I follow the tentacles of Poonoor Puzha on Google Maps to get to Shereena Anwar’s house. It’s September in Kozhikode, the erstwhile mercantile hub of Kerala, and the monsoon is still a sullen presence in the area. It comes and goes without warning, even in retreat throwing blustery tantrums that uproot trees, flood homes and generally soaks everything to the bone.
Shereena’s house, Ashiyana, is in a village called Kakkodi, about a 15-minute drive from the heart of the north Kerala city of Kozhikode. I can see the home from the Kakkodi bridge, which ends just before the gate of her house. Her husband’s family, surname Kakkodi, has been in this area for generations, and their relatives’ homes are part of the small well-to-do cul du sac she lives in. Shereena is an architect, who runs a design firm based here called Muhandez. Like a lot of people in her line of work, she only just completed her own space a year ago. She’s designed her residence to be simple and organic, focusing everything on the practical needs and preferences of the people living here: husband, Shaji Kakkodi, kids Faris, 16, and Abir, 12, and mother-in-law, Fathima, who is almost 80 years old.
The Simple Life
You can tell a lot by your reception at a person’s house. Some places you’re greeted by staff, in some you’re taken to an impersonal vestibule to wait, or the lady of the house takes you into a formal living room, and at some, like Shereena’s, the front door is open and you can hear the bustle inside. A sign of the easygoing, fuss-free style in which things are done here.
The layout moves quite guilelessly from the front door, and orbits around the central courtyard, in the same way it used to in a traditional home. There are two sitting areas on the left, and a formal dining room on the right, past the courtyard there’s the open kitchen and further from there, two bedrooms. Upstairs, the family living room and bedrooms and further up, two attic rooms. A series of smart slashes in the ceilings and windows facing the river allows light to flow in from all sides of the house and makes the impression of openness and fluidity even stronger.
It is exceptional to find an in-use open kitchen in an Indian home, because homemakers dread the idea of smells and sounds floating out and enveloping guests. “I wanted an open kitchen because I knew it would become our most important meeting point, but of course no one wants to stink up the house so we have a commercial-grade exhaust, plus the courtyard is right next to it and that pulls out much of the smell of cooking,” says Shereena.
She’s considered the inclinations and habits of every generation living in this house very specifically. For the oldest member, an elevator, so that the upper floors are accessible.
Fathima has a favourite seat, just beside the countertop of the open kitchen, from where she can see everything taking place around the house and manage the help. Her room is just a short walk to side, and she often moves away silently to rest there. For the youngest ones, besides their bedroom, the attic offers space for a drum set, games and vast LEGO collection. The terrace has a pool for “the kids to jump in every afternoon after school,” says Shereena. It’s a fairly compact three-storey home set out in about 6,000 square feet of space.
Cry Me A River
In the last couple of years, the effects of climate change have brought exceptional weather patterns to this state, with flooding and landslides becoming annual monsoonal theatrics. Shereena says they were hyper-aware of the sensitive relationship between their home and the Poonoor river, which in a strong swell rises up almost at level to their front yard.
The river then is both boogeyman and inspiration around here, an aesthetic asset, but also an existential threat. The house is aligned towards the east, with views of the river presented to most of the five bedrooms in the house. Shereena used the vista as her colour palette guide for the furniture, which is entirely aligned to shades of green, blue and other natural colours. The material palette of the home is a list of easy-to-maintain elements, like granite, grey limestone and leather-finish limestone, Bharat tiles, natural stone, etc. All put together, it makes for an easygoing and pretty home.
The day we visited, the Poonoor river looks muddy, gliding forward with quiet determination, but it’s not as swollen as it was in July. And though the skies look menacing there’s no rain—yet. “During the floods of last August, the house was still under construction and this year the rains weren’t too bad. But we know there’s no point in trying to fight nature, so we’re prepared,” says Shereena. Ashiyana certainly is a home created for peaceable coexistence.