The dame at Lifaafa

‘The queen of the suburbs’ is how Bandra is often described, and it is a moniker that it unfailing lives up to. Only 60 years ago, Bandra’s landscape comprised of verdant fields of green and paddy plantations interrupted only by the occasional bungalow, those lovely Portuguese homes that endure even today. The throbbing city of Mumbai is fast-paced and highly-saturated, and Bandra is no stranger to this way of life; it is even today both a hectic cityscape as well as an odd oasis that sits serene amidst the tumult of Bombay life.
One such mirage is sweetly settled in West Bandra. Lifaafa has a rafted wood ceiling and tropical vibe, and is a collaborative working space that is punctuated with little curiosities from around the world. This compact space has a miniature doll-house feel to it, and is owned by photographer and production designer Meenal Agarwal; it is the outcome of years of dabbling in different interests, anything to suppress “boredom and repetition” she told us. Meenal spent her childhood flitting from state to state owing to her parents’ jobs in the Army, and her career followed a similar meandering path. “I did my B.Sc. in Biochemistry, and then Mass Comm. at Sophia — that’s how I ended up working in media,” she said, but in the lead-up to all this she had a pick-and-mix of interests, all different as chalk and cheese. Teaching, studying architecture, interning with Rafique Sayed (a fashion photographer) without any professional training, then eventually landing a job at Midday, from where she branched out as a freelance editorial photographer.“Now I’m a fraud architect,” laughs Meenal referring to her work as production designer for feature films, “and I do it all with instinct. Photography was my gateway into production design because I knew what the frame looked like and what the lighting was meant to be like, and suddenly I wasn’t doing photography anymore, I was doing production design.” Considering herself an autodidact, fashioned after the self-taught Japanese architect Tadao Ando, Meenal finds solace in not having acquired professional training in her line of work. During a lean period, while she enjoyed some downtime in the rolling hills of Coonoor, the concept of Lifaafa came to her, neatly tying in with her role as production designer. “I realised that because of my design and communication background, I know so many people who create interesting things, and that Lifaafa could be a place where I can showcase interesting products, art, and design”, says she. What was originally meant to be Meenal’s workspace morphed into a studio and an outlet for design, where you’ll find intricately designed book covers on classic novels, shadow boxes that have been expertly curated, and little baubles that make great keepsakes.
Housed in a one-storey bungalow, Lifaafa was formerly the studio space of fashion brand NorBlack NorWhite, a structure that is home to curious little features and furniture — a narrow wooden staircase blocked with cheery walls, an attic with a low, sloping roof, study tables dating from the 19th century, and compact rooms doused in natural light. Walk from room to room and it’s almost like ambling through Meenal’s home, where her own belongings sit amidst art, books, products, ceramics, jewellery, and other bits she’s curated. “We’re not a proper store, but more a collaborative space. I’d love for people to come hang out over coffee (and bring cake for us), and just work from this space”, says Meenal.

Their next Open Studio — a three or four-day affair is scheduled for the end of July. “These open studios are all about interactions, sharing knowledge, dispensing advice, and collaborating further”, she says emphatically. As Meenal preps for this upcoming celebration of handiwork, she makes it a point to mention that she’s “looking for interesting pieces to curate, and people to collaborate with”, so if you’re a maker, Meenal (rather Lifaafa) is probably your match.

Lifaafa is open on weekdays from 12.30pm to around 5pm, and it’s best to just drop Meenal a message on her Instagram before you head to her studio.