“The house we lived in before this, my old home, was what you’d call ‘opulent’”, Gautam Dutta, tells me. “It was floored entirely with Italian marble”. He rubs a sneaker against the smooth, black Kadappa stoned floor in the cool refuge of his Gurgaon home. Although a house name in its own right, Kadappa stone is not quite the international star that its flashy contemporary, Italian marble, is.
“You can build a luxurious home without spending too much money,” Dutta smiles, opening his hands to gesture around us at the standing proof of his words. The idea is to tune in, and figure out what works best in that setting. To intuitively fuse the owner’s vision into the most pragmatic realization. And what Gautam wanted was not a dazzling eyesore of a home that set itself apart from the rest, but a comfortable refuge that was grounded in the full, regional reality of its surroundings.
When I walked in, out of the Gurgaon summer, dehydrated and sweating, I was enveloped in a peaceful, cool stillness. It was not the muffled isolation of modern, air conditioned spaces but the stillness of walking in a quiet groove of wide-canopied trees. Even the colours inside soothed my sun scorched eyes. Honey-toned yellows complementing muted, fleshy browns, that flowed into friendly cream-whites, and worn out, deep blues. The daylight that filtered in through every room quietly brought into life a rich world textures and gradients, such a rarity in our chrome-obsessed world that defines perfection through the smoothness of a surface. I picked my way absentmindedly to the salmon coloured sofa at the far end of the living room, and sank down to take it all in.
The house had been bought from an elderly couple, and was hardly inhabitable at the time. ”The lights only worked in one room”, Rahul Sen remembers. “Whoever lived here must’ve lived a terrible life”, he jokes lightheartedly. The house had to be rescued from it’s purgatory of neglect, where it was trapped in time. The principal architect of Sensen designs, Rahul brought along a beautiful vision, complementing it with a healthy capacity for collaboration. Rahul wanted to bring the house to life, to animate the very brick and mortar of its being.
It’s not easy to breathe life into a creation.
Breathing life into the house demanded a close collaboration between a whole team of very skilled professionals who shared the same vision. Saahil Parekh led the Khetify team in a very literal interpretation as they landscaped an urban farm to life, right on the roof. This earthiness is undoubtedly complimented by Dutta’s choice to go radiation free, as he let the team talk him into a collaboration with Ajay Poddar of Synergy Environics Ltd. A foresighted collaboration that would allow his house to minimise the impact of harmful radiation from technology greatly in the long run, holding the promise of better health, enhanced productivity, and improved interpersonal relations in the absence of the stressful background buzz of harmful radiation. Designer Vivek Jain contributed airy, comfortable fabrics and wholesome accessories.
The stillness of the house’s recent, limpid past was thus exorcised, and the house was brought to life, and movement under the meticulous, yet playful administrations of the team.While Gautam was one of those rare people who knew exactly what he wanted, he is also the type who never shies from a good, original surprise. “I’m grateful to Gautam for indulging me’, Rahul smiles mischievously, as he describes how they decided to make the loungy bedroom chairs with cement, which will embrace curve better than the traditional wood, or metal. Note, also the black Kadappa stone in the living room: the material is what you call an ‘outdoor’ stone, used widely to floor courtyards, and porches. Inside the living room, the soapy, textured facade of the stone looked downright luxuriant, a testimony to the team’s playful innovation and deconstructive practices.
“The whole process was quite organic, just the way Gautam likes it,” Arnab Chatterjee tells me. A close friend of Gautam’s, he is the creative mind that curated the art that found a place in the house. He goes on to tell me how Gautam hunted down most of it himself, with the help of his friend Nicholas Hoffland. This was another rich collaboration that landed Gautam some exquisite pieces from relatively unknown names, notably Kerala-based artist Mohammed Naser. This was in keeping with Gautam’s longing for authenticity, even as he picked the most gorgeous pieces from obscure places, like a student’s portfolio, with a conditioned and sure eye.
The result of all this spontaneous energy is a home that lives in the present, so perceptive that it can be trusted to respond to changes that the future brings.
Darwinian theory has taught us how the very mark of something alive is it’s ability to adapt, it’s capacity to respond to change. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, a minimalist home, as Arnab describes this house, is best suited to adaptation. Not quite in the way of simply leaving ample space to horde, but in the way it demands the inhabitant to get down to what is truly important by cutting out static. And it is only in performing this essential spiritual ritual regularly that one is able to truly move on, and encounter the future mindfully.
If the house is an organic, perceptual witness to your personal life, then it holds the potential not only to become a home, but become the home that you want to live in. It can becomes a treasure chest of identities and memories, both well-defined and pre-cognitive. Treated as an organic endeavour, Gautam hints at how the very process itself was a journey that helped both the team and the owner to grow immensely. And such is the nature of any truly spontaneous endeavor- while the end product is the ultimate guide, the journey that takes you to it is to be undertaken mindfully, so that one is fully immersed, and able to respond to smallest needs or obstacles that come up.
The home has not been rescued from its limpid past only to be imprisoned in the present, but has been built with a vision that balances both permanence and impermanence, two ever challenging sides of a coin for architecture. The spaces within the house have now been imbued with life, and movement, but are not saturated with any self-righteous certainty.