Film-maker Ram Madhvani has a theory about the middle- class Indian householder’s sense of aesthetics. That he might talk of minimalism and clean lines but actually prefers the classical. “I think we are all contemporary classicists, a fusion culture, and I don’t use the word in the derogatory sense,” he says.
Six years ago, when he made Let’s Talk, an avant-garde film on a marriage under strain, Madhvani had been called way ahead of the times. The film quietly slipped out of theatres despite good music and a great performance by Boman Irani. Over the last year, however, Madhvani’s life has been in a whirl. His company Equinox Films Pvt. Ltd was involved in the making of ad films for Coke and Happydent. He is also getting ready for Talisman, a big fantasy venture on which he’s working with producer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
Despite all this, Madhvani found time to draw an impeccably detailed blueprint of how his new home should look. And the home he shares with wife Amita and 16-year-old son Siddhant is an example of what he describes as the Great Indian Contradiction: contemporary classical.
The stylish three-bedroom flat at Sagar Darshan in Mumbai’s Prabhadevi area, overlooking the Arabian Sea, is full of furniture and artefacts shorn of fuss or frills. Wood and natural earth tones give the space a look very different from what it would have had if the dominating materials had been glass and chrome.
“I’m no fan of minimalism and find glass and chrome to be very alienating. Anything wooden, earthy and organic is familiar and invites you to touch it. But the look has to be uncluttered at the same time,” says Madhvani.
So when the Madhvanis started discussions with their interior designers on the look they wanted for their new home—built after many years of planning and waiting—it was with a fairly clear idea in mind. It helped that they had set up two homes before.
This time around, they were armed with the sum of all their settling-in experiences. They roped in Madhvani’s old school buddy Reshad Rustomjee and his wife Niloufer to help with selecting the furniture. The Rustomjees run Colonial Collections at Colaba in Mumbai, which specializes in exclusive, custom-made furniture. Fali Unwalla, interior designer, was also called in.
“They came to us with a clear idea of what they wanted. We are also very close friends so this was one project that was easy to handle. Once they made their point about what they were looking for, it was left to us to choose the pieces. Ram kept talking of a contemporary style, but every design he pointed to was classical. We figured that the look he wanted was a blend of both,” says Niloufer.
The Madhvanis wanted the natural texture of wood to be evident everywhere in the house. They selected Burma teak and have kept it natural, with the grains showing. In fact, there’s a woody whiff permeating the entire house as you walk around.
What is also striking about the house is its order and attention to detail. This, too, is not something that has ‘just happened’. Tucked away in a cupboard is a grey file marked ‘Home,’ with detailed notings on crumpled sheets of paper: ‘Broom cupboard for tall mop…Aquaguard covered with ledge to hold large container…Shoe rack with small seating and mirror’...
Ram and Amita are a super-organized couple and, having moved house three times, have all the detailing down to a T. Their formula is simple: move in only after the last nail is in place. The list they have made is the sum of the many needs of a family and has been tweaked to such perfection that friends borrow it for reference when they move house.
“We believe in hammering in the last nail before moving in. It should be that we wake up one morning, do the puja in the new home and start with the business of life. There is no question of having carpenters wandering around as you settle in,” says Amita, who is currently working on the creative aspect of an event involving Bollywood.
Unlike many families which are happy to let the designer take charge after drawing out a broad blueprint, the Madhvanis were involved in every single step. For instance, they were very firm that they wanted no art on the walls but at the same time, did not want the interiors to look too austere. So, Madhvani, who is a great fan of the decorative artworks of British artist William Morris, worked on the idea of using a stencilled floral motif in many areas in the house. He got a set designer to integrate them into the walls, ledges, small nooks and even the drainpipe running outside the bathroom. This motif also finds its way onto the sofas, chairs and the jhoola in the living room.
“Around seven years ago, the idea of using bright colours on the interior walls came into vogue. Wherever you looked, there would be splotches of yellow or terracotta around the house. We did that too in our earlier house but got tired of it. This time, I thought about using stencil work. This gives a sophisticated and subtle effect,” says Madhvani.
The director does a lot of his creative work out of the house and it was important that it be organized to suit his needs. His small study, with an inspiring view of the sea, has a recliner fitted with a movable writing table to enable him to sit for long hours and work. This, and every other piece of furniture in the house, has been designed by him along with Rustomjee.
When there’s a large collection of books and music to organize, it’s normally an interior designer’s nightmare. Amita was certain that she didn’t want them spilling around the room. When a bathroom that stood in the middle of the house was broken down and a pillar remained stubbornly behind, this was used to cleverly build in a cupboard for CDs. An annoying beam was extended to create a ledge for books. Even the broom cupboard fits snugly where it should.
The space between the bedroom of their son Siddhant and the guest room has been used well. Siddhant can, if he wants, extend his room into the guest room to create a suite or keep his space private, with Japanese Shoji doors shutting out the wardrobe. Siddhant’s room, incidentally, has what he calls a 007 door. If there are guests, he can make a quiet exit for his early morning football practice.
The kitchen, which is Amita’s domain and pride, has been designed by Kitchenworld. There is a sharp eye on utility but relieving the order is a beautiful stencilled painting just above the hob, framed with a toughened sheet of glass. And even a stranger could just walk into the kitchen and start cooking, it’s all so organized—spices on the right, spoons on the left, big jars at the bottom so that you don’t dislocate a shoulder hauling the rice bin off the top shelf, and a wipe-easy Corian surface on the kitchen counters.
There is a sense of quiet in and around the flat. Double glazing on windows shuts out any noise from the outside, though their’s is among the more peaceful localities of Mumbai. All you hear is the muted murmur of the sea in the distance. Behind the building, mammoth machines have arrived to dig out an old slum and replace it with more swanky structures under one of the city’s many rehabilitation projects. Step out of the Madhvani home and you can hear the machines roar into life. But that doesn’t really bother the family.
Their home seems built for contentment.
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