Nature, Uninterrupted

Farm Cafe at the quaint Tooth Mountain Farms in Karjat, Maharashtra, created by interior designer Shabnam Gupta, is set in nature, and has a homely, warm aura about it. It stays true to its motto — feed your soul — with fresh and organic meals amidst nature.

Text: Deepa Nair
Photographs: Aman Deshmukh, courtesy The Orange Lane

Interior designer Shabnam Gupta

There is a big place in my heart where memories of visiting and experiencing some gorgeous spaces reside. They are places I’ve felt completely at home with due to their warmth, down-to-earth spirit, attention to detail and mostly for their sheer individuality. Among these the one closest to my heart is a quaint family weekend home I visited in 2012, which eventually was featured in Better Interiors, and has been the site of some thematic shoots too… thanks to its generous owners. Through all these visits (and due to the long photography hours), the joy of exploring and soaking in the beauty of the property was a gift embraced with open arms. The space I am referring to is the Sagar weekend home which was designed by interior designer Shabnam Gupta who is the principal at the Mumbai-based, The Orange Lane.

At the Farm Cafe, one is sitting in the lap of nature… quite literally. Cocooned in this green haven, one can rest in cosy settings created by wooden tables and chairs, soft lighting, warm furnishings and beautiful artwork; and feast on comforting and healthy food and drinks.

A large part of the project is the greenery and nature’s bounty which surrounded it, replete with a mountain and a river which run close-by. It also has the nurturing ways of the landscape architect — Neelam Sagar — in the family to credit for the greenscape. She has a flourishing nursery inside the premises where she grows her precious plants and trees. Post 2014, the family decided to let out the house during weekends — the response (through word of mouth) was so tremendous that all the personal rooms of the family got converted into guest bedrooms, Shabnam tells me. “In fact, many a times, we don’t have a place to stay there, so we are in the process of making our own house,” she smiles. Shabnam is also part of the Sagar family, like her artist sister Ganga Kadakia, and the weekend house or the Tooth Mountain Farms, as it is known today, is owned by their parents Neelam and Prem Sagar and brother Shiv Sagar.

The protagonist of this story — Farm Cafe — is a recent addition to the 20-acre boutique farm stay at Karjat in Maharashtra. “The farm consists of the main villa, which has two rooms, Palash and Parijat, and the outhouse has a cluster of three rooms, Amaltas, Ashmantak and Basant Rani. All the five rooms are named after a flowering tree that grows on the property,” informs Shabnam. The need for a farm-to-table restaurant once again brought everyone in the family to the design table for ideation, and the brief that Shabnam and her team got was this: a walk into wilderness. The designers didn’t have to try too hard to create an atmosphere for the Farm Cafe as lush greenery, fresh air, peace and tranquillity were already in existence. Their task at hand was to create a welcoming, quaint space which would soothe frayed nerves through a good ambience so that guests can enjoy the organic, healthy food served at this farm-to-table restaurant.

Farm Cafe resides in a building which sees a vernacular style of architecture created by studying wind, rain and heat conditions and by using natural materials. Besides the scenic Karjat mountains, the building is surrounded by a curated greenscape created by landscape architect Neelam Sagar. Some of the prominent landscape used are orchids on drifted wood, fern baskets, tree ferns, bonsai bougainvilleas and the lovely madhumalti (Combretum Indicum) and raatrani creepers. A bevy of garden accessories in varied materials complete the look.

For the brief to realise, the existing landscape was not touched and a new structure was constructed around it. In fact, the design of this built form consciously forges an inside-outside feel — one is always in and amidst nature. “Since my mother is a landscape architect, we are very emotional towards landscape in any form. Actually, we enhanced our work using the scenery,” the designer explains. The materials used for the construction — rough stone floor, terracotta tiles, rough coloured plaster walls, wood and metal — were chosen carefully and have been used in their most natural form to adhere to the client’s ideology of wanting a serene space which stimulates creativity.

The painting on the wall stretches along the verandah seating. The eco-friendly and old-world Mangalore terracotta tiled roofing held on metal trusses is clearly seen here. Note the lovely, fragrant madhumalti and raatrani creepers which are slowly inching across all the pillars making their way to the roof — very soon Farm Cafe will be completely covered in wilderness.

The spatial flow of Farm Cafe is simple: the restaurant is divided into a semi-indoor area, set on a verandah (covered with a Mangalore terracotta tiled roof) that looks out to the landscape. An outdoor area is set right next to it which is housed under a mild steel wire-framed canopy, which gives the feeling of a green house. The large kitchen — with dedicated areas for dry storage, cooking, vegetable cutting and cleaning, washing and ironing — and washrooms are also accommodated in this new structure. In keeping with the vernacular materials used in the construction, the decor too echoes a handcrafted, natural feel. Both the verandah and outdoor area see many comfortable seating pockets ranging from lounge seating to cosy settings for groups of four or two, or for a family. While some furniture pieces (like the concrete tables and chairs used outside) were made on site, some are vintage pieces, while some are made from reclaimed wood — in keeping with the idea of being eco-conscious on all accounts — and sourced from Shabnam’s lifestyle store Peacock Life. The painstakingly picked (some are bespoke pieces too) furnishings and artefacts, both modern and traditional, are displayed at intervals in the restaurant… to engage and maintain an element of surprise. Adding more character to the decor are some charming design details: the imprint of leaves on the furniture; or the string of bulbs inspired by fairy lights which feature on the verandah ceiling and walls emitting a warm glow; or the beautiful hand-painted artwork on the wall of birds and blooming flowers on a branch which tributes the landscape surrounding Farm Cafe.

Amidst all these wonderful design elements the guests are treated to a food and drinks menu, which again has been carefully curated with organic produce. The 40-seater restaurant serves mostly Indian food. “We don’t use any preservatives or chemicals in our food and most of the vegetables are foraged from our farm or nearby farms. One can opt for vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis and can also choose from a small a la carte menu,” says Shabnam. Thanks to a full-fledged ethically harvested milk produce, Farm Cafe makes their own paneer, mawa, yogurt, ghee and white butter. Additionally, the wheat is crushed locally in the village grinding machine, and the eggs come from their own chicken pen. You’ll also be impressed when you realise that the pickles, jams, preservatives, dairy products, papads and chutneys served here are made by the local adivasi (tribal) women using organic vegetables in a clean and hygienic environment at the farm itself. One can also buy these bottles of goodness, as they are sold under their brand Farm-Made.

Outdoors, one gets the feeling of sitting inside a greenhouse, but the canopy here is made from mild steel frame and a mild steel mesh. Concrete to stone to wood… the varied table settings here are unique. As a salute to the nature around, imprints of leaves adorn the furniture, which is set on a pebbled flooring.

Shabnam tells me that one can also ask for a tour of the entire Tooth Mountain Farm facility while the food is prepared at the kitchen. Visitors can see the farm’s rainwater harvesting, grey water systems, composting systems, bird pen, the art village, the nursery, the farming patch, the lake, the rivulet and the pond liner pit. But then, there is always a choice to not leave your table and soak in the greenery, smell the raatranis (Cestrum Nocturnum), hear the birds chirp and the river sing… and simply live in the moment.

To design a farm-to-table restaurant with local materials and imbibe a restful, homely feeling with warm furniture, accessories and furnishings.

Floor: River-washed granite
Walls: Paint
Doors: Wood
Windows: Wooden frame with coloured glass inserts
The netted barricade around the structure: MS frame with MS wire mesh
Ceiling: MS framing structure and clay tiles from the top
Basic structure: Brick walls with MS framing
Furniture: Wood, reclaimed wood, cement, cane and metal
Lighting: Bulbs
Artwork: Paint

Project: Farm Cafe at Tooth Mountain Farms
Clients: Neelam Sagar and Shiv Sagar
Location: Karjat, Maharashtra
Area: 2,365 sq ft (indoor) and 1,513 sq ft (outdoor)
Principal designer: Shabnam Gupta
Design team: Parth Shah, Shorab Hussain and Pramod Gowda