Sunita Surya Kohli, better known as 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 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 2021) 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″
Hair Colour: Salt and Pepper
Eye Colour: Brown
Sunita Kohli’s family traces its roots in Lahore. After the partition of India, 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 3 December 2021.
Husband & Children
Sunita Kohli tied the knot at the age of 24 with one of India’s most successful equity investors, Ramesh Kohli, on 21 November 1971. She is blessed with three children namely Kokila Kohli, who is the Sole Proprietor at Koko’s KitChan, Kohelika Kohli, who is an architect, educated at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, New York, and son, Suryaveer Kohli, who is a CEO & Founder at SVK Home. Sunita Kohli has three grandchildren, namely, Anadya, Zohravar, and Aaryaman Bhati.
31st, Golf Link, Ground Floor, Frount Apartment, New Delhi
Interior designer and Architectural restorer
According to Sunita Kohli, she decided to become an antiquarian after she visited many ‘kabadi’ shops (scrap dealer’s shops) in Lucknow, Rajasthan, Dehra Dun, and Mussoorie with her husband, where they found many antiquities such as the early 19th century lights and Edwardian furniture; she decided to sell Davenport desks and Regency wine tables. She learned these skills from a master craftsman in Lucknow. According to Sunita, when she started selling these antiquities, many clients started approaching her for redecoration work. Her first major project was to design a small hotel in Khajuraho. In 2007, in an interview, she talked about this and 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 works of many prominent architects including Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker, and Sir Robert Tor Russell. 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 has authored many books 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 titled ‘The Creation of a Planned City’ for her book, ‘The Millenium Book on New Delhi’, which was published by Oxford University Press. Sunita Kohli co-authored a book titled The Lucknow Cookbook’ with her mother, Chand Sur; the book was published on 5 December 2017, and it contains 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. The book went on to become one of the bestsellers in the non-fiction category in India. 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 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.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1992, Sunita Kohli was conferred with the Padma Shri, making her the first interior designer to be honoured with the fourth highest civilian award in India for her work in the field of “Architectural Restoration and Design.”
- Sunita Kohli is the first woman to be appointed as the Chairperson of the School of Planning and Architecture in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh; she was appointed in January 2014.
- In 1991, she received the prestigious Mahila Shiromani Award from Mother Teresa; the award recognizes women of achievement in the field of civil society.
- 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 to be awarded with Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India.
- 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. She is also a member of the General Council of the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, India. Sunita Kohli is a member of the Della Leaders Club (DLC) as well.
- 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.
- She also goes by the name Guddi.
- Sunita Kohli’s favourite dessert is homemade kulfi.