Payal Kapoor is Winning the Creative Stakes

9 months ago / by SWARNENDU BISWAS

Payal Kapoor shot to limelight in India in the mid-90s when she designed the Palace on Wheels, the most famous luxury train in India.

The Delhi-based Payal’s road to that kind of heady success began with her introduction to professional interior designing in 1987 at Manasara, a Delhi-based reputed firm that she joined after earning her diploma in interior design at the Polytechnic for Women in New Delhi.

“Initially, it was not my love for interior designing but the prospect of having a decent and quick- earning option that drove me to choose interior design as my career,” Payal said. But while studying, she fell in love with the immense potential for creativity in interior design.

Headed by Rina Ripjit Singh, a dynamic leader, Manasara was a consultant firm on several projects. Payal wholeheartedly acknowledges that influence on her career, even describing Rina as her mentor.


The training the young Payal received under her mentor helped shape her identity as an interior designer of repute.

“I knew the basics of interior designing, but she taught me from scratch how to apply those design principles in real world situations amidst a thousand constraints. She taught me the nuances of handling interpersonal relations, which are also no less important than your designing expertise for successfully running an interior design business,” Payal said as we sipped coffee and munched on dry fruits in her aesthetically decorated study.

Devasya Resort, Udaipur, an ongoing project
Devasya Resort, Udaipur, an ongoing project

While at Manasara, Payal did renovation work on the Oberoi Cecil in Shimla and the Hyderabad House in Delhi, and interior design at some opulent houses in Golf Links (a posh locality in Delhi).

From Manasara, she moved to Dream City Builders, whose corporate office was then at East of Kailash, New Delhi. There she gained insights into the technical aspects of interior design.

“This was helpful because interior design is not only about creativity and imagination, but also about technical dexterity,” Payal said.

She led a civil design team there. Under her supervision the company diversified from making panel doors and windows to excellent furniture, while also executing a number of projects on a turnkey basis.


In 1990, she launched her own company, Visions, on a modest scale in a rented establishment. Small projects began trickling in and soon she was able to purchase a Maruti 800, the first of her many cars.

But soon after, the stream of work at Visions began drying up, and Payal found it hard to keep the business afloat. Luckily, because her firm was small, she didn’t have much overhead expenses to worry about.

But sticking it out paid off handsomely for her in 1995 when she got the job to do the interiors of the Palace architecture and cultural motifs of each region of Rajasthan from where the train passed, in the bedrooms, for this exercise would hold extra appeal to the discerning guests when the luxury train passed through those regions. For example, we used peacock motifs to present Udaipur and the festival of Teej and Ganesh Chaturthi for Jaipur.”

The ambitious project not only tested her creativity but also her leadership skills: the work project involved 250-300 people, many of whom were temporary workers.

The success of Palace on Wheels brought her international recognition and many prestigious projects.


In restoring and upgrading the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur, she again had to engage in a delicate balancing act involving royal heritage and post-modern decor, in keeping with the fragile sentiments of the royalty.

“To understand the nuances of the art items and furniture and restore them instead of purchasing new ones was a creative on Wheels after winning a national competition where 500 interior designers and architects across India participated.


Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) wanted to recreate their most prestigious project Palace on Wheels (now known as Heritage Palace on Wheels) on broad gauge and for this they advertised a competition where 500 designers and architects participated. From 500 it was shortlisted to 200 and then to eight and eventually Payal landed up with the dream come true contract, which she was hardly expecting to get.

Palace on Wheels, designed by Payal Kapoor
Palace on Wheels, designed by Payal Kapoor

While working on the Palace on Wheels, Payal realized that great design is not only about creativity and grandeur but also about minute details. While designing the interiors of the train, which comprised erstwhile princes’ coaches, one of her foremost challenges was to present world-class but understated state-of-the-art luxury amidst an ambience and décor harking back to erstwhile royals.

“Each royal family in Rajasthan had its own style of painting, which I had to incorporate in the state saloons. Similarly, each region of Rajasthan has its own festivals. We had to recreate the art, challenge, especially with budget constraints being a constant accompaniment in the project.”

Payal said, while talking about her long association with the luxury palace hotel

“The restoration of the ballroom of Welcom Hotel By ITC Hotels, The Savoy, Mussoorie also posed a similar creative challenge for us where we had to remain thoroughly faithful to the English Gothic architecture of the hotel, which was originally built in1902,” proffered Payal while adding, “English Gothic arch design of the hotel needed to be restored to its past glory but while syncing it with the post-modern amenities.”

Our discussion meandered to another of her pet projects, the Welcom Heritage Bal Samand Lake Palace.

“Bal Samand Lake Palace was a beautiful property, built way back in the 17th century. When we got involved in the project, it was in shambles, with urgent need
for restoration, but money was a constraint,” Payal remembered.

The team developed the suites and deluxe rooms using furniture from godowns of the royal palace and restored architectural features that included sandstone carvings and friezes, mood boards and wall finishes. Throughout, the team tried to remain true to the original architectural style of the property.


Of course, besides heritage hotels and luxury trains (she has also done the interior design of the Sambhar Express of RTDC) , Payal has also designed projects with a strong contemporary touch, such as schools, homes, offices, malls, restaurants, etc. The GD Goenka Public School in Vasant Kunj, probably the first air-conditioned school in Delhi, and the refurbishment of the PVR Mega Mall in Gurugram, are other noteworthy projects she has worked on outside the hospitality sector.

PVR Mega Mall, Gurugram
PVR Mega Mall, Gurugram

Her favored style is an amalgamation of the classic and contemporary, but she has worked on a wide variety of styles, including heritage, classic, Art Deco, minimalist, and theme-based. Her interior design portfolio includes hotels and resorts, palaces, offices, uber homes, restaurants, bars, spas, saloons, luxury trains, institutes, hospitals and many more.

She has designed many tasteful homes in her career. She believes that while designing homes one must keep in mind the personality of those living there.

“Of course, the ambience and décor of the homes should reflect an innate warmth, but at the same time a well-designed home should subtly reflect the personality traits of the persons inhabiting it,” Payal said.


Payal has won a number of prestigious awards. She is probably the only Indian interior designer to be featured on Barons’ Greatest Interior Designers of the World. Her name has also been included in Barons’ Who’s Who of the World Global Edition.

She won the Best Mentor Award by Lovely Professional University, New Delhi, in 2014. Then there’s the Adex International Design Award, Society Design Award, ANOKHI – Woman of the Year Award, and numerous national awards.

Hit a Pint, a microbrewery in Ghaziabad, UP, which is being designed by Payal Kapoor
Hit a Pint, a microbrewery in Ghaziabad, UP, which is being designed by Payal Kapoor

Though she faced tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic, Payal managed to keep Visions afloat.
“We had eight-nine projects during the COVID phase 2019-22,” Payal said. “It included a six-bedroom villa for a Canadian couple in Goa on turnkey basis, a resort in Udaipur (on which work is still ongoing), a 18,000 sq. ft. villa in Jabalpaur, a 5,000 sq. ft. food court in a hospital, and a microbrewery in Ghaziabad, near Delhi (the work is still in progress), among others.” She said that while her business is back on track, it has not yet attained its pre- COVID momentum.

Payal’s plans include setting up her own boutique hotel in the hills of Uttrakhand and some other exciting and challenging projects.


Besides being a renowned interior designer and a successful entrepreneur, Payal is a doting mother to her two daughters.

“My husband and daughters have been extremely supportive in my journey,” she said. “Since I am juggling and multitasking a lot of things at the same time, they have learnt to be independent and instruct and delegate duties to house staff to ensure systems are being followed. That is a huge burden off my back as I can do my work without worrying about the house. During my short travel trips, which are work-related, the family takes charge of the house, despite all of them being busy in their respective schedules.”

SOME OF VISION’S IMPORTANT PROJECTS (excluding residential projects)

  1. Interior Designing of Palace on Wheels
  2. Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
  3. Hari Niwas Palace, Jammu
  4. Heritage Inn (Hotel), Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
  5. GD Goenka Public School
  6. GD Goenka International School
  7. Welcome Heritage Bal Samand Lake Palace, Jodhpur
  8. Welcomhotel By ITC Hotels, The Savoy, Mussoorie
  9. PVR Mega Mall in Gurugram
  10. The Imperial New Delhi
  11. Interior Designing of Sambhar Express
  12. Ruby Tuesday PVR Saket; pub & restaurant
  13. United Service Institution of India, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi (It is a national security and defense services think tank)
  14. Central Cottage Industries Emporium, New Delhi
  15. Mint Casino, Goa (of MDLR Group)