Sumessh Menon on his design journey
Face-to-face with the hospitality design wiz who is ruling the waves in the F&B sector in Mumbai and, now, Delhi and the Andamans
When did you start your practice? What were your aspirations for the practice then?
My practice is now almost a decade-and-a-half old. Right from the beginning, and even today, my team and I have aspired to continuously reinvent our design and make a conscious effort to keep design and monetary aspects of a project exclusive from each other.
What kind of projects did you handle at the start? What were some of your key learnings?
I’m thankful that I was blessed to start off with international projects. Learning has been an evolving process that highlighted the importance of discipline regarding work and work norms. A key design lesson was to understand the importance of customisation and bespoke design.
How did the practice evolve later in terms of types of projects, design philosophy, reach?
Our practice has evolved a little bit more after each project that we have worked on and, with the completion of each project, our design sensibilities have matured manifold. For us, design evolution has also directly resulted from picking up the art of understanding the client’s requirement as well as indulging their design sensibilities right from the start – and I believe that is one of the most crucial aspects of interior design. When it comes to design, the sensibility changes as per the location, brief, etc. So, the experience of working on a residential villa in Dubai or a private residence in India, vastly varies from a hospitality project that’s done in Dubai or South Africa.
When it comes to design philosophy, which aspects have remained constant from the start?
My design philosophy has always been to aim for cutting-edge and innovative design. Each project must have an identity of its own – a timeless characteristic that retains its novelty for a good five or six years, and this design viewpoint has remained constant for our practice.
Which past project has significantly impacted the practice of SMA? Please explain how.
This was some years ago, when I had just completed one of my first international hospitality projects in Manhattan, New York. It was a visit by one of the Tham brothers to this restaurant that set things rolling – and the result was Koko, which did not have any difficulty in making its presence felt. Koko literally put us on the radar of hospitality design aces and, since then, there has been no looking back. This project is truly a benchmark to measure all future projects for us and for clients in terms of its look feel, layout, branding, etc.
How would you describe your own work so far?
My journey has been challenging and fruitful, and I’m glad to have carved out a niche for myself in the design industry with a signature style that is unique to SMA. When potential clients approach us, they expect us to dish out bespoke homes and signature-style hospitality projects.
Which upcoming project are you and your team most looking forward to? Why?
Dragonfly located in Aerocity – one of the most upscale localities in Delhi, is what we are really looking forward to complete. The unique aspect is that the existing site is a theatre that’s being converted into a high-energy bar – so the site comes with a 40ft-high ceiling which in itself is a stunning design element, and it also has three levels like an amphitheatre to play around with.
How do you see your practice contributing to a better design environment in the country?
Sustainability is a factor that we are investing in more and more in our current projects. Clients are more open to the positive impacts of sustainable design, which makes our work easier now. Convincing clients to go in for sustainable design used to be a difficult step earlier.
Where do you see yourself and your firm in the next decade or so?
As a practice, we [at SMA] have always believed in specialisation; and we aim and look forward to finding ourselves amongst the top hospitality designers – not only within the country, but also globally.