At almost 5,800 sq. ft, Mumbai-based music and entertainment conglomerate Only Much Louder’s (OML’s) open-plan headquarters, housed in a defunct printing press at Mathuradas Mills Compound in Lower Parel, resembles a mini-airport hangar. Like its neighbour, the all-day restaurant and bar Café Zoe, the office boasts of high ceilings, rustic mezzanine levels and skylights, inaccessible to even the most luxurious businesses in the city.

Signing a five-year lease for prime real estate in central Mumbai was nothing short of hitting the jackpot for Vijay Nair, founder and CEO of the company behind live events such as the Bacardi NH7 Weekender music festivals and TV shows like The Dewarists. “The owners didn’t want to rent the space out to another restaurant or café, so it worked out best for us," he says.

At OML, an exposed red brick wall is fitted with assorted toys and figurines

Chaudhry and Patel say by leaving the existing structural design untouched, using unconventional (and cheap) materials and adopting a work-in-progress attitude, companies with rented offices of all sizes can create workspaces that reflect their culture and foster creativity.

We recently visited OML and another on-lease office, KA Advertising, a boutique advertising and design agency, to find out how little nifty touches helped them make big design statements.

Strip it bare

Communal desks are used as flexible workstations

Even though OML’s design brief was simple—“create a cool and open office (no cabins) with a happy vibe"— Chaudhry says when a company finds such a large open space, it’s obvious they end up spending most of their money on the rent.

The single-seater sofa was used on the sets of one of OML’s TV shows
The single-seater sofa was used on the sets of one of OML’s TV shows

The firm’s co-founder Prashant Kanyalkar couldn’t help but smile as he took us on a tour of the one-year-old space, which boasts of ample sunlight and lush green views from every window (at least two in each of the three rooms) and the quiet and calm usually reserved for Goan villages.

“When we first rented the place, it had quite the rustic look to it. An unfinished, exposed brick wall, patchy paintwork on the main door, really ancient floor tiles," says Kanyalkar. “To completely redo the place would have cost us tons of money. So we said to ourselves, ‘How can we make the best of this with absolutely minimal cost?’"

In order to save on civil work expenses, Kanyalkar, along with his partner Asif Ansari and architect friend Samir Raut of Studio eight twentythree, decided to retain as many of the existing fixtures as they could and then build the rest of the office. These included the rundown walls, flooring and even the dilapidated windows and doors. One of the few big spends includes a custom-built 70kg cement block that serves as a long office table.

Mix and match

Hand-painted inspirational quotes and a minibar make up KA Advertising’s ‘manifesto’

Step one involved getting rid of the huge printing press and makeshift cabins on the ground level to create an open-floor plan and chipping off the paint and plaster off the walls, arches, columns and trusses for an overall distressed look. The next big save came from keeping the factory’s cement flooring as is and fitting bright-coloured mosaic tiles in areas where the floor was chased for wires. To match the two long yellow strips of floor tile running across the length of the office spine, the exposed columns have been painted black and yellow to resemble barricade tapes.

Mini clothes pegs hold postcards and bookmarks above workstations

Partition walls fashioned out of galvanized iron corrugated sheets (the kind used for makeshift housing in shanties), and “tamatar" glass (which doubles up as a writable surface), the cheapest form of embossed coloured glass, divide the ground level into working spaces for each team. Even toilet stalls make use of the corrugated sheets and broken-up mosaic tiles. A simple lattice-like red brick wall forms the backdrop to the reception.

Nearly every piece of repurposed furniture doubles up as storage space for books on design

Garden-style benches with planters, made using exposed red bricks and granite tops run across the length of the ground level for informal meetings and discussions. Garage lights sourced from Lohar Chawl are used in addition to energy-saving CFL and LED ceiling lamps. Plumbing pipes make up the frame for the film production team’s bunk bed. The only storage available is in the form of floating metal lockers, painted bright red, yellow, green and blue, which can be accessed using a library-style rolling ladder.

The black wall allows the team to doodle as they please

At KA Advertising, each team member contributed to the designing the interiors. Kanyalkar bought most furniture, including long sofa seats, wooden cabinets of different sizes and chairs, for a total of 50,000 from the old and second-hand furniture market in Oshiwara. The office support staff found two chairs from the neighbourhood scrap store for just 100 and everyone else contributed to painting the found objects and walls with whimsical designs and inspirational quotes that form the company’s “manifesto".

Unfinished business

A custom-made planter in the shape of the company’s logo
A custom-made planter in the shape of the company’s logo

When the Patch Design Studio first signed on-board the OML project, they were handed a long wish list of spaces the team wanted to create: a photo shoot backdrop, a pantry with an inbuilt salad bar, an amphitheatre, a library and a viewing room. “But thankfully we didn’t have to hand them (OML) over a completely finished job," says Patel. “The space was designed in such a way that even if they add new objects or create new spaces, like a library or a viewing room, it won’t be out of place."