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How Design Cafe is Democratising Design

Co-founders and CEOs Gita Ramanan and Shezaan Bhojani are taking the art form to the common man

By Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee

Bengaluru-based Design Cafe is disrupting the home interiors industry. The startup is combining design and turnkey execution services to deliver finished houses within 45-60 days, and even back them with warranties.

“At the time when we got into the business of residential design, nobody was doing end-to-end solutions. Designers were designing nice spaces, but at the end of the day they were simply handing over their designs to contractors for execution.

There was a break in the process of design to execution. No systems and standard processes were in place, and this was leading to utter chaos since nobody was taking ownership when things went wrong.

This gap needed to be fixed in order to deliver quality interiors to homeowners. So, we decided to build a business that took ownership of the complete project,” says Ramanan, who had founded Design Café in 2011 as an architectural design firm, and set about transforming it into a design-turnkey solutions provider in 2015.

In its new avatar, Design Café is a vertically integrated and tech-enabled startup that provides a one-stop solution in home interiors and services business. Besides, the founders have shifted their focus from the high-end project segment to the budget segment, to cater to the underserved mid-market homeowner segment.

“The middle-class Indian homeowners shell out between Rs 7 lakh to Rs 12 lakh on basic interiors when they buy a home costing Rs 75 lakh to one crore.

They approach a local carpenter but not a designer. The carpenter does not offer warranties on materials and uses hardware of questionable quality. As a result, the shutters come to lose and drawers get jammed after some time.

Besides, the carpenter-driven execution lacks space utilisation since the project is not based on a comprehensive design. So homeowners have to live with nagging issues, such as the absence of storage for brooms and cleaning equipment, dressing areas that neither allow good views before full-length mirrors nor have accompanying storage for cosmetics, accessories, and many others.”

More importantly, Design Cafe is helping customers visualise their design to completion journey by setting up technology-enabled experience centres where they get to see mockups for a variety of spaces. “Our experience centres tap into our interior designers and 3D and AI-enabled virtual reality technologies, for helping clients visualise the design of their homes.”

To deliver on its ‘one-stop’ pitch, Ramanan explains that Design Café has carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and designers on its payroll. The firm is brand-agnostic, as it wants to seize the best deals while sourcing products for its customers.

“We buy hardware and fittings from top suppliers such as Hettich, Hafele and Ebco. We have recently tied up with a wooden flooring major. Such an approach enables us to provide solutions at as much as 35% less than the market estimates.”

Design Café has two units in Bengaluru for manufacturing fixed furniture such as kitchens, wardrobes, dressing, puja and TV units. “About 65% of the furniture supplied by us comes as fixed units.

This strategy is helping us to deliver homes within 60 days from the confirmation of design by the client. We also offer warranties that range between 5 to 10 years, depending on the required services.”

With this approach, Ramanan avers that Design Café has attained a run rate of delivering 150 projects a month on its home turf, with an average order value of Rs 10 lakh. The firm generates 80% of its orders from the apartment and small villa segment, and the rest from the bungalow segment.

The startup is now moving towards the next phase of growth. It is expanding to other cities by utilising the Rs 200 crore it has raised in Series B funding from Fireside Ventures and WestBridge Capital.

The company has set up an experience centre each in Mumbai and Hyderabad, besides the two in Bengaluru. “We will soon be launching in Pune; we are hiring for Mumbai and Pune at present. Design Café is ready to spread its wings.”

Also Read: India is a Growing Market for Urban Planners, Architects: Ar Ricardo Bofill

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