Just like red vinyl boots, it takes personality to carry off a red vinyl floor. But Emmanuel Balayer and Arjun Bhasin’s suburban Mumbai apartment manages to take an otherwise tacky décor statement and make it look pretty cool.
Balayer, a Frenchman who’s been based in India for the past seven years, is a consultant to luxury brands such as Rolls Royce, and his partner, Bhasin, is a film stylist. They’ve been living in this Bandra apartment for the past three years. “We had a few rules when we started house-hunting. The first was that it should have some kind of view, and not just be facing another building. We also knew that we wanted to have a large dining table that could seat at least eight people, as we love to cook and have dinner parties,” says Balayer.
So, after looking at more than 70 apartments in Bandra itself, the duo chose this one in a leafy lane. “The building isn’t too fancy, but we loved the fact that it had trees around. Once we opened the windows, we knew it would be like having our own garden,” he says. Their third-floor flat is in a nest of green, with sunlight streaming in through the large windows. “It looks very festive in the evenings. We’ve put lights outside which we project onto the trees. That’s when the floor takes on a deep red and the effect is wonderful,” says Balayer.
It wasn’t so when the duo first saw the flat. The 750sq. ft apartment had been split up into three rooms and a small balcony, without any windows. The small space could have been constricting, but for Balayer and Bhasin’s design sense. “We didn’t have a designer; Arjun and I did it ourselves. We got a good contractor to supervise,” says Balayer.
The first step in their redecoration plan was to knock out a few walls to open up the apartment and give it a “loft-like feel”. The balcony was transformed into an extension of the home and windows were constructed to let in the light.
The two decided they didn’t want a minimalist home. “We didn’t want anything too clean, and having wood was important, even though it’s difficult to maintain in the monsoons. We wanted the place to look a little raw,” he says. So, many of the walls in the home are bare brick-and-cement. Getting the red floor in place was quite a task—Balayer says there were only two small shops in Mumbai which did epoxy floors three years ago. “It’s a liquid plastic, so a white layer had to be poured on first and the colour came on top of it,” he says. It has all the qualities a good flooring material should—it’s easy to maintain (their dog Mango and their many dinner parties have caused no damage) and feels good when you walk on it barefoot. “Plus, it wasn’t very expensive,” says Balayer.
The first thing that visitors see (actually, the second; shiny red floors have an eyeball-grabbing capability) is the large, rustic dining table, made of a hunk of railway sleeper wood. “We spend a lot of time at the table working and eating,” says Balayer. Two globe lights hanging from the ceiling and a baroque chandelier in clear and red glass provide warm lighting.
A simple wooden bench and stools flank the table. “These were made in two days from a guy on the street as temporary seating, while we were looking out for some white chairs. But we realized they were very comfortable and functional, so we’ve stuck with them,” he says.
They also didn’t want to burden the small apartment with unnecessary furniture, so there’s concealed storage space under the divans, dining table and side tables, which hides everything from the washer and dryer, to the fax machine and other clutter.
The dining area is flanked by the kitchen and a seating area, on either side. The kitchen is simply kitted out with a refrigerator, microwave and what Balayer considers the most important—the gas oven. “We had to have one for slow cooking and roasts,” he says. The duo cook everyday—Balayer does classic French cuisine (they make their own foie gras) and Bhasin is an expert in Pan Asian and Thai.
“We have a lot of guests. When people know you cook, they come,” laughs Balayer. Everyone sits down to eat at the table (“it’s big enough to fit in 15”), then retires to the seating area, to have coffee on the divans or browse through the collection of comics, which take up a large amount of space on the bookshelves, and admire the collage of picture frames by Prabuddha Das Gupta, Prasad Naik, Shahid Datawala and Ashima Narain, which the duo has collected. “We have more photographs and art that we’d love to display, but it would be too much for this small space. So it’s all stored in a cupboard,” Balayer says.
Since the plan is like an open loft, there are no internal walls and doors dividing the rooms. But the bedroom is shielded from the sitting area with a screen. Not just any screen, but a narrow walk-in wardrobe made of opaque glass. It opens out into the bedroom and one can catch glimpses of shirts hanging inside from the sitting area.
The other statement piece in the bedroom (apart from the widescreen TV) is the window covering. “After doing up the whole house, we didn’t have enough money for blinds, so we decided to create this patchwork window covering with scraps of cloth,” says Balayer. The result is an innovative window cover which has, among other things, a kimono, some polka-dot fabric and a bunched-up length of yellow tulle.
The bedroom leads into a small bathroom where, again, good planning maximizes space and camouflages clutter. A wooden plank running the length of the bathroom hides the commode. A glass wall near the mirror looks out into the bedroom and helps bring in natural light.
Balayer says the only thing he and Bhasin disagreed on was a painting in the seating area. “It was by a famous artist, but it was very depressing. When we finally took it down and put Prasad Naik’s work in its place, all our friends were like, ‘Thank god!’”