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Numerous house tours at beautifulhomes.com later, we have gathered a lot of insights about how people design and use their homes. We never make any generalized assumptions—after all, human beings are complex with layered lives, and constantly changing circumstances. From large joint-family buildings replacing the traditional family home, to design preferences a lot has changed in the way we live. Another example of these changes is the well-built but often little-used India-based second homes of non-resident Indians (NRIs). The homes are also another example how good the Indian familial system is at adapting to change and planning well in advance for eventualities they can foresee.
We meet Ranjit Menon in Kozhikode in one of the poshest gated colonies of the Keralan city. Ranjit, who turns 44 next month, and his 39-year-old wife Renuka started planning their retirement home already a few years ago. They currently live in Bahrain with their two children – daughter Nanda, 14, and son Jay who is 6. Ranjit is a successful entrepreneur in Bahrain and their kids love their life in the small but modern Arab state. But like any NRI family with ties to India—parents and friends they love and miss while outside—the Menons spend most of their vacation time in this city they grew up in. This two-year home building project they took on with designers Nikhil and Shabna of Thought Parallels, a Kozhikode-based architectural firm, is a plan for their future when they finally retire. But then, it is also an investment in their present.
Nuclear But Joint
That the house is made for the unique needs of this NRI family is quite clear as soon as you enter the space. The couple’s time in Kozhikode is family oriented and it was a strategic decision to buy a house in a colony that is close to where both their parents live. “We wanted this house designed for three-generations to enjoy it,” Ranjit tells us.
Nikhil and Shabna helped break down and create a contemporary family home. When we first see it, it is a surprise to learn that this home, which seems so spacious, bright and airy is only 3500 square feet. The home has been built on a 15-cent plot; the designers sectioned the narrow plot into two blocks for the home, and the remaining space for the garage, entrance and patio. The front block has been designed as a single-storey “public space” that includes the living room, dining room and entertainment room. The second is a two-storey structure that houses the couple’s bedroom, kitchen and puja room, and moves upstairs into the children’s rooms.
All the areas in the lower floor flow into the other, adding cross ventilation and providing a sense of openness, the glass doors allowing for demarcations but keeping them fluid. Architecturally, it is the centre of the house that brings the three-generations together. No surprise that it is the dining area, which is also an extension to the open kitchen that Renuka specifically wanted. “My wife loves cooking for the kids but we didn’t want her to be away from us while she is doing that,” says Ranjit. The traditional dishes of the region involve a lot of pungent cooking, so the multi-dish family meals are cooked in the kitchen at the back by their cook.
Besides the dining table, a swing and bay window add more seating, and the space easily becomes the nucleus of the home.
A unique quality that this home in Kerala has, is that it has been designed to be in tune with its environment—the sloping roofs, large overhangs and local greens in the garden are a testament to that. But the neutral colours, clean lines and the choice of contemporary décor pieces mean this home could be anywhere in the world. “We wanted our kids to experience everything that has been a part of our lives growing up in Kerala. At the same time the house had to be modern, otherwise it would be difficult for them to relate to it,” says Ranjit.
In fact, the designers even added pieces of décor and soft furnishing they found on their travels from Rajasthan, Punjab and Maharasthra. “We became very good friends with Ranjit and Renu through the process and all of us travelled together to pick up pieces for the home,” smiles Shabna. But they have been conscious about their limited use of colour indoors – the surrounding lush garden and plants indoors are the main source of colour. “We wanted all the attention to be on the landscape,” adds Nikhil.
Ranjit tells us his kids love the house. Jay has made the entire lower floor his playground and loves running around the rooms, while Nanda likes to practice her ballet in the courtyard next to the dining space.
“See, we’re not really party people, but we have a lot of relatives and friends, and especially when we are on vacation, people tend to visit us for a drink. It’s kind of hard to get a place like this that is so open and so everybody loves it,” says Ranjit. And for the long periods when they are not in the city, the house closes up safely. “There are these sensors around the house. And if someone tries to trespass, I get a call in Bahrain.”
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