Ten years into designing spaces professionally, and Rishi Saraf has made a name for himself as an interior designer.  It’s not often that you hear of a designer whose father was also an interior designer, but his father Surendra, was also designing homes in Darjeeling and Rishi joined him to learn the trade. Growing up in Darjeeling, he was educated at St. Joseph’s, North Point before moving to Kolkata to complete high school and college. He then took a one year course in interior designing with Jenson & Nicholson and finally decided to move to greener pastures, which brought him to Kathmandu in 1997. His first job was under architect Tom Crees who was his father’s partner. He’s never looked back since.
The future for interior designers in the valley looks rosy as more people are turning to them in the quest of a beautiful home. Spending power is also on the rise as is evident from the lavish weddings, fancy cars and changing lifestyle of Kathmanduites in particular. Travelling abroad as well as watching television no doubt has played an important role in their changing mind-set and their desire for a well-designed home. 

Although many people have a general idea of what they want their homes to look like, it’s only with the expertise and professionalism of an interior designer that they can implement the plan they have in their head. The new generation in particular is looking for ways to make their interiors better, both in their homes as well as in their business outlets.

If you look at the restaurants and bars, hotels and even some offices around Kathmandu, you can tell many of them have hired a professional to do the job. Rishi Saraf stresses the point further, “In the last couple of years, things have changed dramatically. When I first started, people were reluctant to hire designers. However, with the new generation who are traveling a lot, they see what they want, thus they hire professionals to fulfill their vision.” In the last three to four years there has been a huge increase in demand for interior designers, as people are beginning to understand their worth. Not just for their residential projects, but even people in the corporate sector see the benefit of hiring a professional to design their offices. Hence they are willing to spend money to have a well designed office or business outlet which raises the profile of their business venture.

But as in all aspects of life, there are also many difficulties that interior designers face in Kathmandu. Saraf gives a clear picture of how sometimes it’s not so easy being a designer in Nepal. He elaborates, “Once in a while you meet certain kinds of clients who really don’t understand the concept of designing. Sometimes clients do not realize that a designer needs to go into intricate details in order to do a proper job. They assume that they can do it on their own, which is not true, because we are trained professionals in this field.” Another problem that designers face is with clients who do not give the designer a freehand. “Their interference makes it a whole lot harder for the designer to get the job done correctly. Nepal has been a country which did not use much interior designers. People always felt like they did not need professional help. But having an expert in this field can really turn the customer’s vision into reality,” says Rishi.

A big part of interior designing has to do with furnishing. Good furnishing can have a big impact on how a room looks and how space is utilized. One assumes that we do not have too much choice when buying furniture. But Saraf has an advantage when it comes to this aspect of interior designing. He has his own furniture company called Innovations which supplies all the furniture his projects might require. He explains, “I have my own manufacturer, and all my projects are done in a turnkey basis. This means that I provide design plus fabrication, thus all the furniture is supplied by my company.” With his own factory and work force at his disposal, providing furniture for his clients is easy. The fact that he has his own furniture company helps keep things extremely local, and that eventually benefits the country as well. This is rare among designers, as most import their furniture from India. This also helps Rishi bring the expenditure down.

Although the corporate sector is also turning to interior designers, most of Saraf’s work involves private homes. He informs, “I do more residential work. Most of my projects involve private homes or apartments, along with restaurants.” When designing the interior of a house, clients usually have a clear idea of what they want and ask the designer to make plans based on their ideas. This actually makes it easier for an interior designer to design private homes rather than corporate offices. 

“Clients who are doing their homes are very particular about what they want, whereas in corporate projects, many things are overlooked and clients are not interested in the minute details. When it comes to residences, people spend most of their time there with their families, so they want everything to be perfect. But no matter what, ultimately when a client comes and says ‘thank you’, that’s what makes me happy.” His basic goal is to put the clients’ vision into play and make the place exactly how they want it.
The earthquake of 2015 was a terrifying experience for the whole nation and most businesses were hit hard by the consequences. Similarly, Saraf’s business was also hugely affected by the crisis that came in the wake of the earthquake. He elaborates, “For about eight to nine months, we had absolutely no work. All our projects at the time came to a halt, since most of the projects we had were in apartment buildings. Not just projects, but many of my employees also ran away since they were from India and they felt unsafe.” As many apartments were damaged due to the earthquake, people living in them were uncertain, which is why they did not move forward with the designing of their homes. Overall, the 2015 earthquake had a huge impact on Saraf’s business.

Over time, businesses have recovered and the nation’s economic growth is predicted to grow at a reasonable pace. Accordingly people’s lives have returned to normal and Rishi’s business has picked up. The few years of drawbacks are behind us and Rishi feels he’s back at the top of his game.