Contextual Chic

In these days of cut and paste design, Dar & Wagh’s creation of a charming apartment in Mumbai that speaks of the clients’ ancestral roots in a contemporary manner, comes as a refreshing change.

Architects Ranjit Wagh and Amber Dar Wagh

Amber Dar Wagh and Ranjit Wagh fit shy of ‘cut and paste’. In a world increasingly taking the easy way of formulaic design, they strive to be authentic. They take time to study the context, delve into their bag of experiences and create places, not spaces that enhance lives and elevate spirits. For every project, they say, is unique… Perhaps it was this freshness that drew this particular client to their work. She’d ‘experienced’ one of their creations, and the positivity of that encounter led her to entrust the task of designing her home, a 1,800-square-foot apartment in Thane, to Dar & Wagh… never mind that they were then based in Singapore!

Like all good architecture, the genesis of this one lay in discovering what the client sought from the space. Little by little, the architects teased apart layers of requirements, desires and aspirations to arrive at the core of the wish-list: light, air, connectedness, all woven together with references to the clients’ ancestral roots in Kerala. “Coming from Kerala, she had strong associations with her ancestral home with memories of the large tree in the courtyard. She was looking for a similar feeling from this house,” says Amber.

The view from the entrance. By partly erasing walls and creating strategically positioned punctures, the architects have ensured that a visitor is welcomed by a snapshot of the of verdant outdoor spaces. The stunning gond art forms a definite design highlight. The architects success in resolving the issue of awkward beams is also seen in the picture. Now, the split levels of the ceiling establish a certain hierarchy of the different functional pockets.

And like all good architects, Amber and Ranjit kicked off the project with space-planning, with the client’s brief pointing the path they would take and also the materials that would fit the space. “We made the dining room as the core of the house as this was used as the main entertainment space. The core was opened in three directions to the outside — which flooded the house with light and gave it a sense of largeness. The access to one bedroom was changed such it now opened into the living room — thus it could become an extension of the public zone if required.

“The client is an entertainer, and she loves to cook. This meant that the house had to be opened up so that the kitchen would not isolate the person working within,” discloses Ranjit. However, an open kitchen is a double-edged sword: too open, and the mess that inevitably arises out of whipping homemade meals, may ‘spill’ into the public areas. “But we’ve ensured that the sink is tucked out of sight, and the worktop, which is relatively under control, is in plain sight.” Materially speaking, polished red concrete floors set against dark wood and white plaster made it to the list. These bought in subtle references to old houses in Kerala. The architects tried to abstract the essence of the Kerala house in the apartment. This also became their design concept.

The master bedroom is uncluttered by excesses. It’s beauty can be attributed to the stunning red oxide flooring and the pleated fabric partition.

Though Amber and Ranjit now speak easily of reconfiguring the space, the reality was a tad more complicated owing to ill-positioned beams. “While the typical floor of the building is designed as two 2BHK apartments, the developer had sold this unit on the landscaped podium level as a 4BHK unit,” says Amber. “We had awkward beams cutting through spaces and we had to ensure that sections were arranged in manner that allowed them to be free of this bulky structure.” Thus, space-planning became the most challenging aspect of this project — and the success story of this assignment. The split-level ceiling now subliminally marks out various functions, and indeed its height, to some extent, defines the hierarchy of spaces. For instance, in the living-dining section, the ceiling of the seating portion is higher, while that of the dining area and the kitchen is lower. Similarly, in the master bedroom, the sleeping section sees a higher ceiling than the rest of the room, including a walk-in closet.

Given their aim of creating meaningful, contextual living environments, the architects sought to imbue this one with the personality of the clients, especially the lady of the house. Her involvement with the education of underprivileged children through an NGO, her passion for books and textiles, her treasure trove of collectibles… all found their place in her home. The way a Gond tree found its way into the house is rather interesting. “While we managed to create a courtyard in the apartment, the attendant tree was missing, a lacuna that the client keenly felt. So the idea came about to create an artwork of a tree and its form came from the books that the kids read at the NGO. What finally clicked was the fact that as an artform, Gond is quite clean and contemporary; it isn’t given to unnecessary excesses. And it has incredible amount of detail. These properties were quite in alignment with the overall design direction,” reveals Ranjit. Similarly, the client’s love for textiles is expressed via a fluted partition upholstered rhythmically in different swatches.

The perfect setting for the morning cuppa.

The handmade, handcrafted feel of this home brings into sharp focus another interesting aspect: it represents the coming together of artisanal skills and professional acumen. “On one hand, there was us, architects who had been part of international design practices, and on the other, there were artists whose skills were honed over time. This home is unique for us in that sense,” says Amber.

As with anything that is forged with commitment, dedication and skill, this home is a thing of beauty. It is also something that is greatly appreciated by the people who use it. And that is perhaps the greatest endorsement its creators can wish for.

To create an interconnected, participatory and interactive living experience, with references to the client’s cultural and ancestral roots.

Floor: Red oxide (IPS), polished concrete floor
Walls: White painted plaster
Furniture: Teak veneer on plywood
Kitchen: White laminate from Greenlam on marine plywood with hairline stainless-steel linear recessed handles (cabinets); polished black granite (counter-top); and patterned ceramic tiles (walls)
Upholstery:  APCO and Bharat Furnishings

Location: Thane
Clients: Alka and Kumar Deshpande
Area: 1,800 sq ft
Design firm: Dar & Wagh LLP, Singapore
Design team: Amber Dar Wagh, Ranjit Wagh and Sarika Shetty
ID contractor: Gopal Biswas
Gond art: Rajendra Kumar Shyam
IPS flooring: Sekar Sokklingam
Electricals: Girish Rao

Some more images…