Step into designer Pavitra Rajaram’s eclectically designed home to discover her skill at layering and finding unusual ways to mix and match. And catch a glimpse of Mumbai as you’ve never seen it before
Pavitra Rajaram starts her day early, lounging on the majestic takhth (traditional low seating) in her living room, soft light streaming through the large windows of her balcony which holds her favourite champa tree. And beyond the balcony is the expanse of Byculla and Rani Bagh made breath-taking, in a way only the Mumbai skyline can be, from her 29th floor apartment. After work, in the evening, Rajaram swaps the takhth for a vintage leather couch she can sink into on the other side of the living room—with yet another stunning view, this time of the sun setting behind the docks.
“My sons and I jokingly call the two sides of our living room the ‘summer palace’ and the ‘winter palace’,” laughs Rajaram. That she is lucky to be surrounded by so much beauty, and space, in a city like Mumbai is a fact that is not lost on her. “I have very few pockets in my life where I have space to myself and I have learned to value that,” says the inveterate multitasker - lead designer at Good Earth for the last 20 years, founder of her eponymous design studio and décor custodian at Asian Paints. As Rajaram takes us through the house, it is easy to see that this is one of those spaces where context is everything: Mumbai, India, Good Earth, art, textiles, travel, family and memories—everything that resonates with Rajaram’s soul finds its way in her home. There are too many beautiful things around, none of them match but there is a story to each one of them.
Something old, something new, wabi-sabi and something blue
In Rajaram’s drawing room, a Kartell chair sits facing her son’s crayon version of a Modigliani portrait of his mother, Chor Bazaar finds are placed along with Claymen sculptures and expensive pottery, a 30-year-old dhurrie shares space with a framed Hermès scarf, and Shades of India and Good Earth home linen is matched with curtains from West Bengal emporium. High-low is Rajaram’s thing, but the price doesn’t determine how cherished a piece is. When the fabric of one of her Kartell chairs wore off, she replaced it with homegrown ikat. A well-loved bowl that is cracked sits on her centre table, held together by Sellotape at the back. Her grandmother’s leather chest is old, and a bit worn, but it finds pride of place in her drawing room. She did not replace the leather couch because of the sharp cut that her kids made on it while working on a craft project 10 years ago. “Houses should be precious in terms of memories, not in terms of things,” she says.
A self-taught designer, Rajaram’s expression of colour, form and fabric comes from books, nature, experiences and the journeys she has taken. “I focus on authenticity. Rather than acquiring something that you think looks good, if you focus on what has meaning for you, then—over time—your design language falls into place,” she says. Her home is populated by things that have been a part of her journey through life—the moments of happiness, of sadness, of pause. “It is not about the latest or the newest trends. I think of my house like a garden; everything blooms and works together. And even if it doesn’t work, it’s okay,” says the interior designer with a particular eye for layering. The home is full of print and colour, within which blue for her is the neutral. “My great grand mum used to have a stack of saris and a stack of blouses. She never matched the two and used to say if you have your own style, everything will go together.”
An aangan for the apartment
A long passageway connects the main door and the drawing room, with a powder room and kitchen in-between. Rajaram shortened the passage by adding another wall with a door, the space between the two doors a cosy vestibule for accepting deliveries, storing shoes among other routine activities in the ebb and flow of home life. Unexpectedly, the dining table is right in the middle of the living room at the end of the passage. It connects the two living spaces, doubling up as a counter for drinks and snacks when she entertains. Rajaram challenges the idea of fitting what we are going to put into a space based on what the room suggests. “I didn’t need a dining room; I needed a place for formal entertaining. But in my mind, this is also the aangan of my house where I spend time with my kids.” She believes in using her space to suit her life rather than the other way around. “It is all about having spaces that are welcoming, connected to nature and without boundaries. When my college friends came from abroad, this room became like our college dorm; we laughed here in our pyjamas, cooked, ate and I love that. This is what creates joyful homes.”
Interior design philosophy: “Make spaces more about people and less about things, this is what induces warmth. Traditionally, for us, a home is not about the segregation of people but the joyful coming together. When I look at people’s spaces, I think of bringing this back. That’s why I always have a chair in the bedroom, so that when someone is staying over you can change into your Anokhi kaftan and gappe maro (chat the night away).”
Easy styling ideas for any home: “The most beautiful things I have are books, and I use them as accessories to decorate. Books and plants are the best low-budget ways to get a sexy house without trying. If you don’t have art, use a piece of textile or frame a beautiful scarf to hang on your walls.”
Tips for layering: “I liken it to a human body—there is a spine, which are the décor pieces you don’t change every day. For these key pieces, try to go with a classical choice. Your fabrics are like your clothes so make sure there is harmony, but also be sure to experiment. And then have something graphic to bring the eye to focus. As Indians, we love the thali and not the plated service—a little bit of this and that.”
Keep it natural: “I only use eucalyptus oil in water to clean my home. It’s natural and smells great. All the fabrics in my house are also natural and breathable.”