This is the 25th year of existence for Total Environment, one of Bangalore’s most iconic apartment builders. Its signature exposed-brick and terrace garden apartments are as aspirational to potential home buyers as iPhones are to potential smartphone buyers. Like Apple’s products, Total Environment’s homes come at a premium too, ranging in price from Rs 1 crore ($125,000) to Rs 8 crore ($1.1 million).
Set up in 1996 by the architect couple of Kamal and Shibanee Sagar, Total Environment is a rather unique tree in the forest that is Indian real estate. Driven by an intensely (and at times, even foolishly) design-driven vision, it has expanded itself from a “single product” company that made small apartment communities in the nineties to one today that employs over 1,000 people and makes massive communities comprising as many as a thousand homes; architectural services; commercial spaces; restaurants and brewpubs; an in-house furniture and furnishings operation; and even an upcoming modular kitchen offering.
Each of these expansions came about organically and excruciatingly, as the company tried to solve problems it encountered. Each problem solved diligently ended up becoming both the seed for a new product offering, and a source for yet new problems.
The Ken interviewed Kamal Sagar, co-founder and CEO, first in late March, when India had yet to have a single day of lockdown. Over an hour and a half of a freewheeling, in-person conversation, Sagar spoke of his company’s staccato growth patterns, the importance of design and his continuing unlearning and relearning as a CEO.
Then, in mid-July we interviewed him again, this time over Zoom. The nearly hour-long conversation went deeper into the Apple-like thinking Total Environment uses to standardise, modularise, and productise its homes. He explained why his homes have version numbers, why he spent four years, and $3 million building a virtual design software platform, and how home design trends are changing in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The edited interview goes back and forth between the conversations, and between themes.
Is Total Environment changing the design of its homes in response to the pandemic?
Yeah, obviously, the home office thing is one thing. The first thing that hit me after a few conversations was that we need two home offices, not one. Somehow, I just didn’t get it. I could be as dumb as that after so many years.
To be fair, no one really expected people to use their home offices on a consistent basis for such a long time.
Yes, yes, yes. But now it’s very clear the husband and wife both need their home offices and the kids need their study space. That’s one thing we have immediately changed. Even in our ongoing projects, we’ve uploaded customisation options for this or changed the products that are about to get released.