Artists in Residence

Taking few cues from the exuberance of The Great Gatsby and the boldness of the art deco style, architect couple Chandini Agarwal and Rahul Das Menon create a characterful, clutter-free green oasis in the Maximum City.

Text: Deepa Nair
Photographs: Ishita Sitwala, courtesy architects Chandini Agarwal and Rahul Das Menon

Architects Rahul Das Menon and Chandini Agarwal

A box filled with ideas, a treasure trove of memories and a heart filled with love, excitement and joy… just like any other couple, architects Chandini Agarwal and Rahul Das Menon too were thrilled to start work on their first home a few months ago. As they say, expectations soar when an artist is creating a self-portrait, and here there were two of them holding the brush! “This project was the easiest and the most difficult one too at the same time,” inform the young architects who met 14 years ago while studying architecture. Today Rahul is one of two principal architects who head the gifted architecture and interior design firm StudioTab in Mumbai; while Chandini, who studied sustainable architecture in London, works as a sustainable design development consultant for institutions apart from managing her family owned business. The couple bought their new dwelling, a 1,200 square-foot apartment in suburban Mumbai, after four years of marriage when they decided to move from Rahul’s family home.

“We took a shell apartment with only the bathrooms as per the builder design. Almost all the walls were made from RCC except the one between the dining room and the reading zone which had a brick partition. This room was proposed as a half room in the 2.5BHK scheme by the builder. We converted it into a dedicated dining zone by opening up the wall partition,” explains Rahul when I enquired if any structural changes were carried out at the site.

Chandini and Rahul’s private cocoon sees a seamless flow of space which is filled with bold colours, geometric patterns, bespoke furniture and lighting pieces, live plants and some distinctive artworks. The vibe is definitely happy and peaceful.

The flow of the 1,200-square foot space is such: One enters through the foyer into a small passage along which the kitchen appears first on the right. You step into the living room which has a formal and informal area with the dining room close to the latter. The master bedroom and guest rooms have access from the living area, as does the lovely deck.

Once the spatial flow was sorted, the basic design vocabulary of the house started taking shape. Coming from distinctly different backgrounds, cities and dialects, Rahul and Chandini first began with listing their common interests and preferences. The underlining thought they unanimously agreed upon was a home which would be an extension of their personalities, a little sanctum of escape within the urban jungle and a place for inspiration throughout. “Simplicity of spaces nothing too glitzy and glam, a common interest in books, love for greens, and for hosting guests — the planning of the house revolved around these interests,” asserts Chandini.

The reading nook is the favourite spot of the couple, and had to be the one which is most relaxing and comfortable. Here, two accent chairs, one curved arched floor lamp, a Fiddle fig leaf tree and a petite centre table with an ever flowering Adenium creates a warm set-up for those long reading sessions.

Interestingly, the couple also borrowed some energy (read design ideas) from F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, The Great Gatsby, which Rahul is completely enamoured by. And their shared love of the art deco style that Mumbai witnessed in the early 20th century influenced them to adopt an interpretation, albeit in a contemporary palette. To sum it up, the design language is a confluence of clutter-free design with ample greens, of little nooks of engagement and personalised touch everywhere.

You’ll see this beautiful apartment has a character of its own from the time you step into its realm. The owners made sure that the entry inspires, engages and sets the tone of things to come. They were very clear that they didn’t want a shoe rack to greet visitors; instead, a horizontal ledge on the wall displays the architects’ favourite reads. As the lady of the house pursues pottery as a hobby, little succulents have been planted in her creations and used as book ends here. Additionally, an antique brass finish cycle has been modified and used as a credenza too. The kitchen meets you before the living area, and its novel disposition is thanks to its modularity and durable material usage.

A Dholpur stone (cut in a brick format and fixed with grooves) wall runs along the length of the living room, and visually connects the television and reading areas. Besides displaying a large antique clock, it also acts as an art wall for the couple’s travel memories and serves as a backdrop for the television on the other side. The frost and plain glass door seen here serves as a screen between the living area and the bedrooms. It also functions as a visual barrier from the main door.

The living room is almost meditative and is divided into the television and reading zones. The minimal furniture here was to facilitate mobility and enable easy seating management when needed. Much to my surprise, the Pantone Colour of the Year 2020, Classic Blue, which dons a large part of the living area was always on the architect’s wish list. Tan leather, light wood niches, Indian stone flooring and Dholpur cladding are other materials which feature in the living room scheme. The highlight, however, are the patterns on the blue painted walls which echoes the classic art deco style.

The dining, which is connected to the living area, has a persona of its own. A sheesham wood dining set, a bespoke dimmable skeleton chandelier light displaying silhouettes of a classic art deco, a sideboard in soft pink and white, and the stunning “Work Nocturne” inspired artwork of a lady marks this cosy space. Just the perfect setting for those candlelight dinners, which the couple always had in the bucket list for their home.

The dining area is a nook which was set for cosy candlelight dinners. It is marked by a sheesham wood dining table and chairs above which a bespoke dimmable skeleton chandelier with classic art deco silhouettes hovers. The crockery and serving unit which was built on site sees a play of soft pink and white. All the rooms’ proceedings are monitored by the Work Nocturne-inspired artwork of a lady which hangs on a lime plaster textured and sand grain finished wall. Apparently, the artwork sits perfectly in the centre of the table, and the wrought iron chandelier is seen like a crown on the lady when lit!

Also attached to the living area is the lavish (for Mumbai standards) deck which Chandini and Rahul like to call “their little oasis within an urban jungle.” Placed in between the vines, is the outdoor bar which is designed with sleeper wood shutters with insides filled with thermo foam to ensure temperature control for the contents within.

An alley leads into the master bedroom and along its 16ft long wall is the bold attempt at a clear glass wardrobe. “For a couple in need of large wardrobe space but grappling with the claustrophobic thought of having shrunk the bedroom space considerably, a glass shuttered sliding-folding wardrobe seemed like the plausible option,” smiles Chandini. Another talking point of this room is the turquoise green geometric-patterned wall. The guest bedroom is a compact, fully equipped room in a play of mauve pink and hickory wood. An interesting piece of furniture here is the bed with its exposed wood headboard that leads into the side tables forming the tabletops. On the other end is an art deco chequered panelled wardrobe which extends to form a snug study table.

In the master bedroom, a wooden ensemble of bed and side tables forms the furniture. A dash of colour quirk is induced by the orange stained leather headboard. Indoor plants, personalised wall frames and hardwood flooring add to the softness within the room.

Illuminating (pun intended) all these design aspects is the lighting incorporated here. “Both of us were clear that the home ought to be a play of light and shadow. We never wanted an overtly brightly lit house that is more like a showroom rather than a home, and therefore, lighting has been planned as per the need of the space. Thus, a floor lamp in the reading nook or suspended pendant lamps above side tables, a dimmable chandelier for a dining experience, focus lights above the wall arts and indirect lighting elsewhere. Track lights on the ceiling are secondary lighting for the occasional reasons where brighter lighting is needed,” explains Rahul.

On a parting note, the architects tell me, “The idea of creating one’s personal space and achieving it is the most satisfying aspect of the project.” I believe personal spaces are always a work in progress… like that memorabilia which goes on your desk after a vacation, or those new trendy cushions that gets added to the sofa, or that first scribble of your little one which gets proudly framed on the living room wall. Chandini and Rahul’s home too, am sure, would embrace all that its owners have to offer with wide open, loving arms.

A confluence of clutter-free design with minimal essential furniture and ample greens, of little nooks of engagement and personalised touch everywhere.

Floor: Morwad sand white Indian stone and engineered wood
Walls: Dholpur stone, lime plaster, paint, Gypsum boards, and handmade tiles (kitchen backsplash)
Furniture: Teak and sheesham wood, bamboo, mild steel and fabric
Lighting: Wrought iron

Project: Architects at Home
Location: Mulund, Mumbai
Area: 1,200 sqft
Principal architects: Chandini Agarwal and Rahul Das Menon
Contractors: MM Interiors Pvt Ltd
HVAC: Hi-tech HVAC Solutions
Lighting: Lightarea Project Lighting Ltd
Stone and tiles: Siddhivinayak Stone
Artwork: Bent Chair