An Interview with Harry Chadha

A conversation with architect and furniture designer, Harry Chadha. We discuss video games, freelancing, Afropunk, and more.
April 10, 2020

Andreas: How are you doing? I guess that's the first place to start,

Harry: Yeah, I feel like I'm in a fortunate place, obviously, more fortunate than, I could be, you know. Obviously, stuff got canceled through this situation, but I do have one client I'm working with. I'm hoping that will continue to hold me down. So that's just the main thing. And then otherwise, mentally, I think I'm fine too.  I understand that I'm not alone, obviously.

Andreas: For sure, so have you been working a lot? What have you been doing to keep yourself sane?

Harry: So, yeah, work is one thing. I have been [working], there's this one project, I'm pretty much finalizing right now that obviously I don't know what the build schedule is going to be like. It's for a retail store. And we were planning to build out in the next eight weeks, but I don't know what that schedule looks like now based on the contractors and all that stuff. But, pretty much designs are being finalized with the client and final details like, who's going to build it and everything like that.

So that's been my main focus on the commercial-work side. And then otherwise I've been trying to just keep sharp on my, I guess craft, 3D design, right now. I use this program called Rhinoceros for design, and every day I've been doing kind of like this daily exercise where I freestyle a piece for like five to 10 minutes and post it.

That comes from a lot of my personal work. Which is furniture design and sculptural- furniture design. So, that's a practice I keep, my mind sketching up something. That's a personal thing that I've been doing in the midst of this, obviously it's been super hard to focus on commercial work, but those two things have kind of been keeping me preoccupied.

Stephen: Nice. Yeah, that's cool that you've got these mini-projects going and you're not only like using the time to keep yourself mentally healthy, but you're working on your skills and constantly improving and practicing, which is, is tight.

Harry: Granted, that's also in between, you know, watching movies and playing video games. So there's definitely still that, don't get me wrong. I'm also trying to read a lot more, but I definitely don't want to go a day without opening up at least the program that, I use every day, you know?

Andreas: Yeah. Generally good practice.

Harry: Yeah.

Andreas: What console are you playing on? What games?

Harry: Well, now that I can't play physical basketball, virtual basketball is pretty tight. But also, because of this, I rebought Grand Theft Auto V and I've been playing that recently. Really any kind of sandbox games. Spiderman has also been great 'cause sandbox games are kind of liberating where you can just do whatever you want.

Andreas: What you can't do right now in real life. Yeah. Like, walk around your block.

Harry: Walk around and talk to people.

Andreas: So I guess, well, how are things in New York as far as quarantine?

Harry: I mean, on the ground, it's weird cause this is kind of like a tragedy in slow motion cause you don't actually see it.

Like we're just in our apartment, right? Most of the time. And the few times I do go out, like if I go on a walk or, last week I went to get groceries, but you see it. It's super dead. I'm in downtown Manhattan and Chinatown. Even going down to the financial district—it's super dead. But I mean, there's still activity, it's just sparse and it gets eerier by the day. Otherwise, I mean, you do notice the uptake in ambulance sirens and that's been a recent thing. I don't even know if it's connected or normal, cause I'm never at home this often.

Ya know?

But other people have also observed that and it's been the kind of like a daily thing where you definitely like notice that now.

Yeah, otherwise I think it's important to keep knowing what's going on. I'm mostly just consuming information on Twitter and reading as much as I can. Like, I was in a mode the other week where I was reading every kind of scientific paper about it.

So I was super in it and now I've gotten a little more time to not necessarily calm down about it, but not consuming stuff about it. Yeah, because I'm a big information person, so I consume as much stuff as possible. It's so easy to go down a rabbit hole for this kind of stuff.

But, now I've gotten a good mix of different things to keep me from that.

Andreas: True. So do you have family in New York?

Harry: Nah, they're all still in Houston, Texas. I'm definitely hoping it doesn't get as bad there. It's just like a different, you know, it's not as densely populated. But I'm definitely glad that they're being cautious about it.

Andreas: Did you consider going back to Texas?

Harry: No. I thought it was a bad idea because my grandparents live with them [my parents]. And, I'm fairly sure that most of us young people in New York had been exposed to it. So, I don't even want to take that chance.

Yeah, I'd rather just stick around here at least for the time being and then we'll see what I do based on how long this drags out.

Andreas: Oh yeah, everyone's sort of in this wait-and-see holding pattern.

Stephen: It's also kind of interesting how everyone's been so aware of their grandparents, and the elderly and immunocompromised people that they care about and interact with. I feel like it's kind of a newer consciousness that people are adopting.

Harry: Yeah. It's a weird thing to get normalized too, but logically it makes sense.

Andreas: Yeah, well enough of that doom and gloom. Let’s get some design questions going.

Harry: Uh, yes.

Stephen: Obviously, we have some questions prepared already, but I'm kind of really intrigued about what you mentioned at the beginning about some of these projects that you're doing day to day with rhino. Can you talk about some of the ones that you've done already?

Harry: Yeah, I know that work generally will probably dry out, but I also just wanted to have something fun and creative just to be able to share.

I saw a lot of the creative community on Twitter seemed to show up and be like, alright, we're going to do this and we're gonna do that. So, I thought let me just do this a daily thing so I can stay sharp and then also just share it with people.

So I've just been calling it ISO Days where each day I pretty much just spent as much time as I want on it, but usually, it's just like a five to 15-minute freestyle and 3D. They're all in like one file basically and then every day I just like to make a new one and then screenshot it and post it.

But it's just been a bunch of random furniture pieces. One might be a chair, a table, or like a stool or something like that. This comes from, typically when I design furniture, I sketch out a bunch of different options. And then scan that in bring it into 3D and then mess around with it in 3D. It's purely a 3D sketch exercise that I can do every day. That I have to do and keep up with and it just kind of turns into a little side project.

No items found.

Andreas: Going off of that, I'm wondering, do you find that working in 3D you end up creating things in a different way?

Harry: Yeah, yeah. Cause this stuff, a lot of this is purely conceptual. If I were to go and actually try to make some of this, I'd have to re-engineer it. Or you know, redesign it in certain ways so that materials can work with it. Some of them can work as is, but then others, you have things you have to think about like materials, what is it and stuff like that. This is definitely different in that I'm not trying to think too much about it.

It's just like a kind of form building exercise where I can just stretch whatever. I feel like combining things, doing different commands, or like messing with different forms. It's just kind of like a sketch and I think after all this is over, I'm going to take my favorites and then work on those further.

I'm just trying to see where it can take me. If I do end up wanting to build like five of these in real life I'd have to take them and work on them for like a week or something, just to make sure that like everything works the way it works in real life. So it's just kind of like a quick little sketch exercise.

Cause it's the same thing when I'm sketching in a sketchbook. It's like all these weird forms and shapes and stuff like that. I'll start to zone in on detailing it when I take it into 3D.

Stephen: No, that's real. Have you been sketching and being creative throughout your whole life?

Harry: Not necessarily, no. I mean, I always knew I wanted to do architecture when I was growing up, but I never really took art classes. I never really studied it to the level I studied it in my college, obviously. But, going to college and like being in architecture school, it made me realize that yeah, I actually do want this.

I had to learn to love like the stuff that I wasn't previously doing like sketching and stuff like that. I still don't sketch, often. I mean, I'll sketch whenever ideas come to me. It's funny cause sketching in 3D is kind of my default mode versus actually sketching out things in a sketchbook.

Andreas: No, that's, that's awesome. Have you been exclusively doing that in Rhino or have you used other software in the past?

Harry: I have used other softwares, but Rhino is kind of my native program. I messed around with Mudbox, which is like an Autodesk software. And I've messed around with Blender, but Rhino's always just been my go-to. So I usually typically stick to that. And I'm somewhat proficient in SketchUp, but I think it's such a waste of time. So I just stick with Rhino.

Stephen: No, that makes sense. So, you have almost two brands going, you have Harry Chadha and then you also have Chadha Ranch. Can you talk about the difference?

Harry: So Chadha Ranch is basically the studio that I operate all client-based stuff from.

It's basically my commercial thing. So, anytime there's a client that has commercial work—that's Chadha Ranch. I started the LLC like a year ago after I'd been freelancing for a little while just to kind of formalize my practice. And then September 2019 is when I moved into a shared studio with a built-in desktop and helped kind of formalize the company a little bit more. Because I had been getting more commercial client based work.

And then the Harry Chadha side of things is just all my own personal ideas that I'm self-producing at this point. I'm working towards getting representation in galleries and showrooms. It's mainly just personal projects that are either sculptural or furniture, stuff like that.

No items found.

Andreas: That's very cool. I guess going off of that, what commercial projects have you worked on and which did you actually enjoy?

Harry: My background is in retail design. So a lot of the projects end up being pop up retail spots. Just pure retail. For instance, currently, I'm working on a sneaker store. I've also worked on pop up shops for clothing brands and stuff like that.

That also gets mixed into the events industry cause I do a lot of experiential design as well. For example, last summer I was pretty intensely part of the Afropunk music festival. There was like a Target sponsored tent there. The agency that I had partnered with was doing the design direction, so I was basically leading the design and kind of seeing that through for the build-out. Which was cool. It was great.

We carried it through in Brooklyn and then they had the festival in Atlanta as well. So that was cool because it was basically a five-week sprint. We had to concept it, pitch it, and build it, which was a very intense five weeks. For me, it was nice to just be that involved the whole way through and then also take it through to Atlanta.

That was pretty much an experiential zone where you had these different zones for photo ops and interactive areas and stuff like that. I honestly love doing stuff like that just cause it's high foot traffic, high exposure, but the downside is that it's gone after like two or three days cause it's only as long as the festival lasts.

So that's why I like moving into the direction of retail. Stores would be great cause then you know they're there more permanently. And then recently I've also done a cafe [for House of Waris Bontanicals] and I'm trying to get more into hospitality; doing restaurants, cafes, and bars. Obviously it's a really weird time for that.

But, that's where I've been kind of growing the studio towards—doing more permanent build-outs and eventually, you know, doing full-scale architecture. That's a goal down the road.

No items found.

Andreas: That's awesome. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I see what you mean as far as a pop up: it's quick and then it'll have to live in your portfolio. Whereas you do something that's permanent, you have like a living portfolio in a way.

Harry: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean I'm super grateful for that work cause I kind of fell into that being in freelance for a while and it's great cause like they happen quickly. You're able to concept and build them very quickly. They're also gone. Great. But, I mean the reason I was able to build somewhat of a client base is because of the high volume of those kinds of projects.

Andreas: I guess my follow up question off of that, do you remember your first big client or your first big project?

Harry: I mean, kind of a big one was the Target + Afropunk thing. Cause that was like a month or two after I had incorporated and that was my first big contract as an LLC. That was definitely a moment cause I was like, "All right, what am I doing here is-I feel like I'm on the right track."

And that was the contract that also allowed me to commit to moving into an office and building out a desktop, and taking those next steps.

Andreas: No, that's awesome. I guess, we've kind of had some mess-ups over the course of our first year and we've learned a lot from those. I'd say probably more from our mistakes than our successes. I'm just wondering, do you have any mess-ups that have turned out to be great learning experiences?

Harry: For sure. Yeah. Yeah. Hell yeah. I mean, there's this popup I was working on just a few months before that, it was like last April. There was supposed to be this mirror room and they had installed it and basically the whole thing looked like a funhouse mirrors. Like it was this plexi-mirror thing that didn't have the same quality as a real mirror, just cause they were trying to save on cost.

So it looked like a complete mess. This room was supposed to be like this nice clean mirror thing. I mean they were able to fix that because, I don't know how, my producer found this glass vendor from the Bronx, but last minute they were able to cut all these pieces in a day and have it down into the stores in Soho.

But it happened and it was such a mess. There were a lot of fires to put out in that project in particular, but the mirror thing was such a trip to me that the mistake ended up happening and it ended up working out. I dunno how it happened, but the mirrors got put up and the room ended up clean.

But, there were a lot of f@#k-ups in the whole process of designing that pop up, cause it was like a big one in Soho and it was kind of only me on the design side and my producer and it was just definitely the best learning experience. So for in the future when I had something bigger like Afropunk, I was a little bit more prepared for it.

Andreas: It sounds like cost-cutting really interfered with the process. Do you typically present a budget with your design?

Harry: Sometimes it'll be a pre-determined budget from the client, where they'll be like, oh we had this much. But sometimes, we just design things how we want it and then bid it out to a contractor and see how much they come back with. Then we can evaluate, engineer and redo part of it.

So I think typically, particularly in architecture, I think that's how it works. There's what we want, the ideal and then you figure it out. I'd say it's pretty common to have either, but you just figure it out on the fly.

Andreas: Yeah I'd imagine it depends on the size of the client. Do you see yourself staying in New York? Like, do you see this being a New York based architecture firm?

Harry: Aside from everything that's going on right now, I mean I'm obviously based here initially, but I do want a situation in the future where I open an LA office. Over this past year I've been looking for more West Coast work.

For the past three years around January/February, I've been fortunate enough to have had a gig out there in LA. It's also a great timing cause I get to avoid winters for like a week or something in New York, but also, I completely like LA. I dunno about living there currently, but like, in the future I can totally see opening a second office there and then eventually a third office in Texas.

It's funny, the ranch (from Chadha Ranch) comes from this eventual goal of actually owning a ranch in Texas and having that as a tertiary base. Where ideally I'll go there every year, a few times a year or something and work on it and have just the land to build large scale prototypes and have a workshop there and some kind of a studio set up down there. That would be great, but the two big markets with the sort of stuff that I do and stuff I'm interested in doing is New York and LA.

Andreas: Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I feel like that is such a creative person desire to have like a big open space that you can fill with your weird brainchildren.

Harry: True. I'm not f@#ing around with these suburbs. I only like pure urban or pure rural.

Andreas: So I guess my other question would be, how long have you been at it now?

Harry: So I mean, I worked at an agency, I guess on all that cumulative time freelancing/doing this has been almost two years.

I was at an agency for a few months kind of permalancing there after graduating and then, I was freelancing for a few more months after that before taking this in-office role at Coach. I was doing retail design at their headquarters for like eight months.

But at the same time, I was kind of working on getting freelance clients on the side and then by August of 2018, I left Coach and I went full-on freelance just cause I was like, I'm gonna commit to this full-time.

And so yeah, the rollercoaster started then, basically.

I started actually the first gig right after I quit Coach was this Audi event in San Francisco. That was basically just designing bars and stuff for that. Just that event and doing the whole layout.

Andreas: How did you go about getting those initial clients? Was it through the Pratt network?

Harry: Definitely not through Pratt. Let's not kid ourselves here.

It was just like a friend who had worked for this events guy and they recommended me. So like my first time working with this guy which was about a year before I had hopped on that Audi gig where I was designing, I was at his shop, painting high-boys, wrapping set flats, and constructing wooden pieces. So I was just doing PA work for him for a little bit and then he eventually found out that I do design. And so a year later there'd been an Audi launch event and I helped them out their renderings and all the floor plans.

And so it was good, cause I got to oversee that. And then that's how I kind of fell into experiential events. And then popups kinda came in.

I don't know, it's mostly been word of mouth or like friends reaching out. Or, even Instagram, like I'll get a DM from somebody that had posted they were looking for someone that does something I do, you know? And so it's just been snowballing that way. I do outreach as well, but it only works as a very small percentage of the time, but I have definitely gotten some good contracts out of cold emailing and stuff like that.

Stephen: Do you think it would be possible for you to be ‘where you are today’ with the LLC as well as the experiences that you've gotten if you weren't in New York?

Harry: Uh, it would be really tough. I mean, it depends. Because I've been here for eight years, so I feel like I've built a good base and a good network. I'm fairly acclimated and if I wasn't here I'd have to kind of, not necessarily start from scratch. I feel like if you gave me two years in LA and I could reproduce somewhat of the same momentum if I was there.

But yeah, I dunno, if I had chosen to move back to Houston or something after college, and if I wasn't working at a firm full time I think I'd be struggling pretty hard to find clients at the volume that I do here.

Andreas: Gotcha. With all the work you've been getting, have you found that you've needed to also kind of subcontract out or have you been able to take care of things yourself?

Harry: Yeah, I noticed that during the summer, like at the same time I was working on Afro-punk, there was another Swarovski event that I was doing the layouts and renderings for. So, basically from June to September, I was swamped with five or six gigs at once.

I have a few freelancers that I work with. Anytime I get swamped, I'll just reach out and see who's available and subcontract out. That works really well. Mostly design work in either 3D, photoshop, or drafting work that I need additional assistance on.

But yeah, in the future I definitely imagine having a full-time employee once I start to build the studio out more and have more long term clients that are ongoing.

Andreas: So just friends for the most part?

Harry: No, I mean honestly, it's a mix. Like, a few of them are definitely friends, others I find online.

Stephen: How have you gone about negotiating contracts and making sure you're not getting yourself into any legal trouble?

Harry: Yeah, I try to do my due diligence on reading through terms and conditions.

This, the recent thing, I literally this morning sent through a signed contract today with this store I'm doing, but it's been great to have a resources to help with that. My friend who has a creative company, one of his partners is also a buddy and he always does the contract stuff for them.

So I always reach out to him and he's super gracious at helping out and looking over contracts with me. Obviously I can't afford a big lawyer or anything. He's been really helpful. He points out stuff like, "watch out for this" and things like liability issues.

I've also gotten mockup contracts from, or like template contracts from architect friends that have studios that have been doing this for a little while. That's been super helpful as well. I'm trying to get familiar with what kind of language is involved in these projects and how I should protect myself.

I've just been trying to do my best. I know I'm not like a lawyer or anything, but, as freelancers, we kind of need to put that hat on.

Stephen: It's interesting, especially with the work you're doing, you have all of these safety and liability issues that could come up, right?

Harry: Yeah. I just bought insurance last week. I mean, I haven't necessarily needed it for contracts in the past, but, I'm going to need it in the future anyway, so I might as well get it now.

Andreas: Yeah, that's smart. It seems like your network has really been a great resource for you.

Harry: Yeah. No, definitely! Although, I try not to be a nuisance, but I'm definitely not afraid to reach out to people.

Andreas: Especially if you are a nice person, which you are. Well, so I think we're ready for our rapid-fire questions, are you ready?

Harry: Cool, I'm ready!

Andreas: Dog or a cat person?

Harry: Dog, all the way.

Andreas: Nice, Sweet or Savory?

Harry: Savory.

Andreas: Favorite type of food?

Harry: Uh, probably tacos. I think now it's Mexican food in general.

Andreas: What's your favorite meal of the day?

Harry: Dinner.

Andreas: Dinner. All right. Do you consider yourself a morning person or a night person?

Harry: Definitely a night person.

Andreas: Is there a place in the world you'd like to visit?

Harry: Uh, not now. When this is all over, maybe like Zanzibar.

Andreas: Okay. I love the sound of it. Zanzibar. It's one of my favorite names. I guess to follow up to that, what would be your ideal quarantine spot?

Harry: Definitely not my apartment in New York City. Nah, the ideal would be the ranch.

Andreas: Sure! Are you a planner or an improviser?

Harry: I feel like I'm mostly an improviser, but yeah, I'm not like super OCD about planning, but definitely incorporate it.

Andreas: Favorite type of music?

Harry: Hip Hop

Andreas: Do you have a favorite book?

Harry: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

Andreas: I haven't read that one. Do you have a favorite designer, artist, architect? You can give us more than one.

Harry: Hmmm, I'll give you my favorite architects of all time: Gaudi, Renzo Piano, and Alvar Aalto.

Andreas: Awesome. Very cool. All right, awesome. Well, that's the list. We made it!

Harry: Awesome! Thanks for talking to me, this was a lot of fun. Talk to you later!

Andreas: Definitely, thanks for doing this with us!

Stephen: For sure, thanks for everything, Harry!

Check out more of Harry's works on his profile or follow him on Instagram at @harrychadha_ and @chadharanch

No items found.
Share this note:
Contributed by:
Andreas Winsberg
Co-Founder and Strategy Director
Proud Alum of Haverford College, where I met Co-Founder Stephen Davis. I'm a lover of nature, food, friends and travel in no particular order. I believe quality design is equal parts collaboration, communication and empathy.
view profile
Stephen Davis Hernandez
Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business Director Co-Founder & Business
A guy who loves dogs, travel, cooking, and so much more. You'll always see me at a pride parade and supporting my queer brothers, sisters, and everyone in between! I was a Haverford College student.
view profile