Embracing Elegance

A minimal material palette, playful details and seamlessness are hallmarks of this elegant Surat apartment, designed by architects Pooja Shah and Niel Parekh, for a family of six spanning three generations.

Text: Rupali Sebastian
Photographs: Ishita Sitwala; courtesy The Company of Design

Simplicity, geometry and elegance rule this 4BHK apartment belonging to a family straddling three generations. Quirky details — such as the printing-block security door — infuse charm into the spatial experience.

An interior design project sometimes transcends spatial considerations and enters the realm of lifestyle, of how people live their lives — or would like to live their lives. The assignment, in this case, is centered around dialogues and conversations; optimizing and sculpting space becomes a corollary. The exercise of space-creation becomes an act of getting under the skin.

When a textile businessman approached Surat-based architects Pooja Shah and Niel Parekh of The Company of Design to design his 1,890-square-foot 4BHK apartment — having seen and liked what they did with his friend’s house — this was precisely how the ball was set rolling: as a series of “most interesting conversations regarding the lifestyle of the family that would be living in the house. As more than designing just the aesthetics of the space, we wanted to design their lifestyle,” says Pooja. “We believe that it is not the style of an architect that becomes a pivot for a design but the context that forges a design. Irrespective of scale, for us, any project is like a blank canvas where we strive to create a harmonious painting through creative placement of the paraphernalia of that space,” declares the duo.

The main door is surrounded by cement-sheet cladding, used in its raw form. Elements scattered around the house hark to the client in various ways. The railing detail of an abacus with wooden beads are reminiscent of a childhood toy, while the carved wooden blocks of the security entrance door point to the client’s textile business. Besides making for a dramatic entry, the door also allows ventilation, so important for Surat’s hot climate. The printing blocks, as well as those of the book cabinet in the kids’ room, are not newly created objects, but actual printing blocks sourced from Pethapur, a renowned block-making centre
near Ahmedabad.

For the architects, the fact that the client has also chosen them for the thought process meant that there was a meeting of the minds in this assignment, rather than merely delivering a wish list. “It makes designing more cohesive when the client and architects are in complete sync in terms of visualization of the space. In this case, the client was very clear about his brief, and was open to our ideas as to how it could be achieved.”

The entrance foyer is a box wrapped in grey and white. The walls are clad in cement putty with water-repellant coating; the ceiling is lined with raw cement sheets; and the flooring features ceramic tiles. The wooden blocks are present here as well, as a circular pattern inset into the entrance door. The handle — sporting a crescent motif — is a printing-block too. The disc form is continued as a wooden element that camouflages the main distribution box.

The series of tete-a-tetes unearthed several facets of the client’s personality: his desire to spend quality time with his children; his passion for work; the fondness with which he remembered his childhood. The one-line brief that was born out of these interactions was crisp: a home that could be enjoyed by all the three generations residing within — featuring, at one end, a retired homeopath and, at the other, an inquisitive toddler.

The apartment presented to the architects came complete with tiled flooring and plastered wall. Spatial realignment was effected not through intensive civil changes, but by standardizing the spaces “using colours and varying materials to provide a home suitable for the complexity of contemporary lifestyle,” says Niel. The only civil change involved shifting a wall near the entrance foyer to create a sizeable waiting area to cater to visitors who came to consult the client’s father, a retired homeopathic doctor.

The rectangular spatial programme is simple: four bedrooms arranged in an L, with the pubic zone (comprising the living room, kitchen and dining) nestling within its two arms. “In terms of organization of spaces, it is a balance between social and tranquil space, the hub of life centering on the vibrant colours of the social areas,” disclose the principals, who believe in universality of design and approach architecture, interiors, graphics and urban design with equal enthusiasm. “The design intention was to generate, through colours and different textures of materials, an infinite number of visual and spatial connections.”

The geometric installation by the door — rendered using wood and hollow brass pipes — caters to the requirement of lighting and camouflaging of the distribution box. The discs are outlined in the glow of LEDs that lie beneath. The switches are neatly integrated as a slim rectangular element. The entrance foyer functions as a consultation room for the client’s father who is a retired homeopath — therefore the cantilevered seat and the small cabinet to house medicines.
above The cement sheets of the ceiling find their way to the unit too — which functions as a desk (to write down prescriptions) and a storage unit to house medicines.

Trying to merge functional requirements and aesthetics was an “interesting challenge” in this house, according to the architects. “For instance, in the entrance foyer, the main distribution box panel has been camouflaged with a custom-made wooden and brass lighting fixture. It complements the main door. Another critical issue was to maximize natural light in some spaces, for which transparent facades — such as MS partitions combined with glass — have been used. These channel natural light through the house and provide views between
the spaces.”

The geometric installation by the door — rendered using wood and hollow brass pipes — caters to the requirement of lighting and camouflaging of the distribution box. The discs are outlined in the glow of LEDs that lie beneath. The switches are neatly integrated as a slim rectangular element. The entrance foyer functions as a consultation room for the client’s father who is a retired homeopath — therefore the cantilevered seat and the small cabinet to house medicines.
above The cement sheets of the ceiling find their way to the unit too — which functions as a desk (to write down prescriptions) and a storage unit to house medicines.

The refreshing warmth of the apartment is the result of a careful balance of materials and finishes. A minimal material palette meant that the architects could toe the line set by the budget (by reducing wastage), and also create a cohesive space. While fixed furniture of birch panels envelope majority of the bedrooms, a lot of panelling (on walls and the ceiling) use cement sheets in their raw state. Wood has been used in conjunction with metal to achieve two objectives with one strategy: metal brings in the industrial character typical to large cities and gives it a contemporary, youthful feel, while wood, in a carved avatar creates a cosy, traditional appeal, so dear to the elderly. The neutral shell — mostly grey and white — allows colourful overlays by way of artefacts and furniture. So while the entrance foyer sees a luscious red cantilevered seat, the living room is graced by distinctly patterned sofas. Nearby, the soothing green of the dining chairs is partnered by cheerful yellow sliding doors of the washbasin area. Elsewhere, unexpected flashes of blue break the warmth of wood.

The playfulness seen in the colour strategy is also evident in the details of furniture. Elements scattered around the house establish markers to the client’s past and present: a wooden bead abacus railing at the entrance reminds of the childhood toy; the wall tapestry on the passage wall, suggestive of the grandmother’s weaving; and the carved wooden blocks to design the children’s book cabinet and entrance
door is indicative of the client’s line of business (textile).

Evocative compositions, play of colour, a light irreverent touch create a young-at-heart space with timeless appeal — a warm, fresh, luminous house, replete with quirky twists-in-the-tale that allow the users to enjoy the space anew, everyday.

CONCEPT: To generate, through the use of colour, an infinite number of visual and spatial connections. Spaces which evolve with time, tailoring every detail to work harmoniously throughout the home.

MATERIALS
Walls: White paint
Ceiling: White paint
Floor: White tiles
Doors and fixed furniture: Birch ply
Partition between entrance foyer and living room: Metal and glass

FACT FILE
Project: Evocative House
Location: Surat, Gujarat
Area: 1,890 sq ft
Principal architects: Pooja Shah and Niel Parekh
Design Team: Aakruti Johari
Artists: Vaibhavi Shah (Rogan)

Some more images…