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No place for memories in our towering palaces

No place for memories in our towering palaces
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First Published: Thu, May 05 2011. 08 26 PM IST

Gilted: Sicis’ Gustav Klimt range of wall mosaics is opulent yet beautiful. Courtesy Sicis
Gilted: Sicis’ Gustav Klimt range of wall mosaics is opulent yet beautiful. Courtesy Sicis
Updated: Thu, May 05 2011. 08 26 PM IST
I am at a penthouse in a swank condominium complex that overlooks the DLF Golf Course in Gurgaon. The apartment has been gutted and is in the throes of a head-to-toe renovation to suit the tastes of the new owner. There is a lot being done--walls moved, false ceilings added, floors marbled, bathrooms remodelled, kitchen jazzed up, woodwork galore and, of course, dozens of “loose pieces”—the term for movable furniture—are being tailor-made for the family. The amount of work on the terrace alone is impressive—it is being transformed into a landscaped garden, complete with water body, lawn, gazebo, full-scale bar, specially commissioned sculptures, the works. A modern-day Sita may well be swayed by this Ashok Vatika-on-a-terrace.
Gilted: Sicis’ Gustav Klimt range of wall mosaics is opulent yet beautiful. Courtesy Sicis
The architect-cum-contractor is a young man, exuberant, painting word-pictures of how each space will be radically altered. What will be the style of the completed apartment? He gives me a “duh, dumb question” look, pauses and finally sums up the style as “eclectic”, quickly going on to explain how the sink in the powder room will be gold, but other bathrooms will merely have modern, minimal, top-of-the-line sinks. The lobby wall, which scales up two floors, will have a burnished gold rendition. Facing it is a wooden framework with an odd-shaped hole in its belly—apparently a sculpture of some significance will be embedded in it. By now I know better than to ask why an independent artwork needs to be ensconced in wood—the rule of this house is “more is more”, where even embellishments have to be further embellished. And the style code seems to be not just “eclectic”, but rather “Opulent Eclectic”, where the brief seems to be to interpret unabashed opulence in as many different ways as you can.
As I check out several projects by other interior designers, it sets me thinking. There is an amazing flurry of upscale home decor activity in Gurgaon—the Magnolias complex, for example, is like a beehive with a few hundred apartments being “done up” from scratch by individual owners. Substantial budgets are being blown up. Going rates for interiors in this neck of the woods range from Rs2,500-4,000 per sq. ft, luxury apartment sizes are usually upwards of 3,000 sq. ft—you do the math and the zeroes start lining up rapidly. The aforementioned penthouse is an expansive 10,000 sq. ft. The average apartment in Magnolias is 5,800 sq.ft., there are 589 apartments, and let’s say each spends a “modest” Rs1 crore (i.e., no gold sinks, no silver-plated beds), that is still Rs589 crore on interior decor being spent in one housing estate alone. And there are umpteen such condominium complexes sprouting up all over Gurgaon.
The sheer scale of it suggests that this is a defining moment for interior decor. New rules of design are being written and it worries me that the best we can come up with—barring a few exceptions—is Opulent Eclectic or some garish mutation of it. I have no problem with opulence—the Taj Mahal is opulence personified, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful— however, the Opulent Eclectic style reigning in Gurgaon has little regard for beauty. It worships the Goddess of Wealth at the expense of the Goddess of Beauty. I wish it worshipped both.
What are some of the rules in place? Use the finest raw materials, fittings, fixtures—if possible imported—is one for sure. Italian marble has become de rigueur, and designers rattle off Satuario, Botticino, Travertino, etc., as basic choices for your floors or bathrooms (there are creative ways to spotlight it too—in one of the homes a large glass wall had been flanked with fat slabs of marble waist-high—lest somebody miss the fact that expensive marble was used). Designer tiles are in vogue for bathrooms and kitchens—they are available in amazing variety—and I was surprised to learn that top-end tiles cost more than marble. I saw a unique home where the floors were patterned in a variety of exquisite tiles—it was quirky, it gave a sense of who the family was—it was painstakingly put together, a personal labour of love.
Wooden flooring for the bedrooms is in. In fact, smothering the place in woodwork seems to be another unwritten law—“more is more” on steroids—and some homes have so much woodwork there’s barely any wall left for paintings (the fact that many of these designers also have furniture factories may have something to do with it). Bathrooms are crucial spaces to splash out on—pricey imports from Duravit (which offers designers such as Philippe Starck), Kohler, Roca, Grohe is the done thing. If you are picking Cera or Hindware, careful, you may be on the wrong side of the luxury track. The view on kitchens is mixed—some say go all out with one of the firang (foreign) brands although the cost of the kitchen may equal the cost of the rest of the home; others suggest homespun woodwork because the maids are going to use it anyway. One thing that unfortunately hasn’t changed—servant rooms continue to be small, unadorned appendages to these Versailles-wannabe condos.
Another baffling trend is choosing artworks to match the sofas—yes, you read right, choose your sofa colour scheme first and then find a “matching” painting to hang on top of it, assuming, of course, that your woodwork hasn’t gobbled up all the walls. I have this vision of scouring the world for the perfect Souza or Ram Kumar to go with the pista-green couch.
But the most alarming trend is this—every piece of furniture, artwork, mirror, vase, planter, you-name-it, is spanking new. Every trace of your life before is deleted. You shed the past like a worn-out skin and start afresh with designer-selected memory-devoid pieces surrounding you. You throw away the first chairs you bought after you got married, the paintings your daughter made when she was 10, the Irani Café table that made you laugh, and you reboot into the new Opulent Eclectic, woodwork-smothered, Italian-marbled, matched-artwork space that is now home.
Radha Chadha is one of Asia’s leading marketing and consumer insight experts. She is the author of the best-selling book The Cult of the Luxury Brand: Inside Asia’s Love Affair with Luxury.
Write to Radha at luxurycult@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, May 05 2011. 08 26 PM IST