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Read Ash Chawla’s Full Interview with TechSling

In this interview, we speak to the CEO of Duke of Design, Ash Chawla on the company's mission to create timeless properties via designs and materials that convey a sense of long-lasting opulence in what is already a competitive industry. Duke of Design is a Design/Build company that focuses on increasing the value of people's properties by reflecting the owner's needs through super-luxe interior design, extensions and refurbishments.

Tell us a bit about your background in architecture and design?

Chawla: My University professors once said something in class, that stuck with me forever. He said, “in my experience, there is nothing more to learn in a job after 1 year. If you have worked in 1 job for 5 years, that only counts as 1 years job experience.”

His words in hindsight justified all my vagabond ways. After Graduating in 2010 from University of Bath, I advanced on a journey which took me through 8 cities, 5 countries and 8 different jobs. In fact, one of the reasons I got into Architecture was so I could work on different projects every year.

In London, I worked extensively on restoration and renovation of grade listed buildings. In Dubai and Qatar, I worked on mega development projects like shopping malls, Cinema’s, football stadiums, city planning, etc. In India and Nepal, I was on the design team for a Hilton Hotel, Science centres, luxury houses and universities. Working on such a wide range of projects and with people from around the globe has given me a unique perspective.

What led you to start Duke of Design?

Chawla: I get asked by everyone if I had a Eureka moment that led to starting on my own. Truth be told, our origin story is very organic. I was part of the new age vagabonds, working and travelling where opportunity took me. My plan was to have no plan but to experience and learn about new places and its people. I was on my path to move again in 2016 but with encouragement and support from some of my clients, I was able to establish my own company.

What does Duke of Design specialise in?

Chawla: Our speciality is a holistic approach to projects backed by knowledge, training and experience. We are able to understand our clients’ needs and deliver a luxurious project on time and under budget. We are uniquely positioned to recognise the unfulfilled potential in properties and achieve them. This is because I have personally worked in every sector of the property industry. In addition to designing, I have been part of sales & rental and designing the property with the sole aim of maximising its value. I have lead development teams in charge of large-scale projects, hiring and coordinating multiple architects, interior designers and various other consultants & contractors.

While there are plenty of design and build firms offering this service, most of them do not have the sufficient qualification, training or experience. What they might have is someone with the experience and others the training & qualifications. The result is a pot with too many cooks. I have interviewed and even hired such firms to great disappointment. In fact, I credit the errors made by such companies with influencing my approach.

What kind of clients have you had?

Chawla: We have a set of repeat clients who are constantly developing, buying & selling various properties and clients with one-off projects. Our regulars are high net worth individuals with properties in prime central London. We design, build and manage the properties for them.

Other clients are 1st-time buyers sometimes with young children. These projects are extremely challenging as they are very restricted with the budget but still want to improve the atmosphere and quality of their home. We assist them in maximising the value of their property and unlock the equity created by the work.

What is your favourite part of the Design/Build process?

Chawla: My favourite parts are the beginning and the end. I am very passionate about designing exciting spaces and imagining the endless possibilities and potential each property has. What’s even better is when the work is complete and appreciation that comes from the client. Our designs always contain something bespoke and exiting. We just love seeing it come to life.

What are the most common mistakes people make when trying to improve their homes?

Chawla: The most common mistake by people is not using proper professionals for the job. I have seen people suffer a great deal by using cheap, unqualified and untrained builders & designers for their projects. Construction work requires highly specialised professionals. Anything short of that could expose the property owners to immense dangers and liabilities.

What are the easiest ways to increase the value of one’s home?

Chawla: There is a very important aspect to understand here. Firstly, there is a certain condition the property must be in, to achieve a fair market value of your home. Not leaving the home in a dilapidated state would be the first thing. A well-maintained property will demonstrate your care and affection towards the property, which will generate interest.

Now to achieve a premium on the property there must be additional ‘luxuries’ that are rarely available in other properties. There is no easy or straightforward way to do this. Every area has a different buyer and tenant profile. The key is to understand the target demographic and find what’s lacking in the local property market.

I once dealt with an area with a high concentration of American expats. In our design proposal, we included an indoor swimming pool. After the works, we were surprised to hear that a few buyers got into a bidding war because of the pool. It was the only property available with such a feature which allowed our client to charge a premium. As usual, over the years other followed suit and now that area has multiple properties offer pool, Jacuzzi’s, hot tub’s, etc. As the supply of this ‘luxury’ exceeded demand, these items no longer fetch the high premium they once did. So you see, there are no straightforward guides to increasing the property value. The way to do so is to study the area in great detail and work with people who specialise in this.

What kind of Smart home gadgets have an impact on the home valuation?

Chawla: A smart home will have an impact on the property value rather than just having “a smart home gadget”. Don’t expect an increase with just one or two gadgets. Only multiple gadgets will classify your home as a smart home and that will get buyers interested.

Smart thermostats with geolocation have proven to save energy bills and are in high demand. However, only the recognised brands like Nest, Tado, etc. have that impact. An unpopular brand might even have an opposite effect.

Smart door locks and home entry systems are gaining popularity especially properties with loft conversions and rear kitchen extensions.

Other items which have an impact are heated mirrors in bathrooms, automated garden watering system, smart appliances, smart home alarms, etc.

Home automation gadgets can range from hundreds to thousands of pounds, how do we decide which one to use?

Chawla: You must have heard the phrase’ “you get what you pay for”. This could not be more true for electronic gadgets. These gadgets are priced based on features offered, product design and quality, brand value and after-sales support.

The first thing to do while deciding is to see these products in person. Online research, while crucial must not be your only deciding factor.

Secondly, a thing about the usability of the product. If you are thinking about colour changing LEDs in your entire house. How often are you going to use? Is it just a feature you want to show off or do you actually need to turn your home into a nightclub every so often?

Home automation seems too complicated; why should we spend so much more only to complicate our lives?

Chawla: Every new technology has its early adopters and the late adopters. This question is generally asked by the latter. Home automation is not complicated; it is just different. It requires learning something new. I find that is the biggest block to adoption of new technology. It is the lack of interest in learning something new. It does require some effort but once you get the hang of it, it will definitely make your life much easier while potentially saving money in energy bills.

I remember the days we used to set timers for the heating and hot water to begin in our houses. If you wanted to take a shower midday, one found no hot water as the hot water was only switched on in the mornings and evenings. Now, my boiler is connected to my phone via a smart thermostat. If I am home, my heating and hot water stay on. As soon as I leave home, it switches off. The heating starts up when I am on my way back home. This system is perfect for me as I don’t come back home at a regular time every day. Not only that, I have temperature sensors in each room. The radiators are automatically monitored; as a result, I have a constant temperature in my house.

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