Building Tomorrow with Iram Sultan: The Design Visionary’s Take on Social Media, Inspiration, and Design Dynamics

In the realm of design and architecture, the intersection of creativity and innovation propels individuals to new heights. It is within this dynamic space that we find the insightful mind of our interviewee, Iram Sultan, whose unique perspective sheds light on the intricacies of social media’s impact on the design profession. From managing her own Instagram page to reflecting on the subtle influences of trending aesthetics, she shares a nuanced view of the role of social platforms in shaping creative expression. Additionally, her admiration for visionaries like Paola Antonelli and Neri Oxman reveals a deep appreciation for those pushing the boundaries of conventional design. As we delve into her thoughts, we unravel a tapestry woven with passion, curiosity, and a commitment to storytelling through architectural endeavours.


Unraveling the tapestry of design and architecture with Iram Sultan: a journey through cultural influences, literary inspirations, and the quest for meaningful creations


Foyer (F): How does this deep connection with cultural facets play out in your design philosophy? And, if you’d indulge us, share a specific project where these influences have not just played a role but have been real game-changers.

Iram Sultan (IS): Absolutely, it’s an interesting journey. I credit a lot of it to my upbringing. I come from a background where a holistic approach to life was encouraged early on. At the tender age of nine, I found myself at classical music concerts, surrounded by an atmosphere that, admittedly, I didn’t fully grasp at that age. But you see, exposure to these rich and diverse cultural experiences does something to you. It shapes your taste and refines your senses to help you appreciate the subtle nuances of life.

Now, literature—oh, where do I start? I’ve been an armchair traveller long before I travelled. Whether it was escaping to the Wishing Tree during my childhood or being transported to the enchanting shores of Venice through Maupassant or Henry James, literature has been a constant companion. The power of literature lies in its ability to empower your imagination. When you read a book, you’re not just reading words; you’re visualizing spaces, colours, and characters. It’s like a vivid painting unfolding in your mind. But it goes beyond that. Literature teaches you empathy. You start identifying with characters and situations that might be far removed from your daily life. It’s like walking in someone else’s shoes, and this is something that greatly influences my work today. Designing someone else’s home is a unique challenge because, in essence, you’re creating a space that reflects them, not you. This is where that sense of empathy, cultivated through literature, becomes invaluable. Sure, I have my sense of aesthetics, but when it comes to someone’s home, the style is inherently theirs. It’s an ongoing dialogue between what resonates with them and what aligns with my design philosophy.

Art, on the other hand, was a love affair that began with a childhood exploration of an encyclopedia. Leafing through the pages, I stumbled upon different art periods, and that’s when Caravaggio became my fascination. Yes, I was around eight at that time, and pronouncing “Caravaggio” was a bit of a challenge, but my curiosity knew no bounds. The more I read, the more I delved into the world of art. What’s fascinating to me is how literature and art are interconnected. It’s not just about visualizing paintings; it’s about understanding the stories behind each stroke and the emotions embedded in each canvas. Cut to a recent project, an apartment in Camellias, which we affectionately named the “Bibliophile Home.” Why? Because when we first sat down with the clients, our common ground was our love for reading. We were all voracious readers. It turned out to be one of the most delightful projects I’ve ever worked on because we were all on the same page—quite literally. From the bookshelves to the cosy reading nooks, every element in that home was a celebration of the written word.


From childhood experiences to architectural endeavours: Iram Sultan shares insights into the profound impact of literature and art on her design philosophy


F: That sounds like my dream home, indeed. Let’s shift gears a bit. Your passion for travel, especially in the context of architecture and design, is quite exceptional. How does immersing yourself in diverse cultures and global architectural experiences influence the decisions you make about your projects?

IS: I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to travel and witness the world’s wonders. It’s truly a blessing that expands your horizons and changes the way you perceive things. Travel exposes you to new materials, innovative designs, and the rich history of architectural evolution. Physically experiencing these design stories is invaluable. Whether consciously or subconsciously, you’re constantly absorbing what’s around you. Travel, in essence, enhances your ability to think differently. It broadens your perspective and makes you more aware of various design elements. You find yourself incorporating new aspects of design into your projects simply because you’ve had the privilege of experiencing them.

This is where the synergy between reading and information comes into play. Design professionals, myself included, read extensively because we’re always on the lookout for something different, something novel. We strive to work with fresh designs and new materials, and everything in the realm of design, much like life itself, has cyclical patterns. There are design movements akin to those in fashion or art, and then there are timeless, iconic design movements that never lose their appeal. Immersing oneself in these movements and studying them thoroughly puts you in a position of strength and creativity.


F: Speaking of travel, if there’s one place you find yourself drawn to repeatedly, where would that be?

IS: Rome, without a doubt. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a history buff I am. Rome, to me, is the cradle of civilization. It’s not just about visiting famous buildings and marveling at incredible design elements in Venice or appreciating Scarpa’s work in Liberty. It’s a holistic experience—a richer one, steeped in the history of humankind. The Romans were truly remarkable, and there was an overwhelming amount to explore in Rome. If you were to ask me where I’d go if I could pick any place, I’d be packing my bags for Rome in a heartbeat. It’s like stepping into a different time altogether. 

F: The historicity of Rome is indeed something else.

IS: Precisely. The sense of history there is unparalleled. It transports you to a different world altogether.


Explore the fusion of cultural influences and global experiences in Iram Sultan’s approach to design, shaped by a deep appreciation for diverse perspectives


F: Absolutely. Well, transitioning from a more modest practice to one of considerable significance in the country, could you share the intellectual insights you’ve gained during this trajectory? Are there specific projects or milestones that have significantly contributed to shaping your design philosophy?

IS: Firstly, I’d like to clarify that I still consider my practice a modern and bespoke one, not necessarily a large-scale enterprise. We consciously choose to maintain this scale as we believe it allows us to function optimally, catering to the specific needs of our clients. This, in essence, is a key aspect of our design philosophy. Moving on to milestones, it’s challenging to pinpoint a single event or project that stands out. Rather, our journey has been shaped by the collaborations we’ve been fortunate enough to undertake. For me, clients are the most significant collaborators, serving as the starting point for every project. Collaborations extend to various aspects, including contractors, furniture designers, and graphic designers, but the client interaction is where everything begins.

Creating homes that feel intimate and bespoke, reflecting the unique personalities of the inhabitants, is crucial to me. A home should evoke a sense of belonging—that comforting feeling when you return after a day out. This focus on the client and their needs sets the tone for our collaborative practice. Every person is unique, and learning to understand and walk in their shoes is a continuous process, offering a daily learning curve. This, in essence, has been the core of my career—learning and evolving. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I embrace the fact that there’s always room for growth and learning. I feel truly blessed to have encountered remarkable individuals throughout my journey. When clients place their trust in you, it holds profound meaning, and I aim to honour that trust by delivering spaces that meet and exceed their expectations. It’s an ongoing journey, and I’m grateful for every step of it.


F: It sounds like a truly enriching and evolving journey. How do you see this trajectory influencing the future of your practice?

IS: The trajectory so far has been a foundation for continuous growth and learning. I see it influencing the future of my practice by reinforcing the importance of client-centric design and bespoke, intimate spaces. Our commitment to being a modern and bespoke practice will continue, with a focus on understanding and adapting to the unique needs of each client. Additionally, I anticipate further exploration of innovative collaborations and design approaches that push boundaries while maintaining a sense of comfort and belonging in every project, like an office we recently finished. The future holds exciting possibilities, and I look forward to embracing them with the same passion and dedication that has defined my journey so far.

F: Do you mean the Zydus office in Ahmedabad?

IS: Yes.


Unveiling the essence of client-centric design with Iram Sultan: a dialogue on creating bespoke spaces that reflect individuality and comfort

F: The Zydus office has garnered international acclaim. Can you delve into specific design choices that highlight your distinctive style and innovative thinking? Also, the use of the Devanagari script is intriguing. Could you share the decision-making process behind this choice and its cultural significance?

IS: Certainly. To begin, the entire design process for the office revolved around the client and the nature of their business. Working with a pharmaceutical company, the conceptual inspiration stemmed from the association with pills and capsules. The architectural foundation, skillfully crafted by Morphogenesis, laid the groundwork for a beautifully lit and spacious office. The incorporation of pill and capsule references manifested through arched forms and rounded elements, was a playful nod to the client’s industry without being overtly literal.

The design language extended to subtle details, such as a flooring pattern derived from the client’s logo, symbolizing a connection to their identity. In essence, the goal was to avoid cookie-cutter spaces and create an environment where individuals felt a sense of belonging, a trend becoming increasingly relevant post-COVID. Offices, in my view, should exude a unique identity and comfort, fostering a positive and productive work atmosphere. Another bespoke element was a custom-designed carpet in the boardroom, featuring various formulae. However, mindful of the impracticality of walking on real formulae, we opted for a creative representation. The pharmaceutical company’s emphasis on education, research, and development prompted us to include these elements in the design, emphasizing their core values.

For the Wellness division, where natural products are the focus, we created a standing table in the MD’s office. The table, resembling a boulder as its base, was not just an aesthetic choice but also a functional one, aligning with the health-conscious approach of avoiding prolonged sitting during meetings. Collaborating with clients who share a similar mindset and vision was a key factor in the success of this project. Their faith and alignment with our design philosophy allowed for the seamless integration of bespoke details and innovative concepts. The design process is indeed a circular collaboration where the client becomes a collaborator, offering insights and ideas, and together we weave magic into reality. It’s a harmonious partnership that enriches the design process and results in spaces that are not only visually appealing but also deeply connected to the client’s ethos.


Discover the allure of Rome and the historicity of architectural marvels through the eyes of Iram Sultan, reflecting on the timeless beauty of ancient civilizations


F: It sounds like a fascinating blend of creativity and functionality, truly making the space reflective of the client’s identity. How do you see this approach influencing future projects, and are there specific areas where you aim to push the boundaries of design even further?

IS: The success of this approach, rooted in client collaboration and a keen understanding of their identity, lays the groundwork for future projects. Moving forward, the focus will remain on creating bespoke spaces that align with the unique characteristics and values of each client. The emphasis on avoiding generic design in favour of personalized and meaningful environments is a principle that will continue to guide our work. In terms of pushing design boundaries, there’s an ongoing commitment to innovation and exploration. While maintaining comfort and identity in every project, I anticipate delving into new materials, design concepts, and collaborative ventures. The goal is to evolve with each project, adapting to changing needs and embracing fresh perspectives that challenge the conventional. The incorporation of cultural elements, such as the Devanagari script, reflects a broader narrative of cultural significance. This thread of cultural awareness will persist, weaving into future designs and contributing to a rich and diverse design language.

The future holds exciting possibilities for pushing the boundaries of design, all while staying true to the core principles of collaboration, innovation, and a deep appreciation for the uniqueness of each client and project.


Diving deep into the essence of enduring design: Iram Sultan’s commitment to timeless aesthetics and functional excellence shapes the future of architectural expression


F: Your portfolio predominantly features residential projects. Navigating challenges and nuances when transitioning to designing commercial spaces can be quite intriguing. Can you shed light on your approach to designing commercial spaces, perhaps drawing from your experiences in restaurants, hotels, and offices?

IS: Absolutely, it’s a shift that I’ve navigated at different points in my career, having worked on diverse commercial projects ranging from restaurants and hotels to offices. While my focus has often been on designing directorial areas within offices and not necessarily larger staff spaces, I’ve also delved into retail environments. Each category presents its own set of challenges and creative opportunities. For instance, when focusing on the creative director side of an office, as seen in my role at Sunday Design, as an art director for a furniture brand, the approach involves a deep engagement with product designs. This includes selecting materials, and finishes, and determining optimal sizing. Collaborating with designers, particularly those based in Italy, adds a layer of complexity as their design sensibilities may differ from the scale preferences in India. Balancing these differences while ensuring comfort, functionality, and aesthetic appeal becomes a creative exercise in its own right.

Working on the creative side of Sunday Design has been particularly rewarding, offering a fresh perspective and a chance to step out of the familiar confines of individual projects. Collaborating with designers from different parts of the world or engaging with local production units for Sunday has broadened my creative horizons. It’s a role that not only demands a different approach but also provides a rich learning experience, uniquely fostering creativity. Collaboration, whether with designers, production units, or contracting firms, is a key aspect of commercial design. Stepping out of one’s design comfort zone, being open to new perspectives, and appreciating the work of colleagues and peers in the industry contribute to a dynamic and evolving design landscape. It’s a happy place to be in right now, witnessing the industry’s growth and the multitude of creative expressions emerging from various quarters.


F: It’s evident that your diverse experiences contribute to a well-rounded and adaptive approach to design. In the realm of commercial spaces, are there any specific trends or innovations that currently catch your eye or that you foresee influencing your future projects?

F: I don’t find myself swayed by passing trends. In my perspective, trends have a cyclical nature – just as I mentioned earlier, both fashion and design follow cycles. There comes a time when something gains popularity, and eventually, it makes way for something new. Consider the transformation from the 90s to the present; there’s a noticeable shift, and the aesthetics of those eras no longer align. While I won’t delve into the specifics of the 80s for you, the essence of my point is that I don’t place much faith in trends. Instead, I advocate for design that stands the test of time and evolves. I’m drawn to homes that have the capacity to grow alongside their inhabitants, where clients can imbue their spaces with unique details that are exclusively theirs. This, in my view, adds a layer of intimacy and personalization, shaping what a true home should embody.


Discovering the balance between creativity and commerce: Iram Sultan’s collaboration with Sunday Design reflects a harmonious blend of artistic vision and commercial pragmatism


F: Navigating the delicate intersection of your purist approach and the commercial imperatives inherent in a brand like Sunday involves a nuanced balancing act. How do you manage to strike this equilibrium, ensuring that your creative approach aligns with the brand’s commercial goals?

IS: Achieving a balance between pure creative expression and the commercial imperatives of a brand like Sunday requires a thoughtful and considered approach. While Sunday aims to incorporate trendy elements, the emphasis is not solely on chasing fleeting trends. Furniture, in my view, should endure both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. When designing for Sunday, we prioritize the marriage of form and function. A piece must not only look visually appealing but also serve its primary purpose effectively. Ergonomics and comfort take precedence. We pay attention to the enduring qualities of furniture, crafting pieces that withstand the test of time and can be embraced by a diverse audience in various settings.

The collaboration with Sunday involves understanding the evolving requirements and preferences of people. Our design process is informed by the practical needs and desires of those who will interact with the furniture. While we aim to meet contemporary expectations, the approach is not about pushing avant-garde designs for the sake of novelty. Rather, it is rooted in creating pieces that are both timeless and versatile. As we work on a new design collection for Sunday, our focus remains on delivering furniture that transcends mere trends, providing lasting value to those who choose to incorporate it into their spaces.


F: It’s evident that the commitment to enduring design principles is integral to your collaboration with Sunday. Moving onto your collaboration with  Mr. Abhimanyu Dalal, how do the dynamics of roles and creative contributions unfold? Can you provide insights into the synergy that defines projects where both disciplines converge?

IS: Collaborating with Abhimanyu Dalal is a privilege and a continuous learning experience. Within our roles, there’s a natural exchange of ideas, and I’ve gained invaluable insights from his seasoned expertise. Mr. Dalal’s attention to detail is extraordinary, and this collaboration has emphasized the significance of meticulousness in design. He fosters an inclusive approach, actively seeking input and perspectives, creating a dynamic synergy. The collaboration is characterized by open conversations and mutual respect for creative contributions.

One key takeaway from this collaboration is the importance of focusing on details. Mr. Dalal’s emphasis on precision and the finer points of design has significantly influenced my approach, reinforcing the idea that details can make or break a project.


Navigating the landscape of social media in design: Iram Sultan shares candid thoughts on authenticity, storytelling, and the influence of trends


F: Shifting gears to the realm of social media, I’m curious about your reservations regarding its impact on the design profession. Can you dive into the challenges you see within the current social media landscape and how they affect the broader architectural conversation?

IS: Well, I’m no expert in this field, but I can share that I manage my own Instagram page. It’s entirely hands-on, with no outsourcing, and no external management. It’s a simple philosophy for me—if I’m doing the work, I should handle the representation. But beyond that, I view social media as a platform to showcase and explore work. What I find fascinating is the ability to connect with designers I admire, like Pierre Yovanovitch. I’m a bit of a fan girl, and the joy of getting a reply from someone you admire is priceless. Social media opens up a global perspective, making the world feel smaller and digitally connected.

What doesn’t sit well with me is the subtle messaging in the algorithm. You end up being exposed to a specific aesthetic or style, dictated by what’s trending. It’s not just me; it’s a widespread issue. This limitation bothers me because, unwittingly, we all get influenced by this prevailing trend. It raises questions about the authenticity of our work when we are constantly bombarded with similar images. I’ve contemplated taking a conscious step back from social media. I don’t want it to become a space that limits my creativity. I’m not savvy with using it commercially; I’ve never monetized it because that’s not my forte.


F: That’s a different perspective from what we usually hear. It’s interesting how you view social media not just as a promotional tool but as a conscious platform to share your work. It’s a unique stance. You mentioned the push towards trends on social media, and while it has its drawbacks, some argue it’s a powerful storytelling tool. What’s your take on that?

IS: I consider myself a storyteller in the design process. When creating a home or office for someone, I’m essentially narrating their story through the space. Social media, for me, becomes a medium to tell those stories and share my work. I’m interested in seeing what others are doing as well. So, it’s more of a storytelling and sharing platform rather than a commercial one for me.


A glimpse into the future of design: Iram Sultan’s fluid approach to creativity and adaptation fuels a vision for meaningful and impactful architectural creations


F: Absolutely. The purest approach to design and storytelling. Moving on, Paula Antonelli’s work is a noun for its intellectual depth. How does the intellectual influence of her work resonate with your designs? And can you pinpoint instances in specific projects you have done where this influence is particularly pronounced?

IS: Captivated by Paola Antonelli’s brilliant mind and the incredible work she’s steering at MoMA. My absolute favourite project, and a real standout for me, is the collaboration between her and Neri Oxman. Their synergy during the COVID lockdown had me completely immersed in their endeavours. I confess it’s my inner geek coming out. I’m drawn to the unconventional, the groundbreaking—just completely new and thought-provoking concepts. It’s mind-boggling to witness someone with such a brilliant mind, approaching nature in ways that are beyond the ordinary. Neri Oxman’s exploration into what she terms “material ecology” is simply fascinating and awe-inspiring. Their work transcends traditional design boundaries, and I’m enamoured by how they infuse meaning into the design. Paola Antonelli, in particular, has my utmost admiration. To know about their thought processes, and how they approach things—now, that’s something I would genuinely love to delve into. It’s a source of fascination for me, without a doubt.


F: I think you’ve given us enough stuff to read now. I have one last question. Looking ahead, what intellectual and creative aspirations fuel your vision for the future, and are there specific projects or collaborations you foresee in 2024?

IS: Hmm, interesting question. Honestly, I don’t have any set expectations. I’m more of a go-with-the-flow kind of person. Life throws things at you, and I prefer to see what comes my way rather than having a rigid plan. It’s a tricky question because my path isn’t predetermined. Every day brings something new, and in today’s world, change is constant. Unexpected things happen, and I’d rather embrace them in the moment and respond accordingly. Adaptation is key, and while I might not always have the perfect approach, it’s the only way I know how to navigate through things.


In the ever-evolving landscape of design, our interviewee emerges as a beacon of adaptability and genuine creativity. Her commitment to managing her social media presence hands-on showcases a desire to authentically represent her work in a space dominated by trends. The exploration of unconventional design thinking and the admiration for pioneering minds like Paola Antonelli and Neri Oxman further illuminate her quest for meaningful and impactful creations. As she navigates the unpredictable currents of the future, embracing change and responding to it with a fluid approach, we anticipate witnessing the continued evolution of her unique vision in the realms of architecture and design.


Image Credits: Iram Sultan

More on Foyer

Shopping Cart