Inside the Mind of MuseLAB

MuseLAB, where two designers who became so thanks to serendipity discovered that their ‘mantra’ is ‘fun.’ Huzefa and Jasem, with their penchant for unfiltered candour and astonishing creativity, dabble in interior design and architecture with a studio in Mumbai. In a tête-à-tête with Love That Design, they spill the beans about their journey that began with going door-to-door and how they evolved space-to-space.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Of course, striving for pure and honest architecture is a given. But the fun is in the details. There is a sense of humour to our projects; it’s not all serious,” shares Jasem as Huzefa agrees.

Jasem Pirani and Huzefa Rangwala are the co-founders of MuseLAB, a design studio nestled in the heart of Mumbai. When architecture called, they answered from a 50-square-foot conference room. And that soon catapulted to a sprawling practice with the who’s who of India calling them to build and design their spaces. 

Dressed in quirky shirts, mismatched spectacle frames and infectious smiles, their playfulness and curiosity jumped out as we talked, much like they do for their projects. If it were up to Huzefa and Jasem, they’d make the design world believe that ‘Unicorns Exist’.

A Happy Accident and Uncle Sam

For Huzefa, architecture happened by chance.  Initially aspiring to pursue a path in chemical engineering, he found himself at a crossroads when the coveted college admission eluded his grasp. Drawn by his innate artistic talent and a respectable aptitude for science, Huzefa chose to seize an opportunity that unfolded before him – pursuing architecture. “A family friend was studying architecture; that’s how the seed was sown in my mind. I had no clue what architecture was about back then. I took an entrance exam for a course in architecture. And here we are,” he reminisces. 

Jasem and Huzefa met during their sojourn in the United States and became friends. Their friendship blossomed amidst their shared experiences and adventures. After they moved back to India, they pursued separate paths in the realm of architecture, acquiring invaluable expertise while working alongside luminaries of the field, such as Hafiz Contractor and Pinakin Patel, who steered the helm of renowned design enterprises. A few years later, both felt the need to start something of their own.

“Even then, it was never planned that we would have practised together. We thought of starting. a company together that designed t-shirts! Very dorky stuff. But life had other plans,” shares Jasem.

“….it was never planned that we would have practised together. We thought of starting a company together that designed t-shirts! Very dorky stuff. But life had other plans.”

– Jasem Pirani, Co-Founder, MuseLAB

A Half-Baked Cookie and the First Crumb

Jasem and Huzefa, in their initial days, went door-to-door to meet prospective clients, which didn’t materialise for them. However, as if guided by the unseen hand of destiny, a remarkable turn of events soon unfolded.

“The person designing Huzefa’s friend’s brother’s apartment in Mumbai walked out over creative differences, and we walked in. It was about 10-15% done when we took over. It was our first project. Always a big thanks to friends and family!” Jasem laughs. 

From then on, there was no stopping them. MuseLAB was founded in 2012 and has made strides in the design and architecture industry. Despite having a background in architecture, Huzefa and Jasem did more interior designing projects in the initial years. Today, they have a good balance of architecture and interior design assignments.  In 2015, they started a sister company called MuseMart, dedicated to cultivating captivating furniture collections through collaborations with makers from diverse corners of the globe.

Courtesy: MuseMART

Syncing of the Idiosyncrasies

The synergy between Jasem and Huzefa powers MuseLAB through. “We do have moments of silence. Where we are like, I disagree with what he is saying, and that still happens,” Huzefa chuckles. Jasem adds, “But I think that is healthy for any brand. We always ensure the project is at the forefront despite our disagreements.”

When Jasem and Huzefa started MuseLAB, well-intentioned parental warnings echoed in their ears, cautioning against venturing into business with one’s close friend. Undeterred, they stuck to their resolve. For three months, they understood and unravelled the intricacies of their collaborative dynamics, adapting to the profound shift in their partnership.

When asked if there were aspects they accommodated about each other, Huzefa mentioned with a lighthearted chuckle that he disliked Jasem’s slow responses to something when Huzefa preferred to react immediately. That aside, they have tremendous respect for each other. “It’s not about our ego or personalities. There is no diva ego. It is all about MuseLAB,” Huzefa exclaims.

Huzefa: We do have moments of silence. Where we are like, I disagree with what he is saying, and that still happens.
Jasem: But I think that is healthy for any brand. We always ensure the project is at the forefront despite our disagreements.

A Boldy Whimsical Design Philosophy

Amid their relentless quest to carve out a distinctive identity for their burgeoning design firm, Jasem and Huzefa instinctively veered away from the mundane, infusing their work with a whimsical essence that seemed almost like an organic extension of their vibrant personalities.

“In the first three years, we were very bold with our choices and colours. That got us a lot of recognition,” Huzefa honestly shares and adds, “It is very easy to get burned out in our profession; our style allows us to stay creatively afloat and keep on reinventing.”

When a publication contacted the duo and did a feature on them, it gave them validation and the confidence to continue believing in the newness and freshness they bring to the table, not just in design but also in their approach. Their fresh approach stays committed to the art of storytelling, masterfully presenting their narratives to clients with unceasing innovation.

The Hip Work Culture

About a year ago, Jasem and Huzefa moved to a different working schedule. Now, along with their team, they start at eight in the morning and aim to put their legs up by five in the evening. These early morning hours are christened as the “two sacred hours,” consecrated to crucial discussions, creative brainstorming sessions, serene design contemplations, and exclusive rendezvous with a select clientele.

“By the time it’s 10-10:30 AM, calls start coming in. And site visits are scheduled. The rest of the day is pretty chaotic,” says Jasem as Huzefa adds, “There is lots of music playing, food coming in, kids are making noise doing ‘word of the day’. On weekends, we would have game nights or moving nights on our two-wall projectors. I have a dog, and he comes to the studio too!”

The duo is focused on learning, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. They have workshops once a week, where a vendor comes in and explains a new product to keep their grey cells multiplying.

MuseLAB also believes in encouraging talent, even if they are no longer a part of their close-knit team. Jasem says, “We are always happy to support and promote good talent. Why not? There is enough work for everyone. As mentors, we feel like we have learnt more than we have taught.” “We are not bosses; we are mentors. I don’t think the boss-employee relationship should exist anywhere,” Huzefa wisely explains.

Sustainability, a Mirage?

“We are far from sustainable,” Huzefa’s candour shines through as he admits it honestly. They go on to say that sustainability is a part of life as a daily practice. It is not enough that the architecture of the home is sustainable. Meeting multifaceted client expectations also often hinders meeting the set standards of sustainability. However, when the opportunity arises, they wholeheartedly engage in constructing environmentally conscious projects with unbridled zeal.

While working on a warehouse project in Mumbai, their client ardently aspired to imbue it with holistic sustainability. Jasem and Huzefa rose to the occasion and adopted practices of reuse, upcycle and recycle by talking to their green-building consultants in Delhi. The plaster they are using is from Rajasthan, India, made from cow dung. They are also looking at passive cooling.

“The minute you build something, you are unsustainable. You are imposing a burden on Earth,” Huzefa articulates.

“We are far from sustainable. The minute you build something, you are unsustainable. You are imposing a burden on Earth.”

– Huzefa Rangwala, Director, MuseLAB

On AI, Wimbledon & BnB

Huzefa delves into the apprehension surrounding AI’s influence on architecture and design. “We are in a day and age where AI messes up our minds. It makes us insecure professionally. But I just want to say that there is enough work for everyone. In Mumbai, we have a strong fraternity, and we are constantly there for each other. So keep at it and acknowledge every stakeholder.”

As they sign off, Jasem playfully divulges his alternative dreams, sharing that if not in the domain of design and architecture, he’d likely be running his own bed and breakfast establishment, while Huzefa humorously envisions himself competing in the Wimbledon Men’s Over 45 Championship.

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Date added:

30 January, 2024

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