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Conceived in India, designer goes global

Paris, July 3 (AFP): Tall, friendly, 40-something, architect, interior designer and furniture designer India Mahdavi has been tagged “the next big thing in the world of design”.

A high-flier who less than five years after launching her own business has chalked up contracts with the likes of Givenchy, Joseph and Vuitton, Mahdavi’s ultra-contemporary creations are hailed as being both functional and sensual, masculine and feminine.

“I think I’ve been lucky,” said the woman who is one of the few to make it in an otherwise essentially male preserve. “When you’re a minority you get more attention.”

To be or not to be the next big thing, however — as she was described by Vogue — “is not a goal. The goal is to have fun, to do things with pleasure, to travel if possible”.

Conceived in India (hence the name) by Egyptian-Iranian parents, and brought up in France, Germany and the US, the Paris-based Mahdavi is the archetypal citizen of the world, with projects as far-flung as New York, Mexico, Egypt and Australia.

Her style' “Simple chic, not overdone, not underdone, always getting the right balance, trying to get something right within our times.”

Up until 9/11, she said, much of the up-market world of design was obsessed with “the Wow effect... how crazy can you get, how far can you go”. Meanwhile the Zen-like world of minimalism is passé.

“Now, no one is spending as much. People have realised it’s more important to be more conscious of space, of environment,” she said. “People have to be creative and more thoughtful.”

“The feeling of the project is what’s important,” she added, defining the process behind her design of the trendy six-floor, 80-room Townhouse hotel in Miami for New York entrepreneur and restaurateur Jonathan Morr.

Miami, she said, was full of boutique hotels built to look European. “But Miami is not sophisticated, it’s a beach place that’s quite vulgar. I define it as a sea, sex and fun city where showing off and cruising is the main activity.”

So The Townhouse is done out in blue, red and beige. “Why pretend Miami is something it’s not. I thought let’s do a beach house, something fresh and beachy. I wanted it to be a happy place.”

The quirky hotel has no pool but instead sports a rooftop terrace with outdoor queen-size waterbeds, huge red umbrellas and a glow-in-the-dark water tower with an inside fountain and surround-sound stereo.

Hallways are sound-tracked and stocked with benches, newspapers and comics, and there are water fountains and gym machines located at the end of each corridor.

In New York, where Morr asked Mahdavi to design a night club and bar in the meatmarket, she first came up blank, but then suggested a space based on entertaining at home.

She dreamt up an imaginary host, a French bachelor in his 50s who teaches at Columbia, likes women and loves to entertain. So to enter APT — the name of the club — guests ring a bell to enter the foyer, go through a corridor and then find a bed in the middle of the room.

In Mexico, where she is working on another hotel, Mahdavi took the inspiration for the colours and tone from an old photo of Cuba ripped out of a magazine, a picture which is all washed-out greens and blues. A feature on the walls of the hotel, where each bed will face a window, will be stylised crosses.

As with each of her projects, Mahdavi is also designing the furniture — a square white ceramic table for Mexico — and when a piece especially pleases her she includes it among items on display at a newly-opened showroom in Paris.

“The reason I got involved with furniture is that it’s quicker than architecture. You dream it up and it’s ready the next month.”

Where is the inspiration' “Chance encounters, materials... memories, emotions, things seen at a function, a store, the flea market, a movie,” she said. “You pick things up in the street.”

In Egypt, where she is working on a hotel and three houses in Siwa Oasis near the Libyan border, the inspiration is drawn from the light, from materials at hand and from tradition. There are rock-salt bricks, palm on the floors, rope door-handles.

“I’m multicultural and can adapt easily, and I’m very sensitive to houses and to the environment because I didn’t have one,” she added.

In Siwa, one of the homes will be hers. “It’s my place in paradise,” she said.

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