Before & After: A Dark Office Goes Bold With a Mural Inspired by Lenny Kravitz

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An inspiring workplace can support well-being and productivity, so it’s always worth investing some time and energy into its function and look. That’s exactly why New Orleans-based interior designer Nomita Joshi-Gupta, who is also the owner of multi-line wallpaper and fabric showroom, Spruce, was tapped by a local financial company to breathe new life into a second-story space in a historic warehouse.

The office, originally part of a mercantile from the mid-1800s, centered on a main meeting area with smaller rooms radiating off it. That patchwork of spaces, combined with the low ceilings at different heights that created darkness in the space, made for an interesting challenge, as Joshi-Gupta was tasked not only with creating a welcoming area for clients but also designated spaces for meetings, storage, and desks that would all feel connected stylistically. “They wanted the office to have a residential and cozy feel,” says Joshi-Gupta of her client’s goals. “They wanted a space that was modern yet approachable.”

So she started where any designer would — with a point of reference and inspiration. For this office, two things came to mind. “I was immediately inspired by the historic character of the building and the daylight from the skylights that reminded me of ‘60s modernist architecture with enclosed light wells and gardens,” says Joshi-Gupta. The second was a little more unexpected. “I was thinking of lushness but how was I going to create lushness in a dark space?” says Joshi-Gupta. “For years, I had been obsessing over Lenny Kravitz’s home in Brazil and how he has created an organic modern space connecting indoors and outdoors with materials and large-scale murals. I used this as my guiding inspiration.” 

The final plan? Bring in muralist (and Small/Cool alumna!) Liz Kamarul to design a similar black banana leaf mural to expand the main space visually, with palms creeping onto each of the walls leading to the distinct zones throughout the office. The choppy layout would get divided a bit further — but this time those demarcations would be purposeful and visually-cohesive, united by the recurring use of certain materials and bold color. “An entry was created by building a L-shaped screen wall,” says Joshi-Gupta. “It immediately helped divide the public areas from the private executive offices.” Another of the awkward rooms got divided to create an office room and storage. “I designed sliding doors based on Japanese Shoji doors to allow light into the space and echoed the same design on the storage wall side,” says Joshi-Gupta.

Working with local millworkers and upholsterers, Joshi-Gupta honed in on modern, handmade, and textured furniture. “We re-upholstered a sofa in a vibrant velvet and created seating pods,” she says. “We imported authentic reproductions of Jeanneret chairs from India (Phantom Hands) for the dining area.” She and her team also shopped for vintage modern accessories from a local consigner to furnish the spaces.

Six months later, the company now has a clean-lined — but still warm and welcoming — feel with residential touches that’s inspiring to all that walk through the door, employee or client. “I love how the office looks modern and inviting and offers many places for clients to visit, and staff to work and eat,” says Joshi-Gupta of the project. For her and her client, this project was truly set off by Kamarul’s palm mural, but she offers this advice if a mural’s not in the cards for your own office project: “If you are not up to or do not have the budget for commissioning a mural, try a dramatic wallpaper on a wall.”

This piece is part of Transformation Month, where we’re showing off amazing home makeovers, brilliant tiny tweaks, inspiring before & afters, and so much more. Head on over here to see it all!

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