“My philosophy is that designers should be able to absorb the world around themselves and then create something unique which is based on an imaginative concept”
Farahnaz Faruque, furniture, interior and exteriors’ designer extraordinaire talks toBlue Chip about design, imagination, and what it takes to be a successful woman.
How did you begin your career?
FF: “My career began by chance, after I designed my children’s furniture when they were very young. My father-in-law recongised my natural talent for furniture design and my eye for paint effects. He encouraged me to pursue this line of work and sent me for formal training.”
So how did you become a professional interior designer?
FF: “I started from a small scale in 1998 by creating a few pieces at home, after which I held an exhibition. The response was encouraging and through word of mouth the demand for my furniture increased substantially. As a result, I established my brand name Farahnaz and launched my studio two years later.
My first furniture exhibition, called ‘Space and Design’, showcased furniture that could be used in different ways. Over the years, I broadened my work portfolio by including exterior cement plaster finishes and interior paint finishes.”
What is your design philosophy?
FF: “My philosophy revolves around the creation of something unique based on an imaginative concept. The designers should be able to absorb the world around them which would eventually climax into the creation of a plethora of new designs.
However, I feel that while a true designer pays homage to traditions, he or she does not let them bind his or her imagination. Therefore, I am never scared of experimenting with different materials and designs.”
Does your increased workload entail travelling abroad?
FF: “Since my workload has grown substantially over the years, I have had to travel frequently and extensively to find good quality raw materials that are needed to enhance the overall look and feel of the furniture I design. During that time, I developed very close working relationships with world renowned luxury raw material suppliers and as a consequence I am regularly invited to attend their exhibitions in Paris and Barcelona. This gives me the opportunity to purchase and work with the materials and colours that are en vogue. Consequently, I now launch two collections a year, each of which comprises at least 120 pieces, which are all unique in their colour and finishes as they are all individually hand finished by me.”
You also take on interior designing projects for a select clientele in addition to individually designing your furniture pieces for exhibitions. How many of these projects do you take on?
FF: “I only take three or four interior designing projects a year; the whole process takes over a year, since it involves working in the client’s home and entails studying the lifestyle and requirements of the individual and his/her family. These projects usually begin from the time the architect sends in his/her initial sketches of the house in question, and my work entails selecting interior paint effects, exterior cement plaster finishes, fabric selection and furniture – in consultation with the client, of course. All this requires me to travel abroad to purchase the materials, and coordinate with my suppliers, so I can give each project an exclusive, personalised touch with great attention to detail. We source certain pieces of furniture from Europe and use brands such as Designer Gulid, Pierre Frey, Alma and Hornsby to name a few.”
Do you only do interior decorating for private clients or corporate ones as well?
FF: “Not at all. I have several corporate clients as well. In fact, I am currently work on a number of corporate projects, which I am enjoying immensely; they include designing the VIP lounges for Gerry’s in Karachi, Islamabad and Mirpur; the exterior finishes in cement plaster for Golf City and Bahria Town.”
Is the furniture that you suggest to your clients made entirely by you?
FF: “Absolutely not. In fact, I always discourage my clients to purchase the entire home furniture that is just made by me, because I feel that this is their home, not my showroom, and should therefore reflect their lifestyle. I design limited furniture for their homes and source the rest from different suppliers.”
What drew you to furniture design?
FF: “Furniture designing was interesting to me because while I was growing up I only saw a certain style of furniture being used everywhere, and I wanted to do something different. Coffee tables have always held a certain attraction for me; incidentally, my first main challenge came during my first exhibition. Because the theme was space and design, my first goal was to create a piece within a piece. The exhibition comprised pieces in line with this concept; for instance, I designed a chest of drawers which, once opened, would transform into a writing desk; similarly, coffee tables would reveal hidden drawers on split levels.”
Why were such creations so challenging?
FF: “It was challenging because nobody had worked with these parameters before or created multi-purpose objects that were also aesthetically appealing; and one of the reasons I chose this theme was because I wanted to begin my career with something startlingly different. This is something that continues to attract me. I don’t abide by any laws and traditions; I break them, but keep the aesthetics intact. Sometimes, I use materials that have never been used before on furniture or exteriors. For instance, I introduced the concept of creating cement-based exteriors using block printing and mixing pigments. However, one can only experiment with different materials after one has worked extensively with them, and understand the technicalities that each material is capable of, which is something many people sometimes consider to be a waste of time.”
That would make you a very hands-on person.
FF: “Yes, I am a very hands-on person; I work on each piece and every detail myself, right after a carpenter has made the basic structure which I have designed. I do everything – from the carving to the scraping and from the painting to the varnishing. Basically, I tend to every little detail as far as my pieces are concerned.”
Why do you go into so much detail?
FF: “Well, each piece I create is a reflection of me and I feel that I know each piece very well. The other reason why I like to be hands-on is because you can only experiment with different kinds of materials if you know what qualities each material possesses; and that knowledge base can only be built up after you work extensively and rigorously with each and every material. I like using fibre cane, and leather and mix textures, fibre cane with wood, and embellish them with accessories that enhance the look and the feel of each individual piece.
Another reason why I go into so much detail with materials is because the carpenters and painters that I work with have never worked or used the chemicals or finishes that I have introduced, and so they have to be guided on how to mix and apply the raw material to each effect that I create.”
Has working with them proven to be difficult?
FF: “They have been really cooperative and many of them have been working with me right from the start.”
Why do you think that is?
FF: “Because I think they have learnt a lot and I have gained their respect. People usually work with people who they can learn from, and grow with; if they trust you and have an incentive to work with you, they will stay on.”
Have you faced any obstacles as woman during the course of your career?
FF: “I think that if you behave in a professional manner, and convey to the people you work with and that you mean business, they understand and do not create unnecessary problems. But, what is important to realise is that we as women in such fields have to draw a very fine line. You have to understand, and demonstrate, that work does not, in any way, supersede your self respect.”
How do you juggle being a career woman, a wife and a mother?
FF: “My children are my first priority; they are very proud of what I have accomplished. They have seen me work all night with a passion, and I think that somewhere along the line they will pick up that passion. In a way, I have given them a lesson about life without narrating it to them – that if you have passion and dedication towards your work, you can do anything and be anyone you want to be, that life can take you anywhere and that there are no limits.
But coming back to your question, I feel that as a mother, I have always worked around my children’s schedules. They are my first priority; if they are holidaying in London, then I try to schedule my purchasing sessions with my clients in London before their holidays being or after they are over. Of course, there are exceptions to the scheduling, but for the most part, thankfully, my clients are very understanding of this.
Similarly, my husband is very supportive of my work and travel schedule. I travel a lot more than he does, but when we meet we have a lot to talk about, a lot to discuss, as he has encouraged me to follow my dreams.”
What other considerations do you keep in mind when taking on a project?
FF: “The first thing I consider is whether or not I can see myself working with a client on a day to day basis for nearly a year. The second thing, which is perhaps equally important, is the nature of the project itself – whether or not it is challenging. If I am not motivated or excited by a project, I will not take it on.”
What sensibilities do you keep in mind when it comes to interior designs?
FF: “I am very detailed oriented; I look at things such as hinges, wood finishes, pigments colours and paints when conceptualising a theme for a house. If a client says that he wants a Spanish house, something that is difficult to attain in Pakistan, I will examine the house and if I feel that the whole theme is not Spanish then I will not recommend it, because it will create a clash between the exterior and interior of a house. To me, a house is like a human being; and just like people who have personalities that can carry off certain types of clothing, in the same way, a house’s design and architecture can carry off certain types of interior design.”
Who has mentored you along the way?
FF: “On a personal level, I would have to say that it was my father-in-law who has mentored and inspired me, while on a professional level, I think the first person who looked at my work, and guided me was Naheed Mashooqullah. She told me that I had talent; I admire her greatly not just because she is probably the best in her field, but because she encouraged someone like me who was new to the business, and gave me a chance and the confidence to grow. This is something that more and more Pakistanis should do – encourage people and talent.”
Where do you get inspiration from for a new piece?
FF: “While I am working on one piece, the inspiration for another piece comes because I am constantly brainstorming with myself on how to make it different. So, once I am done, I know exactly what my next piece will be!”