Ar Behzad Kharas talks about his journey into the world of design in a casual tête-à-tête with Anuja Abraham
Designing to him is just a profession, but Ar. Behzad Kharas truly believes in investing in relationships and staying humble while climbing the allegorical ladders of success. He relives his journey through hardships and relentless perseverance that brought him to Mumbai and helped him establish his loyal clientele over the years.
When did you realize that you wanted to start designing?
My dad is an architect. He never practiced on his own. He was a project manager for the present king of Bahrain. So obviously his friends would come over. They would sit at my place over the weekends and do drawings of buildings. It was like-father like-son thing. It truly influenced my career move. On some days, when I look back I wonder if this was a big mistake. Honestly, architecture is the most pathetically paid profession for the work we are doing. In India, they don’t value the intellectual think tank or creativity. I believe I would be making more money if I were a doctor.
If not an architect, you would be…
I could’ve been a good cook.
Do you really enjoy cooking?
All of a sudden, yes. I find it very therapeutic. I take up baking every Sunday, it is my therapy day.
Maybe someday you could start your own restaurant?
That’s when the grief sets in. When you commercialize it, you become business minded. It is more of a hobby now. Hence I enjoy it more.
One thing that your clients really appreciate about you
We invest in building relationships with every project. We meet our clients’ whims and fancies and we try to resolve issues years after the project has been completed. There are plenty of other designers who are better than me, no doubt about it. But we are still in touch with all our clients and step up to assist them in any which way possible. This is something we do in order to maintain healthy relations with our customers.
You’ve had a period in your life where you battled serious financial crisis. Amidst all this, how did you start with your practice?
So after completing my graduation from Rizvi College, Bandra in 2002 I started working under Ar. Pronit Nath. I worked with him for two years and then with Hafeez Contractor for a very brief period. But I had to quit in less than 15 days and return home as my dad had gotten paralysed in 2004. It was a very difficult period for my family. We had incurred a lot of expenditure and we were practically on the streets. Our bank accounts were completely cleaned up. Dad had stashed away his savings and could not recollect where it was. He does not know where it is.
I was back in Nashik looking for a job. Pronit sir was extremely helpful during those days and I immensely respect him for that. So he allowed me to travel back home two -three days a week for my dad’s physiotherapy. I would come to Nashik and work in the mornings and take whatever work back with me to Pronit sir. This went on for a long period until a friend asked me to design his office space in 2005. I was given a small table space to sit and start working and that’s how I began with my first project.
So when did you finally decide to shift back to Bombay and how has your journey been since?
So suddenly one day I decided to get married. Given the financial mess, I took a bank loan and got married. So an extremely close family friend asked my why am I wasting my time in Nashik when I could go back and practice in Bombay. So he gave me an 8 x 8 sq ft space in his office. This was in 2007 post my marriage.
At that time, my wife came from a much more affluent family. She was used to staying in an air conditioned house. I pulled her out of the comfort area and brought her to South Bombay where we lived in a small 1 Bhk with sofa cum bed and no AC. So given the humidity and heat of this city, she would stay up all night and sweat profusely. My mum even suggested that I leave my job and move to Dubai. Debts were increasing, medical expenses were high. But my wife was my rock. She was my biggest support. She encouraged me to continue with whatever I was doing. For eight months that I was sitting in that client’s office, obviously I did his projects for free. They were gracious enough to introduce me to people in the community and get me assignments. Then the whole process started. I started from a chawl, from there we shifted to Tardeo and started operating out of a defunct mall and from there, we are here today. Since I didn’t know anyone I had to invest in relationships and people believed in me. That is how I built the whole firm.
So relationships are truly an important part of your service?
Before dad was paralysed, I was the college kid who would be the first to own a car and have tons of attitude. Money was freely flowing. All this changed when dad got sick and we were practically on the streets. A lot of friends walked away. Very few stuck around. I understood the true value of friendships. I have a lot of acquaintances today but only three friends in Bombay, who will go to any extent to help me. So relationships are extremely critical. People have appreciated me as a person, if not a designer and that has helped me grow.
Who has influenced your design styles?
My influence undoubtedly comes from Pronit sir. The reason I joined his firm for half the salary that I was getting was because of his tremendous capability to conceptualise a fresh new design and that was the biggest asset.
You think your design philosophy changed over time?
It started with modernism then moved to marwadism (jokingly). We primarily cater to our client’s aesthetics and tastes. My design team draws influences from a lot of international designs, classical designs, modernism etc.
Your signature style is…
I would work with a lot of patterns so patterns have become my signature style. So I would work with ornate, glass, alabaster and I loved working with patterns on it.
Architects that have left a lasting impression on you
I truly admired Raj Rewal. I think he had more Indianness to his design which was contextual and climatologically adhered to. And his every project would be different from the other. He was way ahead of his times compared to his contemporaries. To execute the projects he did would be extremely difficult even today.
One architect that inspired me as a student was Santiago Calatrava; he is renowned for bridge designs and rail stations, museum and such public areas. His book The Poetics of Movements really inspired me.
Since we do interiors a lot, we really admire the works of Wills and Associates. A lot of designers from Europe have an impressive body of work; their designs are very clean, simple and straight. It doesn’t work in our culture because our culture loves to showcase arts and artefacts.
One design mistake you would avoid
Cluttering of elements and colours in a space
Your dream home would be like
It has to be next to the sea. Those are the pre-requisites of my wife. For me, I want simple, not over-the-top, stylish yet elegant home done up in beige, grey and white. And yes, I want lots of art and automation. I would love to accessorise the space.
How do you strike a work-life balance?
Living a balanced life is very important. I don’t encourage my staff to work overtime, it is better to have a balance. I am very family person and will not be seen out socializing much. I’m an introvert and in my free time, I rush back home to spend time with my wife and son. I don’t work on Sundays and definitely don’t entertain client calls/visits. It is not that I’m not ambitious or work oriented, but I believe there is a time for everything. If you call me at 2 in the morning or stay up till midnight to finish the project, I will, but not on a Sunday. My priority is my family because I want to spend as much time with my son when he’s young. Tomorrow when he’s older and a teenager, maybe he won’t be emotionally available to us. We spend time together doing father-son things like play, watch cartoons together. My parents were in Bahrain while I was growing up at my grandparent’s place in Nashik and I had developed a close bond with my grandparents more than my parents. So such things matter to me a lot.
Advice to the next generation of architects and designers
Don’t let success get to your head. Keep improvising rather than sticking to certain style and get out of your comfort zone. Don’t overdesign a project.