People, Interview | Supreeth Sudhakaran

Gender-neutral designs are still far: Payal Karumbiah of The Baby Atelier

In conversation with Supreeth Sudhakaran, she acknowledges increasing democratisation with families on home decor decisions
Payal Karumbiah of The Baby Atelier acknowledges increasing democratisation within families on home decor decisions and shares tips for on kids room decor.

Experts have time and again pointed out that children of all ages-- whether at home or school-- attempt to own a part of the space. Therefore, understanding of spatial ownership is important to design spaces for children which aids in their development and well-being.


Payal Karumbiah, who understood there is a huge vacuum in the market for bespoke home design services for kids’ rooms, founded The Baby Atelier in 2016. The brand specialises in creating fun, safe, chemical-free, and trending spaces with high utility for children to thrive in their own unique environment.


The Baby Atelier has been growing in repute over the years, and it seems that it has found the secret sauce of designing spaces for children. However, Payal says that it is both an acquired skill and experience of working alongside her parents in the family-run home décor business that helped her.


“Because of my family business, I grew up in a very design-focused environment where spatial efficiencies played a key role. I also went to design school where theoretically there’s a lot of focus given to spatial properties. As I began to work on actual projects, I saw a variety of environments and had to consider people’s personal preference which allowed me to hone this skill better,” Payal says.


The e-commerce wing of the company offers kids’ furniture, bed and bath products that are organic, pesticide-free, and hypoallergenic. The product catalogue includes fitted crib/bed sheets, bibs, pillow covers, hooded towels, amongst other soft furnishings as well as Lego tables, shelving and more.


Globally, homeowners are now more aware and inclined about using organic and hypoallergenic materials when designing homes and space. In India, she says popular materials are bamboo fabrics, organic wood such as bamboo, birch, maple. “There is also demand for organic jute, organic cotton, organic paint, and silver ions,” she says, adding that now the market offers easy access to clean and hypoallergenic materials.


As a designer, she follows three thumb-rules when designing spaces for children:


1. High utility and functional spaces: Unless you are able to use your space easily and efficiently, the space just doesn’t make sense.


2. Long-lasting and carefree usage: The space of a child (0-18) is typically only done once or twice before they move out of their parent’s home or turn into adults. Therefore, the space must grow with them and be able to stay relevant. It should also be able to withstand rough and carefree usage since we shouldn’t expect our kids to be tiptoeing around their spaces.


3. Reflect the child’s personality and air creativity: It is most important that a child feels comfortable and truly safe in their space. It should also include tools to encourage a child’s creativity and independence.


Before starting The Baby Atelier, Payal’s family business offered her a deep insight and understanding of European modular home furniture. However, there are designers who advocate bringing in an Indian-ness to the designs. But Payal disagrees with the thought. “While I am a big fan of Made in India for certain design/furniture options, I strongly believe that in India we do not have the technical know-how or machinery to build a modular kitchen or bathroom,” she opines.


“Moreover, we are still catching up when it comes to innovation in the design space, that is why you see so many designers and architects still emulating Scandinavian or East Asian design sensibilities,” she adds.


Similarly, she says, the country is witnessing a change with respect to gender-neutral rooms, but gender-neutral designs still need time to gain acceptance. “We are slowly beginning to see a certain portion of the homeowners move towards gender-neutral colour options, but they still have to be encouraged and talked into this. Most people in the country still tend to lean towards associate’ girl with pinks’ and ‘boy and blues’. In terms of pattern, it is extremely difficult to convince a client to choose a gender-neutral pattern (stripes, gingham, dots, geometric). They most often want to naturally go with flowers or chose a princess for girls and superheroes or cars, etc.


We are also seeing a democratisation and family involvement in such decision, Payal notes. “Home has now become more collaboration between all individuals who are going to be living there. In many cases, we also see children who have a strong opinion that is taken into consideration.”

In fact, studies highlight a rising trend of ‘kidopinated’ homes in the country. Interio index, a light-hearted survey by Godrej Interio revealed that amongst millennial parents in the age group of 25 to 35 years of age, 39.0% believe that their children have a say in the decision making for furniture at home for small pieces of furniture around the home; 27.3% would accept suggestions from their children for the kid’s room only; whereas 19.3% consider the opinion of their children in all furniture decisions at home. This clearly indicates that children’s suggestions are increasingly being considered by parents, especially in cases wherein it directly affects the child, such as the kid’s room furnishing.