Interior designer Raisa Gianchandani renovates a dilapidated home while retaining its intricate elements of design with her keen eye for detail
“I spent a large part of my childhood exposed to art,” recalls interior designer Raisa Gianchandani, as we enter an art-filled apartment in Mumbai tastefully designed by her. “My aunt owns a gallery in the city, and I remember visiting shows and getting to spend the rest of the evening with the artists. I think growing up with this exposure influenced the way I design spaces now,” she ponderfs. While Gianchandani considered a career as an artist, somewhere along the line she began to notice how her keen eye for design would translate better across homes.
“It’s easy to create a beautiful house or replicate one you’ve seen or loved—but it’s rare to find a home where each space tells a story of the family that lives in it,” she explains. In this apartment—a heritage home which she’s restored and renovated for a couple—she’s juggled the tricky task of pairing heirloom pieces and statement art without making it look too stuffy or like a museum. She walks us through the house as she describes the entire process.
I saw the apartment before the homeowners decided to buy it. At the time it reminded me of one of Vincent van Gogh's paintings. There was a single table with a saucer, jam and biscuits strewn on it. It was like the previous owners were midway through a meal and decided to get up and abandon the house. The wall was peeling, the floor was bubbling… but I still fell in love with it. It was a charming home with huge potential.
The bones of the house were strong, and I was drawn to the high ceilings and amount of natural light that seeped through each room. Unlike new constructions, this apartment is nestled in a quaint lane where there’s a strong sense of community and friendship between the neighbours. The surroundings are also so verdant. Personally, I love older homes and buildings for their strong character and elegantly designed details. However, I did warn my clients that it would take a lot of time, effort and money to restore this space. It couldn’t be done in a quick, shoddy way.
The couple wanted to live in a home that wouldn’t be filled with too much clutter. They don’t like too much furniture or surfaces stacked with objects; and wanted some spaces to be left bare or open. And the focal point in the house had to be the art—they’ve amassed an impressive collection over the years. The only big ask was a crystal chandelier—they said it was their dream to have one in their home.
While the homeowners couldn’t visualise how I’d make this home livable, they gave me complete freedom to design it.
There were gorgeous details such as the etchings on the glass and the solid woodwork that was begging to be highlighted and brought back to life. I was also keen on bringing in a few modern elements—every home should be a mix of old and new, timeless with a dash of trendy.
The doors! We retained the home’s original doors which were made from antique solid wood and framed each room gorgeously. I decided to stitch the rest of the décor around them and work with their tall height. I was also keen on salvaging the wall panelling. The couple initially wasn’t very keen on this because the wood had begun to warp and fall apart.
Because the ceiling is so high, all the furniture in the couple’s collection ended up feeling too tiny in comparison. We did try to repurpose a few pieces, but it was hard to match the scale of the rest of the house. Instead, we customised a lot of the furniture according to the need of the house.
We were very conscious of not lowering the height of the ceiling anywhere—that’s the first thing that tends to happen in a modern home when accommodating water tanks and electric fittings. Instead, we tried simpler tricks, such as placing the tank over the wash basin and building a console to conceal it.
When the couple first showed me their collection—which they’d been collecting since their wedding day—they told me I didn’t have to fit everything into their new home. While they loved each piece, they were more interested in the way it fit on a wall and the story it told. They didn’t want each room cramped with paintings. I paired art based on the story behind it because the couple had many sentimental memories with each; and kept enough space for works they’d buy in the future. If something didn't work well in a room, I’ve left the wall completely bare.
While a modern Indian homeowner tends to seek most of their inspiration from spaces overseas, a home here needs to be very practical and utilitarian. Our habits and ways of living are different in comparison, and we also face far more dust. Using natural, high-quality materials goes a long way. And the home doesn’t need to be too precious or perfect—there should be room for a little wear and tear. A lived-in home feels much more cosy and warm.
Pay attention to your soft furnishings—they can make or break a room. Art always brightens up a wall, but you don’t have to buy sought-after or expensive works. Instead, choose something that makes you feel happy every time you look at it. And you’ll be surprised how a potted plant or a fresh vase of flowers brings life into any room.