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Take cues from designer Anita Dongre to add Indian elements in a contemporary home

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Well-known fashion designer Anita Dongre’s idea of home is embedded in her childhood visits to her maternal grandparents’ house in Jaipur. “A lot of homes in Rajasthan had these centre courtyards, and I always wanted a home like that,” she reminisces. That childhood memory finds an echo in the way she has designed her three-storey Navi Mumbai home, Vana, complete with a central atrium soaring three storeys high, mimicking the idea of a central courtyard.

“Given this crazy world that we live in, especially in the world of fashion where I come from, there is so much that you go through in a day—I think your home should calm you,” she states. And she did just that with this house which she built on a plot of land she bought with her sister. “I had a lifelong desire to live in a home designed according to what I think a home should be—lots of natural light and air.” And surrounded by family.

In contrast to the glamourous and fast-paced world of fashion, Anita Dongre’s home has a calming and peaceful appeal. With plentiful natural light, lush green garden and minimal yet graceful decor the fashion icon’s home is a piece of art. Vibrant shades brighten up the decor while classic furnishings match the overall tonality of the spacious bungalow.

A soothing sanctuary with warm colours and a modern design palette, Dongre’s house is layered with well-placed and well-curated Indian decor elements. From the staggering tree of life mural to the remarkable selection of artworks, the blurred indoor-outdoor boundaries and the warm colours, Dongre’s home reflects her restrained but unmistakably Indian aesthetic. If you’re wondering how to incorporate a bit of ethnic chic into your contemporary home, we share some important pointers from Dongre’s thoughtfully designed and decorated living room to point you in the right direction.

Prints and fabrics are an easy way to incorporate a hint of the traditional seamlessly into a contemporary space. Consciously select handmade textiles when you go fabric hunting for upholstery. India’s rich craft and artisanal history means you are spoilt for choice when it comes to handloom textiles, ranging from cottons to the more luxurious silks.

Colour—bright, bold, beautiful—is synonymous with Indian décor but in a contemporary home, the idea should be to moderate the volume and heighten the impact by using bright shades as dramatic accents. A pop of colour against a largely neutral-toned backdrop is a great way to declare your love for bright colours and still retain a contemporary vibe.

Dining area with a circular dining table, interesting wall design & windows opening outside of the house - Beautiful Homes

Try and ensure that your space engages with the outdoors as much as possible. The easiest way to do this is by adding in greenery through indoor plants (use locally found flora).

Sticking to marble or a neutral material will ensure it matches just about any kind of décor you opt for. But if you have a penchant for experimenting and adding some character to your space in an unexpected way, then get creative with your flooring. Here, too, you won’t be short of options with a variety of local stones as viable options—kadappa, kota, terracotta. 

Beautiful pichwai painting enhancing the wall design paired with houseplant - Beautiful Homes

As an expression of Indianness, you cannot go wrong with the tree of life—even in a smaller form as wall art. It is evocative, eternal and elevating. Then there are other equally compelling alternatives—the Pichwai paintings, Tanjore paintings, Warli art, etc.

A contemporary aesthetic for compact urban apartments means heavy furniture is difficult to incorporate. Furniture made of heavy, dark woods, on the other hand, have almost always been associated with Indian homes. The best middle path, therefore, is to use such darker woods in smaller forms—a side table next to a sleek sofa, for example get you a good balance.

Art is a good opportunity to incorporate some Indian element into your home. Traditional Indian artworks, such as the remarkable old-world Pichwai paintings or ethnic motifs are a sure way to get in some uplifting art and add in some Indian element while you’re at it. Dongre’s self-confessed love for the tree-of-life motif is spectacularly magnified in her house, with a large mural depicting the design painted on the wall adjacent to her internal staircase.

The best thing about a country that has been around for so many millennia is the diverse and rich craftsmanship that it can lay claim to. Which is a great well of inspiration to delve into when you think about picking out accessories for your space. Wooden or stone artefacts, hand-carved objects, pottery are all great options.

It’s all about bringing in some greenery and fresh air into homes. As Dongre says, “Whether it is the architecture of the house or the patterns or colours I've used in the house—in all three ways I try to bring the outside inside. Patterns of nature on the cushions.” Decorate the windowsill with an array of plants. If you are lucky enough to have space in your living room, then think about adding larger plants, such as indoor palms, as decorative elements, next to your sofas or in a corner of the room. 

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