SPACES / WORK
Ministry of New
Bombay’s heritage mile houses some of the city’s hippest and most clandestine creative spaces, but recent addition Ministry of New is no secret. Two months ago, a century old brick building on Fort’s DN Road was painted a brilliant blue to announce its arrival. Occupying the third floor of Kitab Mahal, which earned its name from housing a bookshop and several wholesalers, this coworking space is bigger and brighter in its third incarnation.
LOVER worked out of The Gallery during open week, observing strangers becoming collaborators and friends, and touring its many beautiful spaces. We interviewed co-founders Marlies Bloemendaal and Natascha Chadha to learn more about it.
Marlies tell us about the beginnings of Ministry of New in 2013. How did you come up with the idea?
Marlies: It began because I was looking for my own space. I had a space on Chapel Rd but it was super tiny and I was never there, I shared it with a friend. I was looking for a space for a client from Holland and I found this space in Lalbagh, but they didn’t take it. It was too beautiful to pass up so I thought I’d take it myself. There were no windows, it was a dump. But I saw the high ceilings, I liked the area, Lalbagh, it’s very edgy and has these cool old mills so I opened up the whole place and made windows and a loft, and it became my studio. I was working as an art director doing shoots and events and I heard of this thing - ‘coworking spaces’. So I thought, ‘Let me put a name on it’ I called it Ministry of New and I used ‘Work, play, shoot’ as a tagline. So that’s what we did - work and play and shoot.
How did the two of you meet? What led to this partnership?
Natascha: We met through a Dutch fashion designer at an event. He urged us to connect, saying we were two Dutch women living in Bombay for a longer period of time and both interested in design. I was an independent brand communication consultant by day and a comedienne with Improv Comedy Mumbai by night. I did a webisode at Ministry of New, Lalbaug with some actor friends of mine as well as a storytelling performance at that Ministry of New and Studio X at Kitab Mahal ironically. After that Marlies and I decided to meet up at Olive for a drink and we realised that we knew all of the same people. Next, I became a member of Ministry of New when I returned from maternity leave and we started talking about future possibilities. Marlies found the space in Fort and the rest is history.
You’ve billed yourselves as a design-led coworking space. Can you tell me about some of the designers and pieces I can find on your floor?
Natascha: Bombay Atelier and Ministry of New collaborated to create the Crow Chair that you can find in our library space. There is a collection of Gunjan Gupta of Studio Wrap’s Gadda Daybed and Gadda Day Chairs, a mural by Deborah di Fiore of Modest Genius Design, antique Jaipur Rugs, paper lamps from Pepe Heykoop for Tiny Miracles and we also plan to get fabrics from Nomad. We are showcasing several artworks by Lekha Washington including the Moon Dot Chair - a very popular selfie spot. We also have art by Fabien Charuau as well as works of other artists represented by Chatterjee & Lal.
Marlies you too have had a hand at designing several things. Can you tell me more about them?
Marlies: I designed the space. For the tables, they’re very simple, I wanted to use the white metal which I also used at the previous two Ministries, which I like because it’s very clean but I also wanted real, solid wood at the top because I like that sort of tactile feel, that’s important to me. I’m Dutch so I’m quite a minimalist but I’m very much a person who likes fabrics, wood and natural materials. I was constantly looking for that balance. The art is quite ‘boom, in your face’ but with the white, the green and the wood, there’s a balance.
I wanted to bring the books back to Kitab Mahal so it could be part of the building again. The [book] lights were a pinterest idea, let's be honest, but it fit perfectly. It was quite difficult to buy the right books. I wanted linen covers not just regular books. I made the swing for Sense of Space, the exhibition we had in collaboration with IDF. The hooks were already there, I saw the hooks and was like okay, perfect. I went to the Reay Road area, to one of these old saw mills, where there are these huge trees lying around and I picked my piece. We got some beautiful cotton rope from some place in the bazaar. It’s nothing complicated, no nails. Everybody liked it so much, of course we kept it. Its very relaxing if you sit on it.
Tell me more about your collaboration with Chatterjee and Lal.
Marlies: The work of Fabien [Charuau] was on my moodboard. I loved his work, I saw it a year ago at his exhibition at Chatterjee and Lal so I asked him, ‘Is there still any work available because it would be so beautiful in the space’. He was like ‘Ya just get in touch with my gallery, I can call them and maybe they can come over.' They were like, 'Whoa, this is fantastic!' So they said to me, 'Maybe we can collaborate. We have so many artists but the work is packed and stored but people should see it. A different kind of environment where people can get used to the art where they might also buy it.'
They sent other beautiful works as well. I just went there and I could pick my favourites.
You are both Dutch nationals. Do you think there are some Dutch influences in the space?
Marlies: I didn’t think of it but I think it just comes with me, I’m very Dutch of course, and I love blue and green shades. Holland has a lot of water, so I grew up with water and I love sailing, and the Dutch sky.
The library is the sky for me, that kind of blue. I really looked for the right shade it had to be the perfect shade and I’m really happy with it.
Apart from the obvious space and infrastructure, what are some of the benefits of coworking?
Marlies: It’s nice when you are starting something and you have to get to know the right people, it’s so important. You have to get connected but you’re so busy with your work, you hardly go out, you don’t meet them in a bar just like that. We kind of created an environment for meeting the right people. As soon as they start working at the Ministry, people are like, “I haven’t been this productive in years. I’ve been doing in a day what I get done in a week, because I don’t get distracted and that’s really nice to hear.”
Natascha: Because our concept runs more like a members club, you are sitting next to new people every day, having lunch with new people every day. And all of these people have something interesting to share and contribute to the space and the community. You also automatically get invited to Ministry of New curated events and are encouraged to hold your own events as a member.
Tell me about some of your current members – what kind of backgrounds do they come from?
Natascha: Right now we have investors, freelance journalists, health consultants, solar power consultants, sex education specialists, emotional intelligence developers, graphic designers, real estate agents, and various start ups ranging from vegan bowls to app developers to Little Black Book. I would say our members are most similar in their global mindset. We literally have members from the ages of 27 to 67.
What other uses does the space have?
Natascha: We plan to have several different types of events. One is public events like Girls Only which was an art exhibition which 500+ people attended. The more frequent events we'll be offering will be private or semi-private member events like book launches, lectures, talks and workshops. We had the Humans of Bombay book launch on 16th June.
What do you think is the future of coworking in India?
Marlies: I guess it will change, for us it’s brand extension and I think it will get much broader in that sense which is interesting. It can have different layers and also what we’re going to do with say yoga classes. It’s more lifestyle, it’s not just working. It’s really like your second living room. I actually don’t like to call our space a coworking space, because I would like to extend it a little more, so it’s a place that you can be at the whole day, and do your work, but you’re also meeting a lot of your friends. It can also be your social life.
Natascha: USPs will need to move beyond the overhead sharing economic benefits and move more into catering to various niche communities to keep a loyal following.
Can you recommend some favourite books or magazines from the library.
Marlies: At the moment we get all the magazines from Paper Planes. They came today with the new magazines so I can’t wait to dive into them. I miss that, really good magazines.
What are your favourite places in the neighbourhood?
Natascha: Cafe Excelsior, some of the local stamp and coin stores right outside Ministry of New and any of the lunch places at Kala Ghoda.
Marlies: Always the bazaars. I love to go to Excelsior downstairs, it’s just great, you have the kheema, you have the chicken shawarma and I love the old guys, they’re so sweet.