The polychromatic dreamlands of Iranian-French architect India Mahdavi are unrivalled. Her sensibility for colour, composition and pattern leads to interiors that make people feel at home wherever they are, a necessary skill for a global nomad like her.
India grew up between Tehran, US, Germany and France, drawing influences from all walks of life. Iran is one of the well-springs of her style that taps into the urban brutality of Tehran and the softness of interiors laden with textiles, patterns and bowls of fruit. Germany gave her a deep respect for rigor and structure, while France taught her the power of understated elegance.
She’s currently settled in Paris’ Seventh Arrondissement where she set up her design studio headquarters 20 years ago. Since establishing her own practice, India’s developed a flair for commercial and hospitality design, where she focuses on making people feel happy and joyful wherever they are.
From sophisticated showrooms for the likes of London shoe brand Tod’s or decadent private clubs in Milan, India’s signature style shows an acute awareness of colour and composition with a tendency for bold patterns.
India has a perfect chromatic pitch and is one of the main instigators of the pink revival. In 2014, she decked out London’s most instagrammed restaurant, Sketch, in a soft shade of pink that graced the walls, ceilings and furniture. She teamed up with illustrator David Shrigley, lining the walls with his black and white drawings to punctuate.
Shortly after the revamped space opened, Wes Aderson released the Grand Budapest Hotel in which the director opted for a sharp palette of vibrant reds, pinks and purples in favour of his usual pale yellow hues. Two years later, Pantone named pink its colour of the year, and the term “millennial pink” was coined around the same time. If you’re ever in doubt about colour, she is one to look to.
India’s tips on colour
- Use at least three or four shades. Choosing two is just kind of boring.
- Think of colour as an identifier in space. Let objects mark their territory.
As a trained architect, India has a deep understanding of space and composition. She studied architecture with the aim of using that spatial awareness to make films, but instead developed an interest in creating more permanent and tangible worlds.
As well as interiors, India also designs furniture. She has a full collection and also creates custom pieces for her clients, again stretching the boundaries of her compositional and structural awareness. She understands every component of an interior from the foundations to the artistic decor, so she can arrange these elements in any way she likes to tell a story and evoke a feeling.
There is something cinematic about her spaces in the way she uses symmetry to frame perfect scenes, like in her 130-seat tea salon in Geneva. This interior shows a delicate balance of elegant shapes and deep colours to express a mood that’s somehow dainty and provocative at the same time.
India’s tips on composition
- Balance round, soft and sensual with hard and angular, for example an angular structured sofa covered in a soft velvet fabric.
- Think of sofas as the eyebrows of a room. They accentuate and punctuate space, and you can move them around so your space doesn’t need to stay static.
With such a diverse cultural upbringing, India’s inspiration for her patterns is varied. She finds harmony in chaos through experimenting with different styles and making bold choices.
For a recent tile collection, she looked to the abstract shapes of Bauhaus and Art Deco design, balancing busy patterns with muted tones. India also recently launched a wallpaper collection that takes inspiration from 16th century Persian art.
In her interiors, she tends to use patterns on a large scale on floors or walls, and softens them with block-coloured furniture in soothing fabrics. Her store design for Red Valentino on Sloane Street in London is a great example of this, where a patterned floor boasts large circles with sporadic spacing, but the gentle colours and velvet fabric calms the space down.
India’s tips on patterns
- Get the biggest samples that you can so you can hold them all together to see how they look.
- Take a photo of your space. It helps you take a step back and you’ll start to read what you couldn’t before.