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Expert styling ideas to celebrate Onam at home this year

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It is that time of the year when Malayalis are preparing their homes to welcome their celebrated King Mahabali. A very important part of the annual festivities is, of course, the food or the Onam Sadhya which is a feast of vegetarian dishes laid out and traditionally eaten off a banana leaf. This year we got Kerala-based architects, Mohammed Afnan and Arun Shekar, founders of Humming tree, to give us ideas on styling a space for an intimate meal with family and friends.

“We wanted to break from the traditional norms of how Onam is typically celebrated; so with the lack of availability of flowers this year which is usually laid out as a carpet, we thought of using foliage from our own backyard. We used this to make a floating green chandelier on top of the table we styled,” says Arun, “This acts like a great backdrop and is also a conversation starter.” Landscape has been their biggest muse as designers and that has been translated in this styled set up too.

A very important part of the festivity celebrations is the Onam Sadhya, a feast of vegetarian dishes laid out and traditionally eaten off a banana leaf. However, through the years, the traditional ways have been tweaked with modern techniques. Keeping this thought process in mind, architect duo, Mohammed Afnan, and Arun Shekar, founders of Humming tree, have styled a space for an intimate meal with family and friends. Watch the duo style and decorate with simple materials and foliage for Kerala's harvest festival, Onam this year!

Here’s how they made the foliage installation:

“We made the tropical cloud with a few tools that are easily available everywhere - a cutter, a chicken mesh and a translucent or transparent fishing thread. The look depends a lot on the foliage that you collect. We suggest using leaves from the Ficus plants, as they are relatively thick and have a great amount of water retention. This means if you moisten them, it will stay in shape for at least a week,” says Arun. “It is also one of our favourite things about this installation.”

“An important thing to note is the shape of the installation. The leaves and the branches you select need to look balanced, but at the same time, it needs to have a tropical feel. It should look like its straight out of a jungle, natural and effortless,” says Mohammed. A variety of shapes and sizes can be clustered together to achieve this look. “Once done, you can hang it up from your celling.” Coming to the table, the duo talks about how they have incorporated products from a project very dear to them, ‘The Revelation series’ inspired by the LGBTQ community. “We made this collection with Kerala’s local artisans, using terracotta clay as the material,” reveals Arun. “We used this to play with different heights, plus it goes really well with the traditional utensils.”

Here are their tips on styling the table:

Use a simple table-cloth as base
The designers used a plain white cloth as their base so that all the elements on the table can be highlighted while avoiding a clash of patterns. One of the main elements of the sadhya, they used a big banana leaf as a table runner, together creating an elegant and simple canvas for the setting.

Use traditional table-ware and play with their heights
The traditional Kerala crockery has been used to add cultural 

Moistening the foliage carefully will maintain the whole look for an entire week.

context to the table. This includes a ceramic bharani and brass utensils. Along with this, they have used terracotta plates from their own collection to add a contemporary touch. This also blends in well with the other natural elements on the table. “Try to bring in various textures on the table, this adds a lot of character to the set up,” says Arun. They have placed the fruits on a pedestal. “If everything on the table is of the same height, it all looks bland. But the minute you place things at different levels, it becomes interesting to look at,” says Mohammed.

Add a little more greenery
Adding plants to any setting almost immediately brings in warmth to the space. Other than the floating foliage installation and the banana leaf they have a few more green elements on the table. They have placed a tall plant and a dramatic branch in a bottle. In addition to this, they have added some pine cones in a bowl for some texture.

A last word of advice
“I think everyone needs to put in a little extra effort to dress up their spaces and bring in a new element to the set up. Bringing a smile to your guest’s face will be worth it all!” says Arun.


Photographs and Cinematography

Justin Sebastian

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