In the early 1990s, fashion designer Adarsh Gill returned to India following a stint with French designers in Paris. The years there visibly influenced her signature clothing line, which focuses heavily on couture, crystal and embroidery. But the years there also made an impact on her home. The design of her old, colonial bungalow on Rajesh Pilot Marg near Hotel Claridges in New Delhi unmistakably reveals Gill’s propensity towards the grand and the opulent.
“The way the French designers live, their understated elegance and chic styling, helped me a great deal in developing my sense of style and aesthetics,” she says.
An art Deco Baccarat crystal plate used as an ashtray
While designing the bungalow, Gill wanted to recreate the grandeur of the kingdoms of the old maharajas. She likes to classify this style as “understated lavishness”. She does not like to mix too many elements, but chooses to let items stand on their own so as not to destroy the visual impact. Even highly embellished and elaborate design, she feels, should maintain a balance. It shouldn’t stare you in the face and it shouldn’t be so delicate that you can’t sit on your chair. “Ultimately, it should be comfortable and hence, feel like home,” she says.
This desire translates into a curious mix of dazzling opulence and a conservative use of furniture. As one walks in through the doorway, the brilliant sheen from the silver chairs overwhelms you, but a sense of reserve emanates from the careful placement of furniture. Gill does not overwhelm the eye with too many accessories.
The design of her bungalow is primarily based on four elements: silver, crystal, glass and teak. Gill chose to clad the wooden furniture with silver to break the monotony of the material. She also likes the unconventionality of silver. Since most people can’t afford it, few use it to such an extent in their home. Even the accessories are silver: An old elephant artefact, copied from the royal original from one of the old maharaja’s stables, stands in one corner of the living room and is highlighted by the bright light from the chandelier.
Before embarking on the huge task of designing her home, Gill travelled across the country and to the various gharanas, especially around Kolkata, to get an idea of the regal splendour of the pre-independence kingdoms. “I found a number of inspiring ideas in the form of beautiful furniture and paintings,” she says.
She designed the bungalow alone, from the details on the cushion covers to the eclectic art that adorns the walls. The paintings range from contemporary tantric art to Buddhist thangkas. The chairs are covered with pale green silk brocade with careful detailing while the colour scheme on the walls relies heavily on greys, blues and greens.
In the living room, placed above the fireplace, is a huge Venetian mirror embossed with the emblem of one of the pre-independence royal kingdoms. Another one of these gems hangs on the opposite side of the room. Gill picked up this one at a Parisian flea market, and it is at least 200 years old, with crisp etching on the glass around the fringes. These mirrors, along with the generous use of glass in the doors and the French windows, accentuate the feeling of spaciousness already created by the high ceilings.
The silver theme extends to the dining room, where a teak, glass and silver-clad
dining table dominates the centre. Large silver candelabras decorate the glass tabletop.
The library veers away from the cool shades and tints in the rest of the house. High teak wooden cabinets and plush red leather sofas express both a warm atmosphere conducive to reflection and relaxation. “I felt the library design needed to be sturdy and masculine,” Gill says. Hanging from the roof in the middle is a brass lampshade with a perforated cover and glass etchings on the sides, which casts calming patterns of light and shade on the ceiling and the walls. Next to the fireplace, placed on the floor, lies an old brass chimney screen, a model of French elegance and luxury. Old leather-bound volumes of books with gold lettering complete the academic feel.
Gill’s own bedroom is heavily infused with green. A high four-poster bed is the cornerstone of its design. Gill has herself designed the bedspread in silk brocade and had it embroidered to create a pleated effect, with narrow folds of cloth held between embroidered panels. The bedroom opens across the French windows into another verandah with an imposing wooden jhoola. One can discern strong Oriental influences in the thick and intricate carving, brought out even more prominently by the white wall in the background and the green ornamental plants placed next to it. The verandah is covered with fibre-glass awning, which maintains a comfortable temperature in different seasons, and is an instance of contemporary technology and comfort fused into the traditional design theme.
In spite of the meticulous planning and months of thinking that went behind settling on a particular arrangement of objects, the design is not static. Gill constantly redoes the interiors. “I get bored very soon. Often, I need to change the décor in a few months,” she says.
As in the case of her clothes, which she labels as Indo-Western, her home displays a smorgasbord of articles that betrays a variety of origins and influences, ranging from Chinese pottery objects to Kashmiri carpets.
And she does not keep her design sensibilities to her home any longer. Friends often seek her out for interior suggestions. After around a dozen different homes to her credit, her design flows effortlessly. “You pick up colours and design ideas from here and there and then see what blends together,” she says.