Manipur’s Bobee Elangbam is taking Interior Designing to new heights through sustainability!

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Interviewed by Shweta Raj Kanwar

"We shape our homes and then our homes shape us."- Winston Churchill

How true is this phrase- the surrounding where we live in is a clear manifestation of our thoughts, the better the surrounding, clearer will be our thoughts. Interior designing as a career is still a domain that is not ventured by many but for those who dive into it are the ones unwilling to compromise their creativity at any cost and hence, they go on to make their passion their profession. Bobbee Elangbam from Manipur is an example of how a person in pursuit of his passion can overcome hurdles and become what he strives for. Here are excerpts of our interview with Imphal based interior designer Bobbee Elangbam.

TNT: Greetings from TNT-The Northeast Today! Before we start off with anything else, please tell our readers about yourself: your background, education, hometown, hobbies and the likes

Bobee: I am Bobee Elangbam, a Certified Building Designer as well as an interior designer. I have been into this profession since 2008. Wooden Interior Solution was established at Bangalore in the beginning of 2011 by me alone with a very limited capital running from my own resident. However, from 2013 onwards, I gradually established myself in Imphal too. I belong to Imphal and have been working in and around Southern part of India, mainly in Bangalore.

I belong to a middle class family and did my schooling from St. Joseph High school, Imphal and my graduation from New Horizon College, Bangalore. After having been torn between studying engineering and management, I ended up as a BBM graduate.

After my graduation I got selected by Euro wood, India as a trainee manager and during this period, the organization moulded me as a building designer under a Euro program and in the process we were crafted as specialized on wood materials, acoustics , terrace gardening and other forms of construction of green materials and designs. The training was done at Kutch, Gujarat. Before being introduced into the designing market, we were assigned as marketing people at Mumbai for 6 months. Later, I was shifted to Bangalore at the same time I was also introduced to interior designing course at Indo British Academy . Back in 2008, we were trained very hard during which I realized that Green construction or Sustainable building were very new to India.

I worked for Euro wood India for 3 years. Eventually I opened my own firm with no connections and no sponsorship. It was very hard to run the firm alone. But I was patient and determined. It took me about 5 years before I actually had some luck in Bangalore. It was during this time that I realized that interior designing is what I wanted to do. I also love cooking and trekking in wilderness and am also very fond of biking.

TNT : Since when did you develop an interest in designing, interior designing in particular? Tell us about your first ever project

– I think Interior designing has been in my blood (grinning) but I realized it a bit late at 22 after I started working, but better late than never! My mother is an amazing and creative homemaker. I was always fascinated to see how my mother decorated our small house giving each detail with perfection. My maternal grandfather was also a well known woodcraft artist; I was brought up with an interest in arts and woods too. Now, I am in love with my work.

My first commercial project was MastKalander at Kormangala NGV signal, Bangalore while I was working for Euro Wood India. It's a North Indian fast food chain restaurant.

My own first interior turnkey project was an auditorium for Mysore Tourism Department, at Mysore Palace ground which was a semi contract project under Color Vibration. It was an acoustic interior project.

TNT: What inspires your designs? Where do you derive inspiration from?

– I find inspiration in being accumulative, as in, there is always a storm of ideas and influences that come into play. Everything can be inspiring. It is just how we look at the world. I am inspired by the grains and textures of the wood, by the beautiful natural scenary, by the songs I hear, by the project I have ever done, my childhood, by the places I have ever visited and by the history.

There is a saying, "The more strange and beautiful things you let into your head, the more varied source material you possess to pull ideas from."

I derive my strongest inspiration comes from the spirit of the client and the essence of the space.

TNT: What is your idea of a perfect dream project?

– A simple small sustainable wooden cabin house by the Loktak lake, modern amenities inside the house with a rustic country look finished with natural stone wall cladding and private a wooden deck by the lake and house surrounded with a beautiful landscape is a house I have always dreamt of.

My dream project is to establish a medium size wooden flooring manufacturing industry in Northeast India as it would help generate income among the locals and create an impact to the use of reliable flooring materials.

TNT: What are the hurdles you face when completing your projects? Any logistic problems as such? How do you tackle them?

– The biggest challenge designers face is the problem of finding good clients who actually value good design for itself – clients who don't perceive design as just another expense, but a worthwhile investment. Fussy clients have always been an issue in the interior design industry in general but more hurdles are being added while working in remote areas like Northeast India due to poor infrastructure and transportation as well as limited modern resources and materials which ultimately creates a rise in the costing of materials.

I have always tried to educate and suggest clients to use sustainable and renewable green construction material resources which are readily and easily available locally. Some problems can also be solved just by learning how our ancestors built and decorated their houses with sustainable materials.

TNT: Your best ever project you may have completed so far

– One of my best residential interior project is Mr. Jithesh Binu's resident at Reliable residency, HSR Layout, Bangalore which was constructed under JKM Architect. And best in my commercial hotel project is BLUE BAR , Taj West End, Race course Road, Bangalore.

TNT: If not an interior designer, what would you have been?

– If not an interior designer, I have always wished to be a wilderness survival expert. I love to live in a pristine land unchanged by man, to roam in the wilderness through which few other humans have passed, to choose an idyllic site, cut trees and build a log cabin, to be a self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available and to be not at odds with the world.

TNT: What differentiates your work from other designers?

– I always try to understand the needs of my clients and kept my design simple yet easily working rather than on emphasizing more on its looks and feels. I Keep myself updated with new products and designs and always keep my focus on detailing or profiles of  design. I prefer easily accessible resources that are inexpensive over unique foreign resources that are costly.

I don't see myself having a 'style' in fact, I believe that the term 'style' refers to past movements in history. I would rather say my sensibilities and philosophy are about embracing contemporaneity with a sensual but minimal design and a digital vernacular and spirit.

I don't consider other designer as threats or competitors but their work teach me and help me to do away with my weakness and flaws which helps me to mould myself to be more efficient and effective.

TNT: Tell us about your works so far. How long have you been in this profession?

– I have worked in Bangalore and Karnataka, Mast Kalander restaurant at Kormangala, Café Coffee day at Cunningham road, Cocopelee boutique at Brunton road, Mr. Jithesh Venu's residency at HSR layout, Mysore tourism department's Auditorium, Blue bar at BLUE BAR, Taj West End, Race course road.

And in Imphal and Manipur, I have worked for The Palace Restaurant at Palace Compound, Pollito's Thangmeiband and Singjamei, Arrow and Adidas Ori at Thangmeiband (interior contract), Mellows restaurant at Thangmeiband, Interiors contracts for Cube Ten at Information Technology Park Mantri Pukhri, Terrace top garden for Mr. Noor Hassan, Kangleipak industry among others.

I am currently focusing on utilizing cheap solid wood flooring and decking and using natural stone for flooring and cladding as well in my designing. My main aim is to educate about the usefulness of renewable solid wood floor in comparison to tiles and other type of flooring.

I am currently working on a 30,000 sq ft commercial project at Porompat, Imphal East near JNIMS where I am going to include a landscape project at the terrace, eager to see the reactions of the clients after completion as it will create an awareness about urban gardening among the general public in Imphal.

In these nine years of my profession, I have faced quite many ups and downs but frequently more while practicing in Imphal, Manipur than I was in Bangalore.

TNT: Do you think money is a necessity to become an established interior designer? Please give reasons

– A big budget is not required to start an interior designing firm. Connections are more essential than big capital investment. It's important to establish connections with high profile clients to built a network base and attract more clients. An active status on social networking sites, blogs and websites has always been an aid to generate good clients to me.

TNT: Your message to upcoming designers from Northeast India

– Keep your passion high, be updated with new designs around the world, be honest with your work, utilize social media but do not over use, look for good mentors in the beginning and start building connections and never forget your roots.  "Failures are for those who have stop trying"

-The writer can be reached at shweta@thenortheasttoday.com