It’s easy to miss the Studio 823 office. The garage-cum-loft is located between two buildings in Dadar. And you’re likely to walk past it without noticing. Hint: Keep an keep on the stray cats and dogs of the neighbourhood. Follow them. The architects are animal lovers, and feed them. So they’re likely to lead you right into the studio.
Inside, it’s an office so compact, and so packed with books, guitars, comic figurines, upcycled objects (tarpaulin used to make a clock, masks made using discarded paper), that you’d be scared to make sudden movements, lest you bring half the things tumbling down. There’s a loft too, occupied by a team of interns and junior architects. It may look unassuming; it may look small. But this is where the designs for a lot of new-age, urban spaces are born.
Think Birdsong (Bandra West), a café done up in wood and concrete with doodles on the wall (2013); Please Don’t Tell (PDT; Kamala Mills), which exudes an underground-bunker vibe; Filter (Kala Ghoda), a white-and-grey, minimal stationery store, and Caravan Hands, an art gallery in Cumballa Hill.
Architects Siddhesh Kadam (36), Samir Raut (36), and Faizan Khatri (35) kick-started the studio in 2010. Batchmates at the Rizvi College of Architecture, Bandra, they collaborated off and on for design projects. Until Raut and Kadam decided to start the studio, and Khatri joined in. The name, Studio 823, has the sort of amusing back story only friends-turned-colleagues tend to have: “[When we started], we were working eight days a week, 23 hours a day,” says Khatri.
The studio space is an extension of their lives. The action figures and graphic novels are Khatri’s, the books are Raut’s. Kadam collects discarded items, and the upcycled products are part of his new venture, Item, which will hit art retail stores in three months.
Their latest project — Fun Republic Social, Andheri (W) — pays tribute to the neighbourhood’s Bollywood connection. Distinct from other Social outposts, the space features floral wallpaper, a curtained stage, chandeliers, kitschy Bollywood posters. It’s remarkably different from Todi Mill Social — also designed by the trio — a warehouse aesthetics like exposed brick walls and pipes.
The industrial vibe might have risen, been overdone, and on its way out now, but the architects call themselves “trend-neutral”. So they don’t shy away from the trendy if the space demands it. “For Todi Mill Social, we had an argument with the client. We didn’t want exposed brickwork (too many eateries had it). But it works there because it’s a mill area. If you wipe it out, then you’re taking away its history,” says Khatri.
On their website, they call their studio “a collaboration of ideas, ideals and aspirations…”. So, while their core team is small, they collaborate extensively. “At any time, we don’t have more than five people working here (including interns and junior architects). The three of us work on certain projects together, and with other people on other projects. By extension, we end up working with 40-50 people,” says Raut.
The trio admits to being choosy about projects, though. They take up a maximum of four projects at a time. And they’re keener on the challenging ones. “We’re not a factory. We don’t like to repeat our designs. So, if someone approaches us to repeat the design concept of Todi Social, we will probably say no, as that concept is over for us,” says Khatri.
Experimentation is at the core of their practice. “We get bored very fast, so we do new things to stay interested; in that, we’re still kids at heart,” says Khatri.
Raut gives the example of The Bar Stock Exchange in Colaba (2015), for which they have used marble for the bar. “We’d never used marble before. But inside an Art Deco building (chrome and marble are used extensively in Art Deco), it fit the context,” says Raut.
Since they rarely repeat designs, Studio 823 doesn’t have regular vendors or spots to source from. Instead, they team up with artisan, and design their own furniture, lights, right down to the hinges and panels, based on the space.
In a cramped city, space is at a premium, and has to have multiple uses. The trio cite the example of Rudavril, a 300 sqft boutique on Hughes Road (2015). Within that space, they fit the fashion designer’s display, workshop, trial room, and a pantry. “And it still doesn’t look small,” says Raut, adding, “To achieve that, we had to fabricate everything, from the tiles to the hinges.”
Currently, the team is busy restoring a section of the Great Western Building, Fort (for the office of Filter). “It’s a Grade II heritage structure. It was the first High Court of Bombay in the 1920s. It is made with 150-year-old wood covered with laminate and painted over. We are trying to remove the layers of paint and laminate. The wood that is emerging is amazing. Sometimes, you have to remove rather than add,” says Khatri.