Catherine Allié and Tsering Angthak's home and studio is as contemporary as it is Ladakhi, where they have a community of women working together to revive the family's age-old relation with yak wool
When a German girl came to Leh for the first time, looking for fresh yak wool, she never imagined she would build a beautiful house in Leh with her now-husband, Angthak. Catherine Allié and Tsering Angthak met for work but soon became life and work partners, understanding the land and people of Ladakh together. Angthak, originally from the village, has a keen eye and interest in reviving the family's age-old relation with yak wool. They climb thousands of feet to meet the yaks and harvest wool from them for their products. The house is a studio and more. They met Architect Sandeep Bogadi through a friend of theirs, who happens to own a cafe that Architect Sandeep Bogadi designed. Together they built this home and studio, which is now home to not just the two of them.
The house is located in a small village a few kilometers from the city of Leh, surrounded by summer farmlands, streams of water, and tall poplar trees. When you arrive at the land, you are greeted by three lovely dogs who escort you to the flower garden and observe you carefully. The flower garden is not the usual house garden; it has space to wash wool, dry it in the sun, and dye it. At the far end, there is a large tent made out of discarded parachutes sourced from the Siachen belt. Underneath, sit a group of women who are closely related to Angthak and now Catherine. These motivated women work in the warm sun, washing the wool, dyeing it, spooling, spinning, weaving it on the loom, and turning it into beautiful warm carpets and clothes. The house consists of various formal and informal areas for everyone's use and entertainment. It feels like it has grown and not just been built. While Catherine works in the studio room for design, billings, and digital work, Angthak makes sure the carding of wool, cleaning, and other tasks are in order.
The day starts with a community round of sattu (buckwheat porridge) and butter tea. Everyone sits under the tent and sips while discussing the plan of action for the day and the week. The garden is filled with the sounds of family chatter and birds, while looms and washing are going on in the background. The living room has low seating that heats up during the day and stays warm at night. There is an open kitchen filled with vegetables from the garden and beyond. While Angthak makes tea, Catherine sits right across at the dining table, updating new designs on the website. Tucked away is a small room with a bed and a chair overlooking the garden is the bedroom. It is a special and tranquil space that allows for a good rest away from the studio activities. And a house is never complete without space for family and friends. Right across the studio's large window, overlooking the Himalayan range, is the guest space. It is a second structure across a small garden that is as welcoming and quaint as the other parts of the house.
The space is as contemporary as it is Ladakhi, with a few hints of German design and art. The studio and home are truly eclectic spaces. While sitting with them and architect Sandeep Bogadi, we asked them about the process of building and making this space a home:
Watch the two videos to get a full tour of the space that they call both their home and studio.
Angthak: We source the wool from Khanak, where the yaks live and thrive. They need shaving every summer to grow back a new coat for the winters. The shaved wool is not of much use unless processed. It is carefully carried to the village after a three-day trek back to the city. Once in the studio, it is meticulously cleaned of dirt, bugs, and other impurities before being prepared for washing. After three rounds of warm washing, the wool is set out to dry. After drying, comes carding and spooling. The women do the spooling with a spindle at the center to give it weight and make a ball out of it for the loom. Once the loom is set to the design, the women sit for days or sometimes weeks to carefully weave the raw wool into lovely handwoven products ready for order.
Catherine: The land is a part of Angthak's family and had a lot of friends and family around, so it was very easy to finalise that. The architect we met through a friend of ours who runs a cafe. The cafe was designed very subtly and with basic resources, far from contemporary aspirations of space design. We met Bogadi and asked him if he would be interested in seeing the land, and after the first visit, he fell in love with the trees and the land and started right away.
Angthak: It is very difficult to say our favorite space, but it would have to be where we are sitting right now. It is bright and active in the day and warm at night for chai and dinner. This sunroom works wonders in the winters. But it would be unfair not to mention other areas as they are equally used and made with a lot of love, especially the garden as it is ever-changing.
Catherine: It is impossible, to be very honest. When you live and work from the same space and with your family, all boundaries are blurred. We try not to work after 7 pm when the ladies go home, but there is always some digital work and billing that is needed for orders and emails. As much as one would like to separate the two, there is no clear boundary. It's more of a soft balance.
Catherine: Summer is very hot during the day and pleasant at night. The house allows for great insulation from the cold and sound, but the landscape of Ladakh is one of the harshest. We both grew up with harsh winters—here in Leh for Angthak, and Germany for me in Germany. But the winters are still both unbearable and beautiful. The water freezes, sunlight is minimal, fresh food is scarce, and the nights are long and chilly. One has to rely on heaters and insulated rooms for survival, and little to no work happens. More often than not, we try to take a winter break and go to travel in warmer areas and see friends in other parts of the country. Goa is our favorite.
Angthak: Some part of my family still lives there, and we meet them when we take a break or go for wool sourcing. But the city of Leh feels very busy with a lot of tourists and cars. The village is still okay but not as quiet as Changthang Valley. Building a house here is a blessing as it is far from the crowd and noise but close enough to the airport, monasteries, and other resources. And the more we live here, the more we like it.
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All images by Studio Suryan//Dang
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