Rohit Bal has recently decided “not to touch a thing more” in his South Delhi home—at least for now. For the last 5 years, the designer has worked to create a cohesive chic style from a chaotic confluence of cultures, religions, eras and colours.
Lotus love: Bal loves combining traditional work, such as this marble table, with modern pieces, such as the Moroccan vase and plate; Mughal-inspired sculptures stand in the hall.
The fashion designer has always been known for his frantic style; moonlighting as a clothing, furniture, restaurant and, of late, textile designer. On a Tuesday evening, he is running around like crazy, but his home’s layout allows him to juggle his fragmented life with panaché.
Architecturally, the home is a run-of-the-mill, two-bedroom apartment. Bal’s eclectic mix of furniture, tchotchkies and art work divide the home: a TV area for his friends to check email, a small side seating area to go over travel logistics with his assistant, a dining area for the visitors. Bal bounces between demands at a mind-numbing pace.
The home allows him to keep everything, and everyone, at arm’s reach, while still maintaining a sense of separateness. In the main entry room, the large space is divided into four smaller areas: two seating areas, a dining area and a flower table. The divisions are superficial: a wooden room divider, a Kashmiri carpet, a couch with its back to the room—but they manage to create small nests within the room.
There seems to be little method to Bal’s madness but, like his bright, bold fashions, the madness works. He chooses bold, masculine colours: reds, blues, dark browns, and forest greens. Even when he opts for pinks, and he does quite often, the pinks are deep, strong hues, based on his favourite flower, the lotus.
Part of Bal’s home decor charm is that he offsets ultra contemporary with historical relics. In a small seating area, a Shuvaprasanna painting juxtaposes nicely with two traditional paintings of Krishna’s youth. The Shuvaprasanna painting, a modern take on Krishna, with only his head, hands and flute, jumps off the wall in part because of its side flanks of older pieces.
In his bedroom, over a traditional Indian bed with wood-worked hearts in the frame, hang two Alexis Kersey canvases. The artist paints “really funky” portraits of men with Mohawks, tattoos, and different colour eyes in almost cartoonish colours and appearances. A traditional armoire and ethnic side tables set off the bright modernism of the large paintings.
Elsewhere, a large painting of a woman’s face with oval eyes stares out across the living room. Beneath her, in a line, are old Shiva lingam covers or, as Bal puts it, “ancient condoms”. The covers, small faces, repeat the eye shape in the painting.Bal says he didn’t realize it until he had already placed them beneath her. “It just worked,” he says.
This innate knowledge of what will work has allowed Bal to make smart purchases, particularly in his painting choices. “It seems that the artists I buy always wind up becoming fabulously wealthy,” he says.
One such artist, C. Jagdish, “is now a recluse from Hyderabad”. But prior to Jagdish’s success (his work was selling for around Rs5-6 lakh two years back), Bal snatched up a haunting mask of a bearded man in glasses.
As for his furniture choices, he maintains the blend of traditional and modern. He recounts that his family had to leave Kashmir with next to nothing and he had to create a home anew, but he did manage to save some old walnut furniture from his family home. However, he re-upholstered the chairs and couch in a bright red silk fabric. The colour pops against the dark walnut wood. He also juxtaposes modern Indian furniture, such as a side table from Viya Home that sells for around Rs35,000, with an antique silver carved mirror.
The mirror’s framework carries one of Bal’s most enduring motifs: The ubiquitous lotus flower. He repeats the flower in his paintings, his curtain prints (his own design) and along the curtain rods.
Painter Paresh Maity, inspired by one of Bal’s clothing collections, painted a series of portraits, and Bal asked him to ensure the paintings included the lotus and birds. “I’m obsessed with the lotus.” Now, women in saris similar to Bal’s creations hold lotus flowers and are surrounded by a bizarre version of the peacock. The paintings became some of Bal’s favourites because they are so personal to him.
Bal also manages to merge cultures seamlessly. In the living room, three light fixtures hang from the ceiling: a Japanese paper lantern, a traditional stained-glass chandelier and Turkish iron lanterns.
He also has a mixture of religious items from around the country. On his coffee table, he has assembled kumkum holders from Varanasi. Clumped together, they create a sculpture of shapes. He also has fourth-century Asht Dhatu statues. They are listed with the government as national treasures. “On the international market, they would sell for around Rs2 crore each. But I can’t take them out of the country or sell them,” Bal says.
Even his bar has an eclectic feel to it, with different bottles of whisky clumped around multiple glass decanters.
He has recently moved into designing furniture as well. Two new coffee tables reside in his TV room and hallway. He built them from ancient tiles he found on a recent trip to Turkey. The rich red and orange tiles inspired his latest clothing line.
The only eyesore in the house is a row of strange, tacky statues along a television tucked in a corner of the bedroom. The odd clump of objects—a glass dolphin, a large ceramic dog, Sri Sai Baba, a small Ganesh on a Mercedes sign—seems strangely out of place, even in a place filled with odd knick-knacks.
Bal explains: “They’re all gifts from my friends. I keep them there to remind me of how lovely my friends are, but what bad taste they have.”
Luckily for Bal, the same cannot be said about him.