From Concept to Creation: Navigating the Labyrinth of Design with FADD Studio’s Visionary; Farah Ahmed

In the vast landscape of interior design, where creativity meets functionality, there exists a select group of visionaries who transcend the ordinary to redefine the boundaries of architectural excellence. Among these luminaries stands FADD Studio, an architectural and design firm guided by the creative genius of Farah Ahmed and Dhaval Shellugar. With an unwavering commitment to craftsmanship, innovation, and timeless elegance, they have emerged as a beacon of inspiration in the realm of design.

Founded on the principles of creativity, integrity, and a relentless pursuit of perfection, FADD Studio has cultivated a reputation for transforming spaces into immersive works of art that captivate the senses and elevate the human experience. From luxury residences to commercial establishments, retail spaces, and hospitality projects, the studio’s portfolio is a testament to its unparalleled expertise and dedication to excellence.


In the vast landscape of interior design, where creativity meets functionality, FADD Studio emerges as a beacon of inspiration, redefining architectural excellence


Your journey from a diverse academic background to landing up in the corporate world to founding FADD Studio is fascinating. Can you provide us with more insights into the pivotal moments and experiences that shaped your transition from advertising to fine art photography and eventually to interior design?

Of course. My journey has been deeply rooted in creativity since my early days attending a Catholic all-girls school. Whether it was crafting objects for school projects or exploring the world through my father’s camera lens during family vacations, I’ve always been captivated by the power of artistic expression. Despite initially considering careers in journalism or law, my passion for photography continued to blossom. During my time in the United States, I found myself increasingly drawn to the art of photography, finding solace and joy in capturing the beauty of the world around me.

Upon returning to India, a chance encounter with Sandeep Khosla, a renowned architect, during a yoga class sparked a new interest within me – interior design. Despite my apprehensions, I eagerly embarked on an internship under Khosla’s mentorship, eager to learn the intricacies of design and master essential tools like AutoCAD and Photoshop. As I delved deeper into the world of design, I realized that my true calling lay in creating spaces that not only looked beautiful but also resonated with people on a deeper level. Transitioning from intern to junior designer under Khosla’s guidance was a transformative experience, shaping my understanding of the industry and igniting a passion for entrepreneurship.

Despite the demanding nature of the advertising industry, where I had previously worked, I knew that my heart belonged to design. Determined to pursue my passion, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in design, further solidifying my commitment to the field. Upon completing my studies, I joined forces with Dhaval to establish our own design firm, FADD. Despite the challenges and uncertainties that come with starting a new venture, our shared vision and unwavering determination propelled us forward. Now, twelve years later, I look back on my journey with immense pride. It’s a testament to the power of creativity, perseverance, and the willingness to take risks. I’m grateful for every twist and turn along the way, as they have all contributed to shaping the designer and entrepreneur I am today.


Farah: Collaborating with Dhaval has been a journey of complementary strengths, allowing us to navigate challenges and celebrate successes together


Wonderful! That does sound like one heck of a story. Moving on; Farah, the fusion of your analytical nature with your creative instincts is evident throughout your career trajectory. How do you balance your type A personality with this passion for design, particularly in your approach to managing projects and client relationships?

So, I’ve come to realize that I’m pretty adept at dealing with people, especially those with a Type A personality. Considering my initial inclination towards law, I’ve honed the art of persuasion quite well. I find that when you’re confident about your designs, having a Type A personality can be quite advantageous. It allows you to assertively convince someone that your design is the perfect fit for their home, and the persuasive charm does the rest of the work.

For instance, just recently, we were in the midst of marble testing. I sent my team to showcase various marble options to the client at the yard. She expressed her preference, but I disagreed, knowing it wasn’t the best choice for her home. So, I suggested bringing the marble to the site for a better assessment. I explained to the client that while she favoured a white aesthetic and charming spaces, the chosen marble might end up resembling tiles rather than the elegant look she desired. I encouraged her to observe the marble in her home’s lighting, walk around it, and take her time to decide.

I emphasized the reasons why the suggested marble would be suitable for her home, highlighting its attributes. However, I also assured her that we could explore alternative options if needed. It’s crucial to see these materials in the right context, as the perception of interior materials can vary significantly. Viewing a marble vertically versus horizontally can completely alter one’s perspective. With a Type A personality, I’ve learned not to easily accept a “no” for an answer. So, in essence, that’s how it goes.


Our material selection process is guided by the client’s vision, incorporating references and keywords to create spaces that resonate with their unique personality


Yes. Wonderful. Farah, can you discuss now little bit about the collaborative dynamics between you and Dhaval and how your partnership has contributed to the success of the studio?

Dhaval and I are like a jigsaw puzzle, completely different from each other in almost every aspect. Our styles, upbringings, educations, and personalities are as different as chalk and cheese. Yet, it’s remarkable how, when we receive a client brief, we often gravitate towards the same reference images, materials, and colours. It’s almost as if there’s some invisible connection between us, like a shared code. Despite our frequent disagreements, we always prioritize what’s best for the project. It’s neither Dhaval’s way nor my way; it’s about serving the client’s needs.

Dhaval has a deep passion for architecture and a keen eye for intricate details. He thrives on meticulously crafting working drawings and paying attention to the minutiae. On the other hand, I’m more drawn to the big picture—concept, colour schemes, and overall aesthetics. When it comes to the design process, we collaborate on every aspect, from selecting colours and materials to choosing furniture. Then, Dhaval takes charge of the finer details, while I focus on elements like materials, art, colours, and fabrics. Although we both participate in tasks like tile and material selection, we each bring our unique strengths to the table.

That works beautifully for you and your work speak for it.

You know, it’s beneficial because sometimes he’ll poke a hole in my idea, and sometimes I’ll poke a hole in his. And I think that makes both of us pause and question whether what we’re suggesting is right or wrong. Sometimes, when you get stuck in the routine of how a project typically unfolds, you tend to rely on the same formula. But one of us will come in and shake things up, saying, “Hey, this approach isn’t working for this project. Let’s try something different.”

Just the other day, he caught me off guard. We were working on a charming home in Bombay, and I suggested sending the lighting layout to the lighting designer, assuming downlighters would suffice. But he surprised me by proposing wall lights instead. It was so unlike Dhaval because he usually prefers cleaner, straighter looks. His intervention made me realize that I was falling into a trap. He urged me to take a step back and reconsider. It’s moments like these that highlight the value of checking each other’s ideas—it creates a wonderful balance.


Our philosophy of constant evolution and avoidance of a singular style ensures that each project tells a distinct and captivating story


Yeah, without a doubt, FADD Studios’ philosophy of constant evolution and avoidance of a singular style is fascinating. I’ve noticed this in many of your projects, which are distinctly different from each other.

Moving from one project to another is always an exciting journey. Recently, I had the pleasure of working on a home that resembled a villa in Italy—it was truly breathtaking. Let me illustrate how our studio embraces new ideas, trends, and techniques while maintaining a sense of originality and authenticity in our designs.

Firstly, we’re staunchly against the notion of cut-and-paste design. We don’t adhere to rigid rules or predefined definitions. Instead, we prioritize being led by our client’s vision. Whether it’s a luxurious home or a chic restaurant, the client’s personality must shine through in every aspect of the design. We aim for timelessness rather than following fleeting trends. For instance, when working with older clients, we delve into their preferences and experiences. Have they travelled extensively? What sensibilities resonate with them? We take these insights and blend them with our unique style, creating spaces that feel bespoke and deeply personal. Take, for example, a recent project where the client desired a home reminiscent of Spanish revival architecture. Drawing from her love for travel and her cosmopolitan lifestyle split between Bombay and London, we curated a design that fused elements from both worlds. Rather than adhering strictly to one aesthetic, we seamlessly integrated diverse influences to craft a space that felt authentically hers.

Our confidence in creating our style sets us apart. We’re not afraid to incorporate unexpected elements, like an Indian motif in a classical setting, to add character and intrigue. This approach ensures that our designs transcend the realm of Pinterest inspiration, with each element carefully considered and thoughtfully executed. Collaboration also plays a significant role in our process. We often partner with talented artisans and designers to create bespoke pieces that are truly one-of-a-kind. For example, we collaborated with jewellery designer Aditi Sharma to create oversized architectural necklaces to adorn a client’s triple-height walls. These pieces, born from Aditi’s expertise in blending architectural materials, added a youthful and unique touch to the space.

In another project, we worked with a company that does Installations to design custom-blown glass chandeliers inspired by exquisite necklace designs. These collaborations allow us to infuse our designs with unparalleled craftsmanship and individuality, ensuring that each project tells a distinct and captivating story.


Balancing creativity with functionality, we meticulously plan each project to ensure a seamless and unforgettable experience for our clients


Right, wonderful. That sounds quite exciting and it’s lovely to also meet such people from different backgrounds and kind of work with them, collaborating with something like this for a space. Now, the story behind your studio, as I said is one hell of a story. Can you give us some anecdotes or insights into the early days of your studio and the challenges you faced while establishing your brand?

When we first acquired our space, it was just a cosy 400 sqft office, which we still have to this day. Dhaval and I were relatively green; we didn’t fully grasp how everything operated. We’d sit opposite or next to each other at our workstations, working diligently on a vibrant yellow desk. Then came one of our early clients, who decided to bring his entire family for a meeting. Picture this: Dhaval and I squeezed behind the desk in our tiny ten-by-ten cabin, while he brought his wife, mother, and two daughters. We had to pull the four workstation chairs in front of the desk, barely fitting in our cramped space. It was quite embarrassing, but also a humorous anecdote reflecting our initial lack of foresight in needing a larger discussion room.

On site, we’ve encountered various scenarios that have given us valuable insights into human behaviour and the importance of people skills in our industry. For instance, a client got so enraged with a wallpaper vendor that he threw the books onto the street. It was both amusing and eye-opening, teaching us how to handle such situations with grace and professionalism. I recall one particularly adventurous site visit in Tamil Nadu while I was pregnant with my first child. The road was nothing but mud, and I found myself needing to pee every hour. Dhaval was understandably panicking, worried about what would happen if I went into labour. Yet, despite the challenges, I remained optimistic, climbing ladders with a big belly, wearing flip-flops, and embracing every moment with a glass-half-full mentality.

Our journey has been filled with interesting and sometimes crazy stories. The project was initially estimated at ten lakhs and expected to finish in three months, which ended up stretching over two years. It was a valuable lesson in managing expectations and adapting to unforeseen circumstances. Regarding handling different types of projects, our portfolio spans residences, offices, retail spaces, and hospitality projects. Each requires a unique approach, but our philosophy remains consistent: understanding the client’s vision and needs while infusing each project with our distinct style and attention to detail. Whether it’s a retail space, a residential project, an office, or a hospital, we approach each with the same level of dedication and creativity, ensuring that the result exceeds expectations.


From concept to creation, FADD Studio is bringing dreams to life with all their projects


Yeah, so how do you go about dealing with each project?

Yeah, the initial process remains consistent for us across all projects. We always prioritize meeting with the client to thoroughly understand their brief. For us, space planning is paramount, whether it’s for a restaurant, a home, or an office space. We dedicate ample time to this stage because the layout directly impacts the functionality of the space. In a home, for instance, we delve into the minutiae of daily life—like where the client prefers to have their coffee in the morning. I recall one client who wanted a Nespresso counter right opposite their bed for that perfect morning pick-me-up, a detail I’ve since incorporated into my routine.

Once we’ve ensured that the functional requirements are met, we move on to refining the forms and aesthetics of the space. While the budgets may vary significantly between retail, commercial, F&B, and residential projects, the underlying process remains almost identical. It’s crucial to follow this process meticulously and in sequence. Some might advocate for diving straight into site work, but we believe in first understanding what needs to be addressed and why. Only then do we proceed with breaking it down and tackling the necessary tasks, such as electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and MEP services. By conducting these processes in parallel, we minimize any delays and ensure a streamlined workflow on site. Finally, we delve into the design phase once the groundwork has been meticulously laid.


Drawing inspiration from art, architecture, and global trends, we push the boundaries of design to create spaces that are both functional and beautiful


Got it. We always get intrigued by the comparison between a residential project to probably a hospitality or a retail project. The timeline is also very different, isn’t it? Since homes end up being a much longer kind of turnaround, versus a commercial space, where the turnaround is much faster. How does that change per se? How does it play out in FADD’s services?

Yes and no. Now, we also charge based on a projected time frame for project completion. Additionally, we’ve implemented a clause stipulating a basic retainer if the project extends beyond the agreed-upon timeframe. As for material selection, our approach varies depending on the project type. For luxury projects with longer lead times, we opt for high-end materials. Conversely, for F&B spaces, where trends may change more frequently, we choose more cost-effective options. While budgets differ, our process remains largely consistent across projects.

The meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship evident in FADD Studio projects reflects our commitment to excellence. Our material selection process begins with a thorough client briefing, followed by a detailed presentation that serves as a blueprint for our selections. We start with visually captivating images that resonate with the client’s desired ambience. Keywords associated with the client’s desired experience—bold, vibrant, cosy, elegant—are then incorporated to refine our vision further. For instance, a young client seeking a bold, dramatic atmosphere may inspire images evoking nightlife or urban chic. Conversely, a family-oriented holiday home may call for cosy, timeless elements reminiscent of warmth and relaxation. From these references, we derive colour palettes and material choices tailored to each project’s unique personality.

Consider a project in Bombay where references included a zebra, rose, and flamingo imagery. This inspired us to utilize a stunning pink Satvario marble as the primary material, echoing the vibrant hues of the flamingo and zebra. In contrast, a project centred around nature and tranquillity, featuring images of walking trails and straw hats, led us to select a simple French beige limestone to evoke a sense of rustic elegance. By curating our selections based on client preferences and project context, we ensure that each space tells a cohesive and captivating story, reflecting the client’s vision while embodying our signature style and commitment to quality.


From advertising to fine art photography to interior design, each step of our journey has shaped the unique blend of creativity and analytical thinking that defines FADD Studio


F: Looking ahead, what are some of the exciting projects that FADD has been working on?

Firstly, we have the privilege of working on an expansive estate home, which I must say, is truly massive in scale. While I can’t divulge many specifics just yet, rest assured, it’s shaping up to be a remarkable undertaking.

Additionally, we’re considering taking on a rather unique project—a luxury garage for a collection of approximately 20 high-end vehicles. Initially, we were contemplating whether to proceed with this, but the more we delve into the possibilities, the more intrigued we become. Crafting a space that not only houses but also elevates such a prestigious collection presents a fascinating challenge—one that we’re eager to embrace.


Exciting times ahead at FADD Studio! From crafting luxurious estate homes to designing bespoke garages, we’re on a mission to elevate living spaces with creativity and elegance


As we delve into the intricacies of FADD Studio’s design process, we are met with a symphony of creativity, precision, and attention to detail. At the heart of their approach lies a deep understanding of client needs and aspirations, coupled with a keen appreciation for the unique character of each space. From the initial client briefing to the final unveiling of the project, every step of the journey is meticulously orchestrated to ensure a seamless and unforgettable experience.

In addition to their meticulous attention to detail, Farah and Dhaval are also known for their innovative approach to design. Drawing inspiration from art, architecture, and global trends, they infuse each project with a unique blend of creativity and originality that sets it apart from the rest. Whether it’s incorporating bespoke furniture pieces or integrating cutting-edge technology, FADD Studio strives to push the boundaries of design to create spaces that are as functional as they are beautiful.

Through their unwavering dedication to craftsmanship, innovation, and excellence, Farah Ahmed and Dhaval Shellugar have created a legacy that continues to inspire and captivate audiences around the world. Their work not only enhances the visual landscape but also enriches the lives of those who inhabit these meticulously crafted spaces. As we navigate the complexities of the modern world, the importance of design in shaping our experiences cannot be overstated. In every project undertaken by FADD Studio, there exists a sense of wonder and possibility—a testament to the power of design to transcend boundaries and elevate the human spirit. 

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