Sunita Kohli is counted among the most popular interior designers in India. She is a self-taught and research-based interior designer. She is known for her architectural restoration of many prestigious buildings, palaces and forts in India, Pakistan, Bhutan and Shri Lanka. She has preserved well-known National heritages which were on the edge of loss.
Sunita Kohli was born on Sunday, 28 December 1946 (age 75 years; as of 2022) in Lakshmi Mansion, (the Victoria Building), in Lahore, Pakistan. She grew up in Lucknow. Sunita Kohli studied at Roman Catholic School, Lucknow. Later, she pursued her graduation in English Literature at Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi and completed her Master’s from Lucknow University. After her studies, she taught at Loreto College in Lucknow. Sunita Kohli used to go for many sales and auctions with her father, Indar Prakash, in childhood, where the collections of Osler chandeliers and Writ and Butler lamps could be seen. Looking at those collections drew her interest in designs.
Height (approx.): 5′ 5″
Weight (approx.): 65 kg
Hair Colour: Salt and Pepper
Eye Colour: Brown
Sunita Kohli belongs to a family from Lahore, earlier, a part of India which got separated due to the partition and was later recognised as a part of Pakistan. After the partition, her parents decided to migrate to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
Sunita Kohli’s father, Indar Prakash, belongs to a Rajput family and her mother, Chand Sur, is a Hindu Balochi from Quetta. Sunita Kohli lost her mother on 3rd December 2021.
Picture of Sunita Kohli with her mother, Chand Sur
Husband & Children
Sunita Kohli tied the knot at the age of 24, with one of India’s most successful equity investors, Ramesh Kohli in 1971. She is blessed with three children. One of her children is Kohelika Kohli, who is an architect, educated at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, New York. Sunita Kohli has three grandchildren, namely, Anadya, Zohravar and Aaryaman Bhati.
A picture of Sunita Kohli with her husband, Ramesh Kohli, from her 60th birthday celebration
Picture of Sunita Kohli with her daughter, Kohelika Kohli
Interior designer and Architectural restorer
Earlier, Sunita Kohli started producing furniture and restoring antiques after learning skills from a master craftsman in Lucknow. While selling her furniture, she started receiving questions about redecorating homes from clients. Her first major project was to design a small hotel in Khajuraho. While in an interview, in 2007, Sunita Kohli said,
“When clients commissioned me to restore furniture, they also asked for advice about how to redecorate their homes. Interior design as a profession actually came to India only in the 1970s.”
In 1971, she established ‘Sunita Kohli Interior Designs’, an interior design firm in New Delhi, India. In 1972, she formed ‘Sunita Kohli and Company’, a contemporary- classic furniture manufacturing company. As her business was taking off, she started receiving offers to redesign the embassies and ambassadorial homes. She has restored many British and non-British buildings. Sunita Kohli has helped in restoring the prominent architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Robert Tor Russell’s foremost architectural legacies from the British Raj in Delhi, India. Sunita Kohli has restored and decorated Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament House Colonnade, the Prime Minister’s Office, and Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India. Her work in Bhutan can be seen in many hotels and public buildings, including the Parliament Building of Bhutan. She has designed the interiors of the British Council Building and the DLF Corporate Office on Parliament Street, New Delhi, India. Sunita Kohli has worked in several countries, notably Egypt, where she has designed several resorts and luxury hotel boats on the Nile for the Egyptian General Company For Tourism and Hotels (EGOTH) and the ‘Oberoi Group.’ She has also restored, designed and furnished Naila Fort in Jaipur for the Chairman of the Oberoi Group, Mr PRS Oberoi.
Sunita Kohli is an author of many books as well such as ‘Tanjore Paintings’, ‘Traditional lamps of India’, ‘Awadhi Cuisine from the Jehangirabad Kitchens’, and ‘World Heritage Cultural Sites in India.’ She has written a chapter on Lutyens and New Delhi, named, ‘The Creation of a Planned City’ for her book, ‘The Millenium Book on New Delhi’, which was published by Oxford University Press. Sunita Kohli and her mother, Chand Sur’s ‘The Lucknow Cookbook’, published on 5th December 2017, is a cookbook containing 230 pages with 18 chapters , with 150 vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, which represent the taste of their kitchen and the kitchens of their friends and family. This book has been on the 2nd number in the non-fiction bestseller list. The book has the essence of Lucknowi cuisines and culture. While talking about ‘The Lucknow Cookbook’ in an interview, held in 2019, Sunita Kohli said,
The recipes in the book are distilled from this rich culinary heritage, the preparation of food is learnt by observation, it is a process of osmosis. With four generations in our family being reasonably good cooks, this book documents recipes we learnt from my mother and other close friends.”
Sunita Kohli and her mother, Chand Sur, holding ‘The Lucknow Cookbook’ in a picture
Sunita Kohli is a Founder and Trustee of the Satyagyan Foundation, an affiliate of “World Literacy of Canada”, in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. It is a non-governmental organisation formed for the economic empowerment of women through providing vocational training and literacy. She is the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of ‘Save-a-Mother’, a non-governmental organisation to decrease maternal and infant mortality rates in India. She is also a contributor to the ‘Women’s Cancer Intitiave’ of the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, India.
National Museum of Women in the Arts in India
In 2005, Sunita Kohli founded the ‘National Museum of Women in the Arts in India’ which is in association with the ‘National Museum of Women in the Arts’, in Washington DC. It was founded “to honour women artists of the past, promote the accomplishments of women artists of the present and assure the place of women artists in the future.” She has also been a part of the National Advisory Board of the ‘National Museum of Women in the Arts’, in Washington DC.
Sunita Kohli and her daughter, Kohelika Kohli, co-founded K2India in 2010. It is a multi-disciplinary design and architectural firm, based in New Delhi. The idea of forming the company was to bring the creativity and ideas of two different companies, i.e., ‘Kohelika Kohli Architects’ (the Architecture and Project Management cell of the company, established in 2004), ‘Sunita Kohli Interior Designs Pvt. Ltd.’ (interior designer cell of the company, established in 1972), and ‘Sunita Kohli & Co.’ (the Furniture Manufacturing cell of the company, established in 1971) under one roof. The company works exclusively in the designing of restaurants, hotels and resorts, gyms, private residences, corporate offices, luxury hotel boats and aircraft; and the restoration of forts, palaces, public buildings and heritage identities. The company has completed several projects successfully in many countries like Egypt, Bhutan, England, and Shri Lanka. In 2014, the company was awarded the Architectural Digest 50 Award. The company has received many other awards such as the AD Award (2020), FCCI FLO (2019-2020), India’s Most Prominent Architect and Design Award (2019), Inkpot Achievers Award (2019), ID Honors Award (2019), AD Award (2108), The Fashion Awards (2017), AD50 Award (2017), the Festival of Architecture and Interior Designing Award (2016), Society Interiors Honors Award (2015), The ET Architecture & Design Summit(2014), AD50 Award (2014), Building Industry Leadership (2006), Wade ‘Role Model’ Interior Designer, Jama Masjid United Forum: Terrorism National & International World Conference, etc.
One of the residential projects of K2India, ‘Mongolia Apartment’
‘Underdogg Sports Bar and Grill’, K2India’s one of the commercial projects
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1992, Sunita Kohli was conferred the Padma Shri. She was the first interior designer to be honoured with one of the highest National awards for her work in the field of “Architectural Restoration and Design.”
- Sunita Kohli was the first woman to be appointed as the Chairperson of The School of Planning and Architecture in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, in January 2014.
- In 1992, she was awarded the prestigious Mahila Shiromani Award, which recognizes women of achievement in the field of civil society, by Mother Teresa.
- Sunita Kohli is highly regarded as the civil society leader in India.
- Dessert(s): Homemade kulfi.
- Sunita Kohli has lectured at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, United States, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, The University of Edinburgh in Edinburg, Scotland, and the Glasgow School of Art, United Kingdom.
- She is the only interior designer with the highest civilian award, Padma Shri.
- She has presented various papers in different fields such as Design, Architecture, Historical Conservation, Literature, Mughal Jewellery as a Statement of Empire, World Heritage Cultural Sites in India and Social Entrepreneurship.
- She is one of the members of the Advisory Committee of Rashtrapati Bhawan; a member of the General Council of the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, India.
- She is a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Haryana, India.
- The furniture at Sunita Kohli’s house is contemporary in design and most of them are designed and manufactured by her daughter, Kohelika Kohli.
- Sunita Kohli is a member of the Della Leaders Club (DLC) as well.