Zarine Khan With husband Sanjay Khan Image Credit: Gulf News archive

On most days, interior decorator to Bollywood stars Zarine Khan, wife of yesteryears' actor Sanjay Khan, has a pleasant disposition. But thrust a giant sunflower wallpaper in her hand and her reaction is not so sunny.

"He said he would give me the job only if I decided to use that wallpaper. But I didn't bow down," said Khan, in an interview with tabloid! on Saturday. The client in question was the late actor Rajendra Kumar.

"His wife assured me and said she was glad I stood my ground. She said: ‘Don't worry, he'll call you back because you are right.' Surprisingly, Rajendraji did, after two weeks, and I got to do their entire residence without using that hideous sunflower wallpaper," said Khan, who will be in Dubai to judge and award the Danube Students Interior Design Awards 2012 at the end of this month.

A mutual process

This incident underlines her approach to her craft: She never lets her clients guide her after a certain point. "My mantra is not about putting the client's tastes or your own in front of everything. It's a mutual process. When you are designing a house, you should make your client feel comfortable and give them a personalised home," she said.

Her formula worked. On the speed-dial of many a Bollywood star, Khan has beautified the homes of actors such as Sharmila Tagore and Hema Malini, and has also designed for the Kapoor household. Royalty and rich industrialists approach her for her services.

In the interior-design business for more than three decades, Khan believes in breaking down barriers. Heading to Dubai with her clients for a bit of home shopping, or attending furniture fairs in Milan is all part of her job description. Besides, she has a home advantage. After she married actor-director-producer Sanjay Khan, the doors to privacy-seeking stars opened up naturally.

"Initially, being Mrs Sanjay Khan helped, because it helped me break into the industry," she said. "But even if I were Mrs Sanjay Khan, if I did not give good finishes or do good work, well, word spreads real fast. The moment you slip, people talk."

As far as delivery goes, her strong star-studded client base proves that she hasn't missed her step.

Her daughter Suzanne Khan, who is married to Bollywood heart-throb Hrithik Roshan and is therefore an industry insider, has followed in her mother's footsteps. Taking a cue from her mother, Suzanne is now on the speed-dial of many stars, including Shilpa Shetty.

"Suzanne also has a lovely disposition, and her clients are very comfortable with her. There's space in this business for everybody. I am in this business for the love of designing and decorating. So I am not aggressive on the field. I have always been friends with other interior decorators," Khan said.

Self-taught skills

Surprisingly, her skills are self-taught, as she doesn't have a formal degree in interior decoration. "Either you have it or you don't. The knack for design has to be within you — these things can't be taught. Sometimes attending schools might make you a bit too systematic," said Khan, adding that interior designing is not as rigid as architecture, which needs to be formally taught in schools. According to her, interior design is all about the art of knowing how and where to place two hideous chairs so that they look right.

"If you are sure of what you need to do, the end result is always beautiful," she said.