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For all that this is his first professional interior design assignment, there is a self-assured vibe to this seventh-storey Mumbai home project. And the eye-catching Channapatna craft mural, a fine-looking wooden pillar and handcrafted lights that greet you at the entrance are just some of the reasons. “I wanted to create a highlight space as this is the first thing you see,” says Karthik Vaidyanathan, the designer responsible for that bit of eye-popping drama in a rather soothing shell. This craft intervention is a particularly significant facet of Vaidyanathan’s design sensibility. It began with a visit to Channapatna on the way to Mysuru; that was all it took to get Vaidyanathan completely enchanted with the craft and the works he saw there, planting the seeds for Varnam.
Now, though he may be a founder of the Channapatna-focused store Varnam Craft Collective, he is no stranger to the antique crafts scattered across India’s history. Neither is he a stranger to interior design for that matter, having done all his own homes—three at last count—since 2009. “The first house got huge traction and became this Pinterest phenomenon. It has been blogged and re-blogged quite a bit.” While Varnam kept him busy and prevented him from doing this professionally, he found the time last year to step deeper into interior design with this three-bedroom home in Mumbai.
Breaking New Ground
Vaidyanathan engineered a transformation of this flat, which sits just over 1,350 square feet, from cramped and crowded to clean and calm. Failing furniture and ordinary-looking vitrified tile flooring were replaced and the spaces were neatly laid out, book-ended by the guestroom at one end and the master and additional room-turned-den at the other. In between came the dining area flowing into the living that conflates with the kitchen to create the voluminous core of the house. Beyond that is the study space, flanked by the Channapatna mural and wooden pillar. Within this light-filled crucible, he custom-created a home of deep value and all heart.
In this effort, the flooring was the first casualty. “I wanted terrazzo but not everyone is open to handmade flooring,” explains Karthik. Homeowners Anuradha and Sukumar Meyappan, however, were on board immediately. “We used to have terrazzo in all our ancestral homes; it’s great to walk and sit on,” says Anuradha. The final shade, white terrazzo with grey chips was chosen because “it reflects light, is easy to maintain, gives a sense of space and my husband wanted white”. So, within the framework of white handmade flooring and bright natural light, Karthik stuck on a canvas in monochromatic grey and white and set to applying spare splashes of colour, and art- and craft-focused broad strokes.
Channapatna is a running theme of the house, where the forms typifying this craft are discreetly seen in unexpected places. It is part of all the paper-based, handmade lights made by Bengaluru-based Oorja, which is artisanal lighting designer Jenny Pinto’s studio. Even the headboard of the bed in the guestroom has spindle-inspired Channapatna work. And the custom-made sofa-cum-bed in the den/entertainment area has Channapatna lacquer-work.
The entire space is one that’s almost entirely been shaped into existence by craft, from the art on the walls to the soft furnishings and rugs to the lights to the mid-century modern furniture made out of recycled teakwood. “I connected with artists who currently don’t have a lot of work. So the idea was also to give them a means of earning money,” he explains. This decision found favour with the Meyappans too. “There is so much effort and skill that goes into making furniture out of this wood, so I was really surprised to find out that handmade teakwood furniture costs the same as new plywood-made pieces,” says Anuradha.
While there was some resistance to the idea of paper lights from the Meyappans—“I mostly consider the cleaning angle and how much work that would be”—Anuradha came around when she realised the banana and jute fibres used to make them were hardy and durable and only needed occasional brushing. And everyone was on board about the artworks. Particulary memorable are the quartet of Mumbai’s public transport vehicles hanging in the living room and the dramatic acrylic-on-canvas abstract on the dining-room wall by an artist Karthik found during the Chitrakala Parishad online. Other framed works have a touch of the personal—from the homeowners’ daughters’ pictures along the corridor leading to the guestroom to the teakwood-framed botanical prints in the master bedroom, which he found in Oshiwara market. It was a fitting addition, given that Anuradha was a botany student.
Industrial Meets India Modern
Karthik’s vision to create a “contemporary Chettinad home” was offset by his desire to “experiment with industrial lighting”. The outcome of that experiment has clearly been a success. It required him to do a bit of convincing—Anuradha’s husband just couldn’t visualise what it would look like; and, of course, painstaking planning—their younger daughter is a mechanical engineer and laid out the grid work. Now, the black PVC pipes running across the ceiling punctuated with gold-accented bulk headlights are as eye-catching as any craft that’s on display. And statement walls in red exposed brick offset the industrial aesthetic nicely.
The seemingly untenable combination of India modern meets industrial works well, infusing warmth in a calibrated edgy look overlaid with vintage craft. “I believe a house should reflect its inhabitants. It shouldn’t look ‘designed’ and it should be welcoming,” says Karthik. His aim has been definitively borne out. “We used to get home really late from work previously; now, we’re home by 5.30. We look forward to being in this space,” says Anuradha. It helps, of course, that it looks as pretty in the moonlight as it does in daylight.
And if there is anything the pandemic has made clear, it’s the value of coming home to warmth, comfort and beauty.
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