Poonam Khanna was working as an architect for the City of New York when she heard from a former grad school classmate. “For years we’d had conversations about starting a practice together. One day she called me and said ‘I have a project for us. Are you ready to take the leap?’” The two successfully collaborated on design projects for years. Then in 2007, Poonam took an even bigger leap by founding her own shop, Unionworks design studio in N.Y.C.
Khanna lends her architect-designer eye to every project she and her team take on, from residential re-dos to reimagining spaces like the Loeffler Randall showroom and it’s newly opened brick-and-mortar shop in SoHo. But she’s never wanted to be known for—or limited by—one particular style. “We look at each project as a one-off. With architecture and interiors, you’re working with accumulated experience and knowledge. You learn by doing, and each project adds more to the knowledge bank,” she says. “Sometimes when you see a space, what ends up coming through is the designer’s voice. Because it’s my personality, and because it’s become our mission statement, we stay just below the radar. The client’s style is what you see in our work.”
Case in point: Poonam worked closely with the homeowners of a Hudson River property to create interiors that would amplify their natural surroundings. In part as a nod to the wife’s Asian heritage, they landed on a palette of “earth tones” that included shades of red. “We only used colors that were in tune with the environment outside,” explains Khanna. For sitting room chairs overlooking the water and woods, they opted for a pink-and-cream fabric that reminded Khanna of “that moment where leaves are pink for a minute, before they go to orange and red.”
Working on an estate in Beverly Hills presented Poonam with a different challenge: not having a client. After a massive renovation, the developer tasked Unionworks with designing everything from the finishes to furniture before putting it on the market. “Since we weren’t adding all the layers that you’d typically include, we wanted pieces that had real impact and presence.” The result: a 50/50 mix of striking vintage and contemporary pieces that encourages conversation and taking in the views.
The developer asked Khanna to make a statement in the foyer. But she over-delivered, creating more “wow moments” than you can count. Like the mirrored panel designed to hide an unattractive spot by the pool, which reflects the water, olive tree, and vintage fiberglass chairs. And a pair of sculptural de Sede sofas in the library. Made of squishy foam with no wood frame, they were covered in an orangey-brown leather that Poonam “couldn’t let go of,” so she reupholstered them in a similar shade of velvet. Ornate marbles also draw the eye throughout the house, including a jaw-dropping sink swirled with emerald green, and a wall of geometric bardiglio slabs outlined in brass in the foyer. It’s just the kind of statement-making entrance the developer knew Khanna could create.
Khanna took a few moments from whipping up stunning interiors to answer a few our burning questions!
Three tools you can’t live without: A measuring tape, a pencil, and a sense of humor.
Favorite thing to look at: Anything in the world of nature.
The most magical place on Earth: Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned palace in India that’s about an hour from the Taj Mahal. It’s romantic, beautiful, weird…and totally unforgettable.
The book currently on your nightstand: Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson.
Best studio jams: Philip Glass, always.
One part of your daily routine you can’t skip: Snuggles with my 8-year old son.
Biggest pet peeve: Traffic.
The most sage advice you’ve received: Trust your gut!
Best spot to hang in your hometown: The Cloisters, the museum and gardens at the northern tip of Manhattan that overlook the Hudson River.
Go-to flower: Jasmine. I love it for its fragrance—but also because for me, it evokes India.
Color Crush: Every shade of red.