The Ministry was founded as a co-working space for those with work to do, but nowhere to do it. Rather than stick to the well-worn template of co-working spaces, of dusty tables and drab offices, Marlies and Natascha completely revolutionized the game- creating a space that’ll have you going back to it, over and over. Set in Kitab Mahal, a recently renovated blue-hued colonial-era heritage building, the Ministry already stands out in Mumbai’s Fort area, arguably the city’s cultural and creative hub.
What differentiates the Ministry from your run-of-the-mill standard co-working space? You see it as soon as you walk in; there is daylight, and lots of it, reflecting off vaulted high ceilings and onto minimalist white furniture with warm wooden accents. Marlies and Natascha designed the space themselves, and you can see that Dutch design sensibility everywhere, in pared-back and refined elements that are paired with essentially Indian elements (read Indian materials, workmen, artists, brands, everything). “It always comes back to really warm, hand-sanded wood, like beautiful Acacia wood, or I soft velvet or cotton Khadi; contrasts I love”, Marlies says.
The resultant space is one that allows members to make their own-Marlies has her own corner overlooking the entire space, while Natascha says her favourite spot is a “toss up between the swing in the Library and the Ghadda Day Bed in the Gallery. It's super comfortable and there's a window there that allows you to look at the bustling street below. A great contrast which makes me feel happy every time I sit there.”
Marlies was previously a graphic designer and art director, and her touch is evident in this eclectic space, almost exclusively Indian in its origin. The light installation and moonchair are Lekha Washington, the artwork Chatterjee and Lal, and the furniture Bombay Atelier. On the rugs that lend warmth and charm to the space (also Marlies’ favourite), she says that ‘it’s not made at factories or anything, it’s all very fair trade, and I was fascinated by their story and their beautiful work’. She stumbled on to Jaipur Rugs during a short stint in Jaipur, where she happened to connect with friends.This seems to be a recurring pattern with Marlies and Natascha- a lot of what happens at the Ministry is a happy coincidence, an accidental meeting, and then, serendipity. These chance encounters seem to follow the pair around, seen even in how they met and the work they now do, together. It is exactly this sort of collaboration that is nurtured at the Ministry. ‘It’s not just another co-working space’- there’s the library, a cozy corner to chill and meet friends. There’s brunch every few weeks to meet up, chat (and eat, yes), at Café MONday, the in-house go-to for snacks. ‘Most people come, really, to get inspired, that’s the main thing’, Marlies notes. What is witnessed here then, is community- a coming together of people with different styles and senses of design and outlooks- one which caters to all these different people, and creates a home for them.
Arguably, this is made possible by a city like Mumbai, which houses multitudes of people and where you find diversity on every street corner. The city acts like a beautiful backdrop for the Ministry, and the duo themselves turn back to Mumbai for inspiration. ‘I love Mumbai, I’m totally addicted to the energy of it’, Marlies gushes, and her energy is infectious. What’s not to love about the Fort neighbourhood, with its cobblestone streets and guys playing cricket down the corner? There’s artsy Kala Ghoda nearby, with the Chor bazaar a stone’s throw away, and an Irani café for your chai-and-bun-maska fix. The city’s canvas is an inspiring one, more so because of the people that form it.
‘It’s much nicer to have people around you, and you have a soundboard, and can build a big network’, Marlies says. These connections and collaborations are commonplace at the Ministry- learning Japanese? There’s a Japanese lawyer you could spend hours talking to. Social enterprise looking to expand? There’s expats looking to give back. Graphic designer looking for work? Marketing executive? The Ministry has you covered, always, in connecting those who need work to those looking for those to work with.
“Try to get everything you can out of the space. Attend the workshops, the events, the freebies, the social hours. Take the time to go beyond your comfort zone and connect with someone new. You never know where it will take you, either professionally or privately”, Natascha advises, which seems to work for the members of the space. The duo are proud of the work ethic inculcated at the Ministry, and the hard work and confidence that grows in the members over time.It’s this nurturing and love for collaboration that sets the Ministry apart. ‘It’s still a blank canvas; people come here, they might all have different styles and different senses of design, but still people feel at home here’, Marlies says. Whether you come to enjoy work in a beautifully designed space or for everyday hustle, you leave the Ministry feeling fresh, and with a new approach to the workday. Marlies articulates it well-what you get at the Ministry, more than anything, is this feeling, a good feeling.