Making space

Making space
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First Published: Wed, Dec 02 2009. 08 45 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Dec 02 2009. 08 45 PM IST
As you breeze down tranquil Prithviraj Road, home to some of the most affluent addresses in New Delhi, you might miss it. Tucked away in a quiet corner, the minimalist design studio-cum-apartment of architects Rohit Raj Mehndiratta and Vandini Mehta of Studio VanRO is more budget-friendly than bank-balance busting.
Small beginnings
The modest 592 sq. ft apartment started out as an “extra” in the home of Mehndiratta’s father, architectural engineer Mahendra Raj Mehndiratta. It was initially designed as an extra bedroom on the first floor for his children, and could be accessed only from the main apartment upstairs, via a wrought-iron spiral staircase at the back.
Mehndiratta and Mehta lived here for two years before they began renovating, for a number of reasons. “It had two rooms with bathrooms. But it wasn’t well finished or thought out as it had always been an ancillary space. It didn’t have a pantry, enough storage and wasn’t child-friendly,” says Mehta. There was no separate entrance either, so the couple had to go upstairs in order to come down into it. “Also, because of our one-year-old daughter Dheera, Vandini has to work from home, so the residence also serves as her workspace,” says Mehndiratta.
Five in one room(s)
Mehndiratta and Mehta began by knocking the rooms together. The studio apartment thus created is not merely one big room, though. Though the basic shape of the apartment has been kept as simple as possible in order to maximize space, it has five distinct spaces: a sleeping area, child’s play area, study, living area and pantry.
The design ideology is based on what the architects call “programmatic insertions”—the spaces are defined on the basis of programmes or functions such as sleeping, eating, living, cooking, etc. “The idea was to create a fluid space through the ‘insertion’ of elements such as colour and lighting. If we started dividing it, it would look smaller,” explains Mehta.
Shifting settings
Instead, spaces were opened up. The long (52.5 ft), low-height pantry was created by borrowing space from one of the original bathrooms. It wasn’t just a plan to grab space, but also to “insert” light. The original bathroom included the window now in the pantry.
In the bedroom, the headboard is the “insertion” that demarcates the sleeping area. Attached to the wall, the headboard is fitted with a custom-made fabric light fixture that serves as a night lamp and accent.
The living area is quite a modest space for a young family of three. But Mehta and Mehndiratta made a showcase of its longest edge: The 13ft wall displays a collage of different art forms in grand dimensions. This gallery feel, combined with floor-level seating, maximizes wall space and draws attention to the largest expanse, with a widened bay window letting in diffused light.
Indeed, throughout the home, walls have been punctured to insert huge windows.
Working in
The study area, too, got a pair of these, including a generous bay window for Mehta’s desk.
Here there’s no feeling of “office” intruding on home. Instead the desk and storage cabinet fit neatly into the paired niches of the windows, which also provide ample natural light. The clean lines and white colour of the cabinets help merge the “work area” into the rest of the home, so this zone doesn’t attract attention.
On the other hand, the overhead lighting fixtures, though streamlined, do make a dramatic impact. The cylindrical fabric shades were custom-designed by the couple. But identical fixtures also appear elsewhere around the home, including the child’s play area, so it all ties together beautifully rather than separating work and play.
Scaling down
The child’s area is created on a level one step up, the height fashioned out of commercial board, with a 2½ft storage space underneath. “We used extremely low-cost materials as we know that our daughter will grow out of this (stage) very soon,” says Mehta. The frame of the low ceiling extends down along a wall, forming a compact shelf for toys.
Besides Dheera’s “room”, her parents also added tiny tweaks throughout the home to ensure it was scaled to her convenience, while not being overly cutesy. For example, there is a small dining space created especially for her in front of the pantry. “It was important to make the space child-friendly. We focused on creating a kiddie scale but not a kiddie decor,” says Mehta.
Colour coding
Not that it lacks fun. Though the colour palette is grounded in white, it gets punches of vibrant colour too. Hue-happy handwoven carpets from Fabindia find place alongside an old Nepalese thangka. Below it is a collection of black and white photographs, titled Artistes and their Space of Work, by Mehndiratta. The colour performs a more serious function too: Repeating colour themes enhances the continuity of the space, as Mehndiratta points out. At the same time, each plane around the house becomes a continuous element, distinct from the other planes, through colour play.
Another unifying factor is light, and not just from the huge windows. Besides their own custom-designed ceiling lamps, Mehta and Mehndiratta chose two dramatic lights: one from a Norwegian designer and the other from a local shop (in Khan Market, New Delhi). The first hangs from the ceiling, above Dheera’s dining space. The second is a floor lamp that sheds light on the living area rug—and also throws waves of light upwards. “These throw different patterns on the ceiling so the whole space becomes one,” says Mehndiratta.
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Text by Sonali Mathur
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First Published: Wed, Dec 02 2009. 08 45 PM IST