Designer: Nida Mian
Spring is the most ideal time of the year to spend in patios and courtyards; and perhaps the outdoor space of the recently opened Como Museum in Lahore is as good as it can get. At first sight, it looks like the courtyard has been transported all the way from somewhere in Italy but another look at it makes one realise how contemporary and chic it is too.
Designed by Nida Mian of Arc Co., Como Museum’s courtyard also known as Café de Como is the perfect place for a fun brunch with friends, a cosy dinner or anything in between. Looking at the space and Nida’s work, one can’t believe that she hasn’t studied design formally. In fact, she has a background in financial consulting. “Interior design is something I’ve been extremely passionate about since I was a child. I would change my room décor every few months even as a young teenager! After having moved back to Pakistan five years ago, I took the opportunity to start an e-commerce company, Cheezain etc., offering affordable home accessories to Pakistanis and taking up interior projects alongside,” informs Nida.
For her, Como museum was a passion project and a dream realised by one of her very close friends, Seher Tareen. “It was such a delight to work on it as it’s something that was manifested over the years in front of my eyes. Seher has a very carte blanche style of working and so I had full freedom to take whichever design direction I wanted. It’s such a joy to work with someone who trusts your design vision one hundred percent,” she describes.
From the black and white flooring, the huge antique looking glass mirrors, the lanterns and fairy lights or the gorgeous bougainvillea that hangs all over the space, everything about the courtyard stands out. What’s even more interesting is that the same space looks lively and springy in the day but stunning and romantic in the evenings. The day light and the dark both complement the courtyard and give a unique look.
Nida recalls the design process being experiential. “I wanted to create a unique place, and more importantly, a complete ‘vibe’ as clichéd as it sounds. I wanted the visitors to feel like they are not really sitting in Lahore but yet there are nostalgic and relatable elements often found in eastern courtyards like patterned tiles, bougainvillea and lanterns,” tells Nida.
She calls herself obsessed with indoor/outdoor spaces and specifically with courtyards that don’t have a definitive boundary between inside/outside. She is glad that she was able to execute that at the café.
What’s striking about the space is that it is a perfect blend of fancy and minimalist with simple furniture and crystal chandeliers. When asked the reason behind this, Nida shared that she has always believed in a high low mix when it comes to interior design. “All this boils down to personal preferences naturally but I feel if you have a space that is limited to all traditional elements or on the other hand, all modern elements, it will end up feeling very sterile and boring. Mixing elements, thoughtfully of course, is what adds character and breathes soul into a space. For example, if I went for fancy furniture and a fancy chandelier, it would have felt too much like a hotel. I wanted the crystal chandelier to add a softness to the room and offset the black minimal furniture,” she elucidates.
The courtyard owes a lot to the plants chosen for the space and Nida recalls that a single 20-minute trip to the nursery is all it took. “I wanted plants that are economical, varying in height texture and colour. The idea was to re-create an organic type of diversity often found in real landscapes,” she tells while talking about how she chose the plants.
Every designer has a process, when Nida designs a place, she wants it to feel like an extension of the surroundings. “I’m not a fan of designing without any local context as it ends up feeling overly curated. The café’s existing architecture is monochrome and based on black and white lines, therefore I want the café to mirror those design elements so that it feels like it’s very much part of the museum. I was clear I wanted to add an accent colour to make it warm and inviting at the same time. And that’s when I decided to go for pops of pink through a bougainvillea installation so the café doesn’t seem too modern and seems like it’s been created over time.”
Talking about the lighting, Nida mentioned that an important interior rule is to validate your design in varying contexts. “And by that, I mean looking at different design elements in multiple settings (day/evening/night light, cold/warm/rainy weather, crowded/sparse footfall etc). Lighting is just a part of this process and is perhaps the most important design element in a space which I find people overlooking far too often! I was very cognizant of the kind of romantic lighting ambience I wanted to create and so I brought in dim flickering lantern-like lighting around the mirrors coupled with fairy lights intertwined in the ceiling bougainvillea installation we delegated Shazreh from Z and S events to create.”
With all this effort, Nida is content that the final version of the space turned out exactly how she had envisioned and she is humbled by the appreciation that the project has received so far.