How Londoner Harvi Sahota, Landed in Alabama and Opened a Successful Design Firm

Harvi Sahota

Today we speak with designer and photographer Harvi Sahota on his career and personal style. 

I’m originally from London, and I currently live in Alabama. Sounds odd, but there’s a back story.

I first traveled to Alabama in 1999. My wife is originally from Montgomery, so as a visitor I began documenting its visual landscape.

I was fascinated at the history and the decay. Coming from the UK, I knew of Montgomery as a place of historical significance. But its spatial development over the 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement was unbelievable: the abandoned social and cultural history, the Suburban Sprawl & strip malls, the lack of planning and care.

As a designer and photographer, this fascination formed the basis of my work at the Royal College of Art in London, and has ever since.

And as strange as it sounds, within that inertia we saw an opportunity to affect change – to use design and effort to make a difference. I co-founded Matter, a multidisciplinary design firm based on a simple idea: to Build Community Through Design. Design encompasses every aspect of daily life, and when it’s thoughtful and engaging, design improves quality of life.

Matter is a vertically-integrated firm: we design dwellings and environments, we construct buildings, and we communicate why design is important.Over a decade later, I believe we’ve made a positive impact, not just in Alabama but throughout the region.

One of our best known projects is Hampstead, a community designed upon the foundation of New Urbanism which includes a mixture of uses, connectivity, walkability, sustainability, and activity. My focus is on creating and implementing architectural designs for homes and incremental, lean commercial buildings. The US has gravitated over the past decade to demand walkable, mixed-use communities and Hampstead has been at the forefront of this cultural shift in the South. It’s a great change to be a part of. My wife and I have two young sons (ages 6 and 4) and currently spend our time between Alabama, New York and sometimes London.

My style is a reflection of the work I do – I go from construction site to client meeting to after work drinks on a given day. Jeans, white trainers, and a black t-shirt work well in almost any setting. The South tends to lean a bit more conservative, which makes it easy to stand out. Plus the British accent helps. Here are some more details:

Jeans: Simon Miller USA denim is almost indestructible. The Kaine fit is perfect for a slim look.
Shirts: Thom Browne Slim Fit long sleeve shirts are classic with a bit of humor.
Pants: On the off chance I’m not wearing jeans, I go for Theory trousers. The Slim style has clean lines and understated patterns and colors.
Suits: I don’t often delve into the suits. But when the need arises, the Agnes B. suit is my go-to. The Grey Nils and Nelson combination is reliable.
Shoes: Always, always white trainers. Common Projects Original Achilles Low are sturdy and last forever.
Accessories: Filson Duffel Large in Otter Green. A grab all-around bag for work or weekends. Filson even repaired it for me years ago when our Westie ate through the leather strap.
Outerwear: Billy Reid Standard Pea Coat. Mine is navy – I love the leather contrast detailing. For rainy weather, you can’t go wrong with Norse Projects – this Hugo Light jacket is a must.
Cologne: Tom Ford’s Oud Wood.
Favorite App: Instagram is where I spend a good amount of down time. It’s a good way to get quick inspiration and stay in touch with artists and friends throughout the world.
Techonology: Peloton Bike. I got it last Christmas and am addicted. Makes exercising so simple. And I can’t live without my Leica MP-240.
Next Style Purchase: Rag & Bone Standard Issue Short Sleeve Tee is a classic – great weight and length.