When actress Amrita Arora moved into her new Bandra apartment a few months ago, it was the first time she truly felt “house proud”. Before, her old home was just a place to sleep in at night, she says, but after working closely with the interior decorator, Ketan, and her father, the “new pad was completely coming into a new zone. I let myself come out in every corner, in every way.”
As opposed to her “very basic” prior home, Arora says she decided to go wild in the new home she still shares with her parents, indulging in mirrored mosaic pillars and elaborate display cases for the trinkets she’s collected on her travels.
Though Arora has still used elements of minimalism in her home design such as the monochromatic, cream-coloured living room, she diversified the look of the room with strong accents such as crystal-encrusted chandeliers.
However, rather than inundating the apartment with decorative touches, she took care to select stunning, dramatic pieces, such as her Italian candlesticks—covered in velvet and gold and encrusted with crystals—giving those pieces the space to make a statement.
“When people walk into the dining room, they are all amazed by the candlesticks. They could stand alone in a room if they needed to,” she says.
Raseel Gujral, the founder of Casa Paradox, understands the need for introducing a personality into living spaces: “With minimalism, you’ve left your personality behind and put on a uniform. I’ve never been able to do that. My sense of a self always creeps through.” Her Delhi-based farmhouse reflects that, with strong visual art and an eclectic mix of opulent accessories, set against furniture with strong, clean lines. “You basically need signs of life in a home, to show that people are actually living there,” she says.
Though Arora and Gujral say they are reflecting themselves in their homes, they are actually at the forefront of a new international trend emerging across the design world. After years of paring down design, people finally want more.
Nitin Kohli, Delhi-based interior decorator and co-founder of FURNcraft, reclines on a straight-lined white leather couch on display in his showroom in Square One Mall in South Delhi and complains, “This is not me at all.” For years, clients have been after him for a clean, minimalist look, with no frills, few curves, and little colour. Despite Kohli’s love of curves, 24-carat gold tabletops and the bold shades of turquoise, the mantra has been: Less is more. Until now, that is.
Even at the two major international design fairs held earlier this year, Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan and Planete Meuble in Paris, the major design brands showcased furniture lines with chairs covered in textured, patterned fabrics; oversized couches where the seats sink in ultimate comfort; tables with jewelled and mirrored surfaces; and, lacey chandeliers.
“We’re interested in mixing different materials from different parts of the world, putting curves back on furniture and using distinct finishes. It’s a new look, one that is more eclectic and less minimalistic. It breaks the monotony,” says Kohli.
Arora liked the look of various pieces purchased from different countries and chose to juxtapose furniture with different materials, such as the Japanese wooden coffee table and the copper-rust-coloured leather bar in her living room. The effect stamps her dramatic style on her home.
Designers are reinterpreting the contemporary look of minimalism by merging it with a traditional edge of opulence. Art deco and baroque shapes, a wider colour palette and elaborate accessories are popping up at design stores across India. It’s a hybrid of the contemporary and the old glamour, creating a refined, elegant look with standout pieces. The purpose is to give rooms the edge minimalism lacked. The mantra now is, ‘more is definitely more’.
Subtract the minimalism
Minimalism first gained currency in the early 1990s when architects such as Eduardo Souto de Moura and Yoshio Taniguchi started encouraging a reduction in our living spaces. Clean, sparse lines, helped in part by the perfectly executed look of machine-made products, installed order and sleek chic abroad and the trend eventually made its way to India in early 2000.
But the look has run its course. Rajeev Agarwal, a Delhi-based architect and furniture designer, says when people introduced minimalism into their homes, they “found something lacking. Now, they are seeking more. Currently, Indians are keen to project a sense of abundance or excess.” This new luxe-edged look allows them the space to experiment with contemporary ideas and yet draw from a traditional legacy, which by and large is over the top. For example, beds may still have the straight angles associated with minimalism, but the headboard can be adorned with mirrors and jewelled fringe, a reminder of the past meeting the contemporary lines of today.
Alex Davis, a Delhi-based interior designer, said he worked for years with the minimal look. His home designs played with a monochromatic palette and the furniture line at his Indi Store explored straight lines and hard edges. But after a certain point, he grew bored by the style. “There’s only so much you can do when you’re taking away design elements from a room. It gets old. There are so many more areas to explore.”
Plus, Davis says, minimalism, with its severe lines and emphasis on a lack of clutter, is notoriously difficult to maintain in a living space. Couches, for example, used little cushioning, few pillows and simple upholstery. But now people want more from a couch than an appealing, clean appearance. They want comfort, colour and size. Therefore, couches are now being made with deeper seats, sinkable shapes and softer fabrics such as velvets or flocked linen, which give them that extra soft feel and look.
Dressing up the home
Designers are reintroducing opulence by creating a hybrid of forms: contemporary materials, with a traditional, softer edge. Malini Akerkar of the Mumbai-based home design store, Pallate, says that people want to return to a familiarity of design shapes. “There are a lot of Gothic influences, but all are implemented in contemporary materials.” The shapes, therefore, are recognizable to the eye, but updated for a surprising, new look. For example, the Louis XIII chair, an old French, wooden design, will be made in plastic. It retains the curved, distinctive shape, but in an entirely new material. Or Venetian glasswork, traditionally made with fine cut-glass detailing of flowers, will be painted over in a bright orange lacquer, camouflaging the detail. The old style still exists, but with an updated feel.
The new opulent look can also be achieved through small additions that draw the old look into the modern era. For example, a Hermes statue from the Renaissance placed next to a very contemporary glass sculpture gives the room a more eclectic look.
Gujral agrees, “You can put a dramatic classic chandelier in a room with contemporary furniture and give everyone something to talk about. Introducing one piece can dramatically change the feel.”
For her part, Gujral has recently started work on a new farmhouse. “Once you’ve finished a place, you feel ready to move on.” And, for her, the design will be far from minimal. Rather, she’ll be indulging in what she’s happy to call the “maximal” look.
Accenting the unusual
Opulence should not take over the room; many designers recommend choosing “conversation pieces” that will stand out in a room. Here are five options to get everyone talking:
Vase: Italian vase from Moon River, Defence Colony, New Delhi, and 41/44 Minoo Desai Marg, Colaba, Mumbai, Rs10,000.
Jug: Cut-glass and metal antique from Klove, J2 Green Park, New Delhi, Rs18,000.
Furniture: Ella chair from Basix, MGF Plaza, MG Road, Gurgaon, Rs14,175, plus the cost of upholstery. Pictured chair costs Rs17,925
Upholstery: Baroque Winter Ensemble from Krsna Mehta for Zeba, available at Good Earth, Khan Market, New Delhi, and Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Rs12,000.
Lighting: Mademoiselle chandelier from Terzani, available at Highlight, Square One, Saket, New Delhi, about Rs2 lakh.