The site for Fabindia in the Fort area of Mumbai is in an old colonial building, which was built in the 1850's. A photograph of the building dating back to around 1870 exists and the landlord believes that the ground floor, which we have renovated, was initially built and used as a stable for horse carriages.
The user before Fabindia was a bank and we inherited the space with POP false ceilings covering the old TW ceiling, cast-iron columns jacketed by RCC and several "unusable spaces" in the mezzanine. Some were "unusable" because you could get to them only with a ladder, some because you could get to them only by getting out of the building and using a back staircase in the neighboring by-lane to get to them.
There was only a suggestion of arches through cracks in the plaster. The space, in original has an interesting rhythm of arches in an 18" thick load bearing brick masonry structure. These had all been bricked in or planked up. Our task was to first discover the rhythm of the space, its original intentions and then bring it back to the life it began with. All the arches needed "stitching" and "bracing". With the help of Mr. Kamal Hadkar as the structural engineer, we commenced the task of uncovering and rebuilding. We then went about connecting the main ground floor space to the mezzanine space and each isolated mezzanine to each other until the space connects up to form a natural circle.
Fabindia does not have a brand image, either through its other stores or through its non-existent advertising. We thus conceived the design of this space from the essence of our clients' products - earthy and traditional, yet contemporary - for urban consumption, though a rural product. From this beginning, in a space- pure, old-world and stately, we aimed at devising a design that reflects all of the above, in a timeless contemporary style. This necessarily meant turning our back on anything 'faddish', representative of a particular era - either by-gone or of the future.
We conceived of this strong space, as a sandy textured backdrop, very neutral in material, so that the riot of the product's colour stands out, much like the clothes of Rajasthan in their desert home. Thus, all our architectural interventions are designed to sit lightly on the space. No classicism, that looks like it came with the space. We clearly saw the space and its clean proportions as a receptacle for equally clean lines and proportions, but with the brands' ethos permeating it. All our materials, the grey cement floor, sandy MDF shelves and the rice paper globes, have the same ethos of a pure form in a simple homespun material.
The planning for the store entailed the creation of clusters as opposed to aisles within which one shops. This was to retain the feeling of "warm and homely" despite the grandiose scale of the space.
The lighting and air-conditioning in a heritage structure with 16'-0" ceiling height and a gorgeous original Burma teak ceiling proved to be a challenge and the photographs are evidence of how this was managed without a false ceiling in most areas.
In summary, we have attempted to restore this space with a respect for the past and an aesthetic that characterizes the " today". We believe the "today" will add a layer of history to the space, respectfully and honorably.