Garden State

A germ of an idea mushroomed into this comfortable farmhouse built over a lush plot of 11 acres. Interior designer Shabnam Guptas’ weekend retreat for her family is a tale of spontaneity, fun and love.

 

Interior designer Shabnam Gupta

It all began in 2010 when Neelam Sagar put her foot down and decided that enough was enough. The 63-year-old horticulturalist needed a place to house her burgeoning collection of plants and Mumbai’s cramped spaces would simply not cut it. Lucky for her, her daughter happened to be Shabnam Gupta, who enjoys an enviable reputation as an interior designer. Mother and daughter swung into action. “The original plan was to design a modest weekend getaway for mom, a place where she could come to relax and run a nursery,” Shabnam admits today.

But fate was not to have it. Today, the 11-acre property in Karjat Fatah has three independent structures — the main 7,000-square-foot house, its facade and one of its sides hugged by a generous porch; a small red-roofed temple with whitewashed walls; and a small cottage cum studio for Shabnam’s artist sister Ganga Kadakia. Beyond the temple, a large man-made lake, fed by the Morve dam, curves in a languorous semi-circle around almost the entire length of the property. A rectangular swimming pool, verdant lawns that flow naturally along the gently undulating terrain, flower beds a-riot with colour, countless potted plants and a foliage-shaded trellis also make up the view. A short walk away is the Tooth Mountain nursery — the proud realization of a landscapist’s 14-year-old dream. A one-person getaway? Perish the thought! This place is, to borrow from Hemingway, a moveable feast, a large (but not obscenely so) holiday retreat for family and friends. “We got carried away,” says Shabnam with a chuckle. “At first, the only thing for miles around was a jamun tree. We used to sit under it and plan our next move.” Today, that same tree stands near the pool which lies between the farmhouse and the smaller cottage.

The man-made lake had been pitched with black stone and sodium bentonite. Now it uses rubber sheets at the base and is 20 feet at its deepest.

Though the landscaped property is quite expansive, the farmhouse itself is economically planned, space-wise. A gravel-lined driveway leads to the side of the main house. We step on to the porch and escape the oppressing heat outside by entering the large living area, which is less wall, more floor-to-ceiling windows. Wooden doors — the colour of sapphire — punctuate the stark white walls. The blue and white colour scheme is enlivened by bright spots of colour brought through art, and shelves filled with accessories, memorabilia and family photographs. On the wall near the seating area, a 12 ft x 12 ft art mural created by Ganga creates a striking focal point. “The piece is a nine piece mural, one of Ganga’s specialties. It was finished quite a while ago, but there never seemed to be a place to display it properly before now,” explains Shabnam. In fact, you can find bits and bobs of the entire clan in this house. “We are a very creative family — artist, horticulturist, architect, cinematographer— so all of us had something to lend creatively,” laughs Shabnam. So it came to be that the taste and skill of Shabnam’s mother can be seen in the beautiful landscape, while various spots on the wall burst to life with Ganga’s paintings. Shabnam’s touch is visible through the decor and the way the architecture flows seamlessly, from one space to the next.

A flock of stone swans gather around a large basin where water-plants flourish. The temple stands in the background.

The living room opens into Neelam’s large, comfortable bedroom, which is simply furnished and has a sturdy leather-upholstered writing desk. Behind the living room lies a basic, tiny kitchen with blue and white cabinetry and a step to the right of that, a second large bedroom space… Shabnam’s domain. Like the living room, this one has large windows that look out onto the front lawn and the lake. A child’s cot, a bed, a bureau or two and a few consoles — all well-worn but tasteful — make the furniture of the room. But what lends character to the space are the curios, accessories and indoor plants. While the attached bathroom in Neelam’s room is a no-nonsense affair (a glass shower enclosure, a charming vertical garden and vanity with lifesaver-shaped mirror), the bathroom attached to Shabnam’s bedroom is another story all together. A large sunken bath lies under a glass skylight and in the corner a tree grows right through the roof. “We constructed the bathroom first and it was a bit of an indulgence,” reveals Shabnam, explaining how she and her siblings had grown up with bathtubs. “In Mumbai, there are always considerations like space and practicality and having a bathtub means a waste of resources which always results in a pang of guilt,” she says.

The poolside, with place for an outdoor lunch and barbecue, is completely geared to having fun.

But Shabnam can be forgiven her one indulgence. The architecture and design of the rest of the house and the property have more than made up for it in terms of saving resources. “The house follows the vernacular style of architecture and uses locally-sourced construction materials like kota (on the floors), clay tiles and bison board (for the ceiling) and plaster walls,” says Shabnam. The furniture comprises of existing pieces that have been repurposed to fit into the design of the house. “We didn’t go out and buy anything,” reveals Shabnam. The facade is clean, embellished only with plants, and there isn’t any frippery or tricks in the interiors either.

By now, it’s late afternoon and from the porch, the garden looks as pretty and as unruffled as a picture. But don’t let its glassy waters and green lawns fool you. This place was built to survive the worst army known to mankind: children and pets. “When the family is over, the place is overrun with the kids and dogs careening around and splashing in the pool. Everything gets noisy and chaotic,” reveals Neelam. Since the farmhouse was born of a need to have large family get-togethers, its seamlessness wasn’t an afterthought. “Our week is often so rushed that when we finally assemble in one place, we want to spend time together — hence the emphasis on shared spaces,” says Shabnam.

The living room lays emphasis on open-plan architecture which optimizes the flood of natural light from the windows.

The smaller cottage — that has a studio for Ganga — is an isolated little affair on the water’s edge. Like the main structure, a wide porch leads you indoors where natural light, exquisite natural views and a calm hush blend to form a true haven. Art and colour come together to inspire the plain, clean lines of the space. “There are minor differences between this cottage and the farmhouse. This one’s more modern,” says Shabnam. Inside, the studio and the study are cordoned off from the living area. The house also has a room for Shabnam’s younger brother, Shiv Sagar. “It’s like the young peoples place,” says her mother.

Neelam’s room is simply but tastefully furnished. Don’t miss the exquisite potted bonsai on the coffee table.

Whether you’re taking a tour of the garden, gaping at the potted bonsai (“As old as my children,” Neelam tells us proudly), or losing yourself in the quiet splendour of the hills in the distance, you will realize that though this space seems very well-put-together, it is actually a still-unfolding story. “The project started two years ago and there were absolutely no drawings. It’s still a work in progress,” says Shabnam. Indeed, near the bountiful Tooth Mountain Nursery (which is a short distance from the house) and in the driveway, a construction worker is still carefully spreading a layer of gravel over the earth. It’s not a finished product yet, this beautiful green farmhouse property, but if what we see now is any indication, there can only be good things that follow.

CONCEPT
To create a holiday home where family and extended family could get together for some good, old-fashioned togetherness. The property was also meant to house Tooth Mountain, a nursery run by Neelam Sagar.

MATERIALS
Walls Textured, plaster-finished walls Ceiling Bison board on the ceiling with clay tiles Flooring Kota Furniture Recycled and altered existing pieces Furnishings Cotton furnishings with waterproof blinds Accessories Peacock Life Art Ganga Kadakia

FACT FILE
Location Karjat Fatah, Karjat Interior designer Shabnam Gupta Landscape architect Neelam Sagar Area of the plot 11 acres Area of the main house 7,000 sq ft Project duration 2 years

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