Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Anjali Mody: Designing between the lines

Furniture is an expression of an individual's personality, says designer Anjali Mody. Her products, therefore, take shape from collaborative ideation with her customers

Published: Nov 14, 2015 07:20:21 AM IST
Updated: Nov 20, 2015 03:21:51 PM IST
Anjali Mody: Designing between the lines
Image: Mexy Xavier
Clients who make their way to Anjali Mody’s design studio Josmo prefer custom-made furniture that reflects their own personalities and ideas

That furniture can be much more than just furniture is a concept that is still nascent in India. Chipping away at this perception is 29-year-old Anjali Mody, founder and proprietor of Josmo, with her custom-made furniture pieces and, now, internal spaces.

“My fascination for three-dimensional objects started in college, and it took its natural course after I graduated,” says Mody who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. But furniture design was not a direct and immediate fall-out of her formal education. After working for a short while in New York, Mody moved back to Mumbai and dabbled in set design, installations and making small products for people in an attempt to figure out her way forward.
She finally set up a design studio, Josmo, whose core strength is to create something tangible out of thin air to, literally, give shape to an idea. Most clients who make their way to Josmo, which was started in 2010, do so because they are unable to find what they have in mind.

Believing that furniture, like fashion, is an outwardly expression of an individual’s personality, Mody encourages her clients to allow her to create things that are a reflection of who they are; to speak of them in a way that they are unable to express. “Creating something that is out of the box, in an eclectic way that pushes the boundaries between design, art and material, is something I strongly believe in,” she says.

Most of her time, therefore, is spent in trying to understand the client, “reading between the lines, about their interests”. Beginning with a rigorous questioning on their likes and dislikes, Mody involves her clients in every step of the decision making, building a level of comfort. What Mody first sketches—old-school style—as vague ideas on sheets of paper keep getting refined over time until they are ready to go to the design team to get translated into technical drafting and manufacturing. An average timeline to deliver a product is six to nine weeks. “They feel a sense of ownership as much as I do towards what is being created. There is more of a sense of achievement, and a higher level of fulfillment.”

The process of creating something without quite being able to predict the final product is, perhaps, reflected in Mody’s preference of working material. “I suddenly became fascinated with copper because of its threshold of how much you can make it weather. I like the transformation of the material. There is immense beauty in the corrosion process, where you have pristine material to start off with, but it could go in any direction, as if it has a mind of its own,” she explains. “The end product remains a mystery for me as well as the client.”

The other two materials that she counts as her favourites are bamboo—for its sustainability, natural abundance and its ability to take on the glamour of even solid teak wood—and resin, for its “chameleon personality” and ability to look like a anything you want.

Anjali Mody: Designing between the lines
Chain Link Side table by Josmo

Mody’s list of clients includes Mumbai-based Neterwala & Aibara Interior Architects, Pooja Dhingra, pastry chef and owner of Le 15 Patisserie in Mumbai and Sangita Jindal (chairman of JSW Foundation and wife of industrialist Sajjan Jindal) among others. And she describes her work for them as the outcome of cooperation and understanding.

Given her exposure to international design markets and trends—she travels regularly to international design shows to stay updated, and is working on two residential projects in Kenya—she says that the way Indians perceive furniture is different from that in other countries. “If you look at the Indian landscape, it is very far from understanding what design can bring to everyday life,” she says. “We are on the right path and people are taking strategic steps in getting mass appreciation for it. But India is utility-based; it is very budget-oriented. Furniture is considered to have a very limited shelf life, so the investment is not very high.” Comfort too features at the top of what is expected from furniture. She is quick to add, though, that a very small percentage of people are indulging in good art
and furniture.

Mody and Josmo are now moving into space designing along while continuing with the work on furniture. Their latest project is the Forsyth Lodge—a boutique wildlife lodge that opened on October 15 in the Satpura Reserve close to Bhopal. “The premise of the lodge is to be as ecologically conscious as possible,” says Mody. “We had to maintain the inherent quality of the materials that we were using. So we tried not to use plastic or a lot of metals or synthetic fabrics; we had to bring it back to the root, which is the wild.”

The lodge comprises 12 cottages, eight of which have mud walls to keep the carbon footprint of cement low. “It was an existing space and we had to redo it. It was a lot more challenging than to work with barren land which you develop from scratch. We tried to recycle a lot of existing things and reinvent them.”

The Bone Collective | Classic Seat Ottoman by Anjali Mody and Vayshalee Naran

One of the highlights of the lodge is a mural of Gond art on a wall 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. The work, commissioned to a local Gond artist, represents the detailed ecosystem of the jungle and, in an initial small way, is helping to revive the art form.

Moving into space design is perhaps a natural progression for Mody, who tries to reinvent herself with every project. Taking on work that challenges the studio—a team of 12 draftspersons, designers and visualisers—prevents the mindset of her team from stagnating.

This has also meant that clients who have not lived up to her expectations have been turned down.

(This story appears in the Nov-Dec 2015 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)