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Jun 10, 2016

Kavita Singh has moved her signature stock to Gamdevi

By Reema Gehi, Mumbai Mirror

Art collector, interior designer and feisty society grace, Kavita Singh talks about juggling the three roles with dexterity.

Her eponymous interior store in Bandra has recently changed address. Kavita Singh has moved her signature stock to Gamdevi. "Architects found it hard to trek to Bandra," she avers. "They wanted me to move to Lower Parel where most of the interior stores are located. I had this place lying around for years and thought why not turn this into my store." 

The veteran has been instrumental in designing some of the most famous homes in the country, "but it happened by sheer default," she shares, when we meet at her Lower Parel office. "When I married my husband (pharmaceutical magnate, Jasjit Singh), he didn't want me to model anymore." 

So the former model — the winner of a beauty pageant in 1969 — kept herself busy by doing up her commodious Napean Sea Road home. "I only wanted my house to look beautiful. But everybody found it to be wonderful and started asking me to source or make a chair or an artefact for them," she smiles. "In the process, I realised I really enjoyed what I was doing." 

From her home turning into a mini-workshop — "my children (Priya, Nandini and Karan) were still small then," she says — to buying a space at Warden Road and a factory in Lower Parel, Singh's journey has been very gradual. "Like a tailor, I have learnt on the job," she says. 

Soon, a self-taught Singh joined the trinity of interior mavericks in the city in the 1970s — Sunita Pitamber, Zarine Khan and Neetu Kohli. "All of us had a completely distinct style," she says. "My style is more rooted in India, where I like to take artefacts from here and give it that contemporary edge. In all these years, I have been true to what I do."' 

Aside of providing a rather distinct sensibility to her client's home, Singh, who is also considered one of the top art collectors in country, often persuaded them to buy art. "Whenever I designed people's houses, I requested them to buy only one painting. Thirty five years ago, it would cost only a few thousands. But people found it unnecessary," she rues, adding, "today, all of them thank me. The values of those works have gone up in lakhs. In fact, I still have my bills of a K H Ara painting I bought for Rs 500 and a Husain work I got for Rs 3000." 

However, Singh, whose office space is dotted with paintings by B Prabha, KG Subramanyan, Rekha Rodwittiya and Prabhakar Kolte, warns, "You must buy art only because you connect with it." She continues, "I consider myself fortunate because I personally connected with many of the modern artists. I remember sitting with artist Krishen Khanna at Gallery 7 and discussing his work with him, before I bought it. Not too long ago, work was being bought even before it was exhibited. Fortunately, that phase is over." 

A true aficionado of art of any kind, Singh's word is well-respected in the industry. She has been instrumental in building her husband's corporate collection, and has inspired her sister Sunita and niece (actress Sonam Kapoor) to buy art. In fact, a few weeks ago, she hosted a collectors' dinner for the SaffronArt auction house, "and people who came over to my home in Bandstand wondered where all the art and antiques came from," she chuckles. "I never show my art to anybody. I just pulled it all out when I was building my new home." 

Singh bought the maximum number of artworks for her collection mainly during the Emergency (1975-1977). "It was the time when everybody had to declare their antiquities including stone, ivory, and papers, and I bought many of the items then," she explains. "Our country has so much to offer. Even today, when you drive around the villages of India, you'll see the wealth lying around." 

Over the last four decades of her practice, Singh has seen a marked shift in the perception towards interior designers. "When I started off, I used to add a certain percentage over and above what I used to create and that was the charge. The idea that an interior person puts the home together wasn't understood," she says. "Over time, people have got conscious of their homes. They have started spending money. But they must also know that a premium work will command a premium price."