Karthik Vaidyanathan, a qualified engineer and an MBA, sublimated his love for design and the creative arts by working for around 13 years with a music label, FM and satellite radio stations, a jewellery design company and even a cable TV firm. But his deepest longing was to create a home infused with tradition, nostalgia and old-world charm, steeped in colour and warmth. So, he began collecting bits and pieces of his Chettinad heritage, hoping to have room for them one day.
“The Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu encompasses about 74 villages. Our ancestors brought into their palatial mansions the influences of many countries—Singapore, Malaysia, Burma (now Myanmar) and Europe. I have always been fascinated by the vibrant colours and kitsch mix of traditional south Indian, eastern and European influences in old homes in Devakottai,” says Vaidyanathan.
A twist in time: A tinnai (an old-fashioned concrete bench) nestles against the living room windows, and Chettinad tiles line the floors.
He recalls the day his search for his dream home ended. Located in the quaint Bangalore neighbourhood of Cooke Town, it was sunny, well ventilated, with trees all around. The quality of construction was great and the flat was part of a small, 11-year-old building designed by one of the city’s leading architects, Edgar Demello. The living room had beautiful French windows. All the rooms had balconies. But what clinched the deal for Vaidyanathan was the fairly large utility area-cum-balcony behind the kitchen, facing the mango tree in the backyard. “The room had something very serene (about it),” says Vaidyanathan.
Vaidyanathan lived in the empty house for a month so that it could speak to him, he says. Meanwhile, he sketched designs for his home, reflective of his decor sensibility: traditional Indian spiked with contemporary stuff. And yes, lots of colour.
Dreaming it contemporary
It all began with that utility balcony, which Vaidyanathan “instinctively” sketched as a lounge for relaxing with friends. He wanted an open, contemporary plan for the house. The dining area got converted into a study. Without any basic structural change, Vaidyanathan opened up the kitchen area to make “every nook of the house visible from everywhere (else)”.
The open-plan space with zones marked by pillars and furniture make this home contemporary.
And then, there is the stuff dreams are made of: His sketch of the lounge had two huge European windows, with an arch at the top and stained glass, “something that I had seen at my grandparents’ home”, says Vaidyanathan. One afternoon, he happened to describe them to his friend, artist Suresh Jairaman, who told him that the stone building of St Joseph’s College, a Gothic structure built in 1925, was being demolished and he had noticed similar windows there. Of course, Vaidyanathan had to touch up the wood frame and fix new pieces of glass for the arch on top. He painted the frames turquoise blue and the grilles silver.
Time after time
Two rosewood chairs and a traditional cradle (which was converted into a table) for the lounge were picked up from the local Bamboo Market, where antiques from demolished homes often find their way. More goodies from destiny’s gift shop followed.
Vaidyanathan wanted to mark off the study with two pillars at the entrance. “I landed up at an antique store called Vermillion House, where I saw two rosewood pillars with a yaali motif (figures of mythical animal figures, where the faces are like lions, which guard the temple) sculpted at the top. I snapped them up,” he says. He also saw two floral-patterned teak pillars, typical of Kerala homes, to stand sentinel outside his kitchen. The perfect door followed when a local antique collector got one from a room in the Bangalore Palace that had collapsed. “The door had a pair of exquisite circular glass panels at the top but they were damaged, so I got a pair of enamel-work brass plates from Cauvery Emporium, which fitted in beautifully,” says Vaidyanathan.
Today, the house is a kaleidoscope of influences. The colour palette is fruity, earthy, Indian. One reason why the house looks sumptuous and not overwhelming is the neutral walls. Vaidyanathan says, “I love pure white walls.” He also used classic green for door and window frames, and the colourful traditional flooring of Chettinad: handmade Attangudi tiles.
A very modern chandelier provides a contrast to the shelf of vintage mementos.
Poster art in vibrant psychedelic colours celebrates Vaidyanathan’s musical icons—Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. Vaidyanathan has turned an old sari into a pair of curtains. Fascinated by the 6x6-inch kitsch tiles from Japan or Europe on the walls of the “welcome area” in Chettinad homes, he got some from an antique shop in Puducherry. These tiles are also used in a manai, a two-seater sofa on which the bride and bridegroom sit during a Chettinad wedding. Vaidyanathan took the idea of these tiles and transplanted them on to the coffee table. He framed old family pictures, and hung them from nylon strings. Enamel-ware given to his mother at her wedding went on display. Her green bucket holds DVDs, another utensil holds books.
Unique Tanjore paintings, a daybed from Puducherry, rare paperweights and ceramic coasters from Dastkar, antique knobs from flea markets, mom’s old saris used as bedcovers, school chairs painted to make bedside tables…every piece ties in his past with his present.
Project name: Bangalore residence of Karthik Vaidyanathan
Designer: Karthik Vaidyanathan
Area: 1,420 sq. ft
Project duration: Eight months
Project completion: September 2009
Budget: Around Rs7 lakh
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Photographs by Clare Arnic
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