeline, such as railways, black and yellow taxi lines, etc., as a reference. Those kinds of nuances are taken as inspiration, and the design is created accordingly to give it a differentiation. At the same time, it creates a great narration for the media. Also, when there’s a story behind a project, it helps me create a better product.”

That’s indeed a very clever and creative way of designing a project that people resonate with. That’s what every client expects.  

The Making of an Expert

Choosing a niche and gaining expertise in it is very important rather than doing everything and not being able to deliver excellent projects. Mr. Chitalwala also believes that being an expert in a particular niche is essential for success. So, how do you go about doing it? How do you better yourselves every day? Let’s understand from the expert.  

“Architecture or design does not only mean that you create a good design, and you win. There is a lot of thinking that goes into it. You need to understand the segment that a project comes under, what is the target audience like, which location is the project in, etc. Let’s say there’s a boutique brand that is built on a beach and a boutique brand that is built on a hillside – both will have a different kind of feel. At the same time, if there is a place where the younger crowd is coming, we need a similar sort of design detail. This understanding is essential for anybody to create a good project. 

“For example, I can create a house for a client. But there is a huge difference between a house and a home. A home is something that is holistically complete. And in order to create a home for them, I need to get involved with them; I need to understand their requirements and the way their lifestyle is. Similarly, when we do hospitality projects, we try and bring all of that together and then plan the project. This is something you learn with experience.”

Experience of Working With Designer Brands

A very important question for the very talented Mr. Khozema Chitalwala – what is his experience of working with designer brands like? His answer was something like this – “When a brand or a product is conceived, a detailed thought process goes into it. For example, what is the kind of target audience? With a young, industrial-looking hospitality property, I don’t expect people in their 60s to visit. So, a minimalistic project, or very stark and industrial style environments, are more liked by teens (and Gen Z). Therefore, the layouts are different; the thought processes are different; the amenities are different. There are so many aspects. The kind of ARR which is expected out of that particular project is different than what a luxury property would have. 

“And every project, every brand, and every product has several specifications and definitions. When we talk about a 3-star project and a luxury project, the layering of details is vastly different. And the brand evaluates what the right kind of product for a particular project is. I generally feel that the brands do a lot of great exercises that help them analyze the right product for a project.”

There is so much understanding of the purpose that needs to go into it (making decisions). But we are fortunate since we have a great ease of working with almost all the reputed brands that exist in India.

International Projects – the Collaboration of Brands

Networking is a huge part of the design and architecture industry. And with a network built over decades, Mr. Chitalwala has bagged not just many local but several international projects too. We asked him to elaborate on how these collaborations flourish. 

“We have done two projects in the US, and some projects in Nepal and other SAARC countries such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. So, our international footprint is growing. We are expanding, and our network is getting stronger. We have great partners here now – even people who have been working with us for 15 years and more and they have a good understanding of the philosophy of design. So, in the end, there’s always something better being brought to the table. That’s why brands are so comfortable that they keep coming back to us,” shared Mr. Chitalwala about his international projects. 

We think that it’s safe to say that experience and giving yourself time to grow is what matters the most.

All About Sourcing

Global product sourcing platforms have been gaining popularity every day. And we wanted to know from Mr. Chitalwala what his experience with sourcing platforms has been like. This is what he had to say, “In hospitality, you look at a complete project, not only from an architectural and design perspective but its overall beauty, including how operational it is. There are probably thousands of clients that need to procure, so we also require international associations. However, domestic supply chains are growing very fast here with the improved product line and quality. And those challenges that were there a decade back are not seen today.”

Continuing, he says, “there are two important components in a project apart from design – project management consultancy firm and procurement agency. The problem with procurement agencies is that people are not very comfortable; they think that agencies may not negotiate well. But my experience is that there are platforms that can give you the best deals because they have been in the industry for ages now with the top brands of the globe. They understand the numbers well. They even understand the logistics because, in the logistics industry, you need to decide that product A should come in last and needs not to be invested in, today. But product B, although it has to come in last, has a lot of lead time.

“So, the logistics are very well worked out by the procurement agency. This is where I feel that Indian supply chains are moving forward slowly and gradually to make sourcing tension-free and run everything more smoothly so that the projects are completed in time.”

Mr. Khozema Chitalwala + Arcedior

We have worked on some great products with Mr. Chitalwala, such as Pride Plus, the Fortune Landmark, Indore, and Fern, Ahmedabad. While our experience with the established architect and designer was simply brilliant, we wanted to know how his experience with Arcedior was. And this is what he had to say – “The experience was great. We wouldn’t have done multiple projects with Arcedior had the experience not been great. You guys have a dedicated team, and the management and reporting of quality checks have been great too. In today’s scenario, in addition to international collaborations, to complete a project beautifully, the best thing is to procure locally.” 

“The local market needs us, and procuring locally would also avoid the extension of time. And as a procurement agency, you guys are brilliant. In all the work you have done with us, you have always delivered.”

It’s good to hear such words from someone you appreciate so much! This was another amazing episode of our interview series Design Leaders Decoded. We will return soon with more conversations with architects and designers. Till then, keep creating!

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