What happens when a New Yorker by way of Kenya lands on the West Coast? In the case of interior designer Shamir Shah, the answer is an expansive residential development that is chock-full of rich materials and site-specific art. Shah's newest project, 75,000 square feet of common areas for Los Angeles apartment building Ten Thousand, is published in our upcoming October issue. Before the issue hits newsstands, we sit down with Shah to discuss how he keeps his practice of two decades running smoothly.
Interior Design: What is it like working in LA for the first time?
Shamir Shah: The weather, easy access to the magnificent outdoors, and the incredible flora and fauna of LA influenced the way I thought about the public spaces we were working on.
ID: Art is central to the project. How would you describe your approach?
SS: We were fortunate to have a client who made the integration of artwork a priority from the very early stages of the project. I have lived in NYC for three decades, and lived with an artist for two of them. I have had the good fortune to meet numerous artists making beautiful work over the years, and this was an excellent opportunity to integrate some of the individuals I have long admired. Once we began to define the spaces and the functions they might serve, it became relatively easy to integrate artwork. Brett Windham’s collage pieces and Mark Gagnon’s portraits were an obvious choice for our homage to LA’s creative past. Johanna Burke did a masterful site-specific tile collage for a waiting area that serves the gym and private exercise studios.
My partner Malcolm Hill did a beautiful bas relief piece for the resident lounge; I find his site-specific work to be some of his strongest. I also enjoyed working with Meredith Keay of MARKT Art Advisory and she brought some incredible talent to the project. Jacob Hashimoto’s installation of 5,000 hand-made paper kites in the main lobby plays a pivotal role in finishing the entry sequence to the building.
ID: What have you learned about running a business that you didn’t know when you started your practice?
SS: The creative process can be incredibly challenging and fulfilling, but having the right staff and smoothly functioning office also takes tremendous effort.
ID: Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your work?
SS: I grew up in Kenya. I have no doubt that spending my formative years in the incredible wilderness and landscapes of East Africa informed the way I see the world.
ID: What are a few recent projects?
SS: We just finished the project in LA for Crescent Heights. We are wrapping up two large apartment renovations in NYC, a loft near Gramercy Park, and a large pre-war apartment on Park Ave. We have begun work on the renovation of a mid-century house in Pacific Heights, San Francisco, and a new project for Extell in NYC.
ID: Which person, place, or thing—inside the industry or out—inspires you?
SS: A hotel in the cliff dwellings of Matera in Basilicata, Italy. We stopped there on a recent bike trip and it blew me away.
ID: Favorite paint color?
ID: A secret source you’re willing to share?
SS: Amuneal custom metal fabrication in Philadelphia.
ID: An item you couldn’t live without?
SS: My bike makes living in NYC more convenient and enjoyable.
ID: Dream commission?
SS: A lodge outside the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.