The House of Painted Doors

Replete with painted walls and doors, artwork collages and colourful materials, the Surat home of V-Create Architects’ Eshita Marwah and Rutvan Sheth is the sum of all its arts.

Text: Rupali Sebastian
Photographs: © 2018 Photographix | Sebastian + Ira, courtesy V-Create Architects

Architects Eshita Marwah and Rutvan Sheth

How is it when designers design for themselves? Does the triple role of an envisioner, executor and user of a creation make the process smoother, faster, easier? “First of all, it takes much longer to design and make your own home,” says Eshita Marwah, a Master of Electronic Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, who has now turned her attention to interior and product design. “For one, it’s a little bit low on your priority list with all the other work on your plate… Also, nothing is probably ever good enough, there’s always that room for improvement, that want to do something better… It’s not like satisfying a client, satisfying yourself as a designer is much harder.” She should know. She and her architect spouse Rutvan Sheth, who together work at Surat-based V-Create Architects, a firm established by the latter’s father and offering services in the architecture, interior design, planning and green building design verticals, have just finished making a home for themselves in the city.

The Travel Wall (behind the dark blue single-seater sofas) displays art from local artists that Eshita has collected over the years.

The transformative process of turning a “smelly dusty place with very low ceilings and a crooked door frame” into a home started by reorganizing the spatial programme into a “continuous, interrelated, integrated entity,” says Rutvan, a holder of a master’s degree in Environmental Building Design from the School of Design (PennDesign), University of Pennsylvania. “The original layout was of a typical apartment and the first steps of the planning constituted breaking down unnecessary walls to open up the space and let it flow from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen, and yet maintain a decent amount of privacy. We had to introduce a breakfast counter which would be an intermediary between the dining and kitchen. It is often used for a quick bite and for one-on-one conversations. It has become the ‘hot spot’ of our home, with two custom-made hot seats: Small Bum and Big Bum,” he smiles. Additionally, while the balcony was kept as is, one of the bathrooms was converted into a walk-in wardrobe connecting the master bedroom to the dressing room via the master bathroom.

The dining area is cocooned in the warmth of exposed brick. The table and chairs have been inherited from Rutvan’s grandmother, and are over 50-years-old. The light fixtures are customized in brass and manufactured locally.

But all this was easier said than done. With two designers with very strong (read different) ideas, the biggest challenge was coming to a consensus and arriving at something both were happy (or at least almost happy) with. “Also, our 10-inch height difference didn’t help,” discloses Eshita. “We had some ergonomic issues that had to be dealt with. We also wanted to keep it under a certain budget so that was another constraint.” While Rutvan’s contribution to consensus-building was to accept his partner’s thoughts graciously whenever she was right, Eshita preferred to not “give up or give in and working through (problems) steadily, not necessarily slowly.” She is also a great believer of sleeping-over-it, the power of the subconscious mind: “The best ideas and solutions come from there,” she says. “If the shape of benzene could be discovered in sleep…”

The library cupboard has shades of blue painted in a gradient from top to bottom in the background, and it houses collectibles from years ago. It is placed at the junction of the passages leading to the public zone and the master bedroom.

The outcome of these intense debates and discussions was a common design language — which, in turn, would culminate in a contemporary space versatile enough to receive additions from the duo’s travels; a place that could keep up with them and the times. “I like to collect local art from wherever I go and this home had to be a perfect background for all the unknown that was about to come,” says Eshita. “Since it was our own home; we took our own sweet time with most things and let them come to us. The idea was to have a place we’d like to come back ‘home’ to, that speaks of our design sensibilities and also isn’t over-the-top. We are both young and this is only our first home together, so we figured it was important to leave room for change and improvement, and so most things in the home aren’t permanent per se or very expensive. We are collecting/still making pieces slowly as we go along.”

Eshita’s study is connected to the walk-in wardrobe (an erstwhile bathroom)/master bathroom, which, in turn, is connected to the master bedroom.

Mindful of the fact that the home needed to be resilient enough to weather future changes and additions, the designers wisely selected a neutral palette with cool tones of blues and greys, with materials in their raw form — depicting their attitudes and ‘we are who we are’ personalities. “The light grey Italian stucco brings softness and light into the warmth of the exposed bricks,” says Rutvan. “The bare birch plywood furniture, natural polished, is purely functional and adds the soft tone of wood. The two-inch-thick solid wooden breakfast counter is placed on top of a stand made of empty bottles, depicting the sheer joy in the hard labour gone into emptying each of those bottles, saying salut,” he laughs. Ceramic mosaic tiles (from Picollo Mosaic) in the kitchen and handmade tiles from Keramos) in the master bath — “just because we love ceramic tiles” — add a pop of colour, while kota stone flooring with a ‘skyline’ teakwood skirting binds the entire space together. “The innovativeness of this project,” continues Rutvan, “is the use of only four main materials to transform the space with material wastage of less than 15 per cent. Designs were made taking into consideration the perfect sizes to avoid having any wastage. For example, a waterfall was made using the waste chips of the kota stone. A regular brick was cut into half and fixed on an existing wall to save on the cost and to use the bricks available on site, while the guest room was furnished entirely with reclaimed and refurbished wooden furniture from my late Grandma’s old home…”

A view from the walk-in wardrobe area into Eshita’s study with its dressing table.

Other than the chromatic presence of materials, artwork contributes a significant amount of vibrancy to the ambience — which brings us to the painted doors. The inspiration, elucidates Eshita, came from the city of Funchal, in the Madeira region of Portugal, where the city council came up with a public art project called the Painted Doors Project to revitalize the old town area, with an aim of transforming it into a permanent art gallery. “The idea was to create pieces of work that would invite people into something deeper, which is exactly what I had in mind with the painted doors in our home.” Each door represents the story of the room behind it and tells something about its users. For instance, the door to the master bedroom is graced by Adam and Eve; while that to the guest room has a vintage New Orleans poster with ‘guests’ arriving on horse-drawn carriages. The back of the main door was originally a vintage San Francisco poster, to which Eshita added some elements of Philadelphia — the city where she and Rutvan met. “Out of the nine painted doors, five are the work of French artist Malika Favre and two are vintage posters from a couple of my favourite cities.

The walls of the master bedroom are completely hand-painted to give the room a stormy day, within-the-clouds effect with the central globe representing the moon and little twinkly ceiling lights, the stars. The headboard has a subtle engraving that reads “you are my sunshine” and the sleeping sides are defined by their initials engraved in the nightstands.

We were careful to give credits to all original artists on the sides of the doors while recreating their works. These were painted by me along with artist, Devjit Singh.” There was some concern about visual fatigue setting in, after living constantly with such a strong element, but as yet, after spending almost a year with the doors, there’s no sign of that happening. “On the contrary, the doors are a big part of the home and make it what it is, give it a character of its own, and we relate to them more every day,” states Eshita, who added /e, an art and product design service, to V-Create in 2015. “The room inside is what it is because of the door outside of it — the door defines it and sort of tells the user what to expect.”

Given the limitation of height posed by the comparatively low ceilings, the design restricts itself to surface light fixtures and stays away from false ceilings. “We love to have as much natural light as possible in any room, but after dark, we prefer mood lighting, and nothing too bright,” says Eshita of the lighting strategy employed in their home, while Rutvan further expounds: “Only yellow (3000K) coloured lighting was planned for ambient lighting, based on the lux level requirement of each space.

The master bathroom. The first thing Eshita and Rutvan purchased when they started making the home was the Moroccan Blue fish scale handmade Keramos tiles used in the master bathroom, and these have played a major role in the language of the rest of the home.

Mood and cove lighting was planned only in the living room and bedrooms. Certain pieces of accent lighting were planned in the dining and living areas to highlight, for example, the ‘Travel Picture Wall’ and the ‘Postcard Wall’. We avoided overlighting and lighting with visible sources.”

Designing for yourself, says Rutvan, is a deep, personal journey that sends you on the quest for the right solution, the most appropriate expression… “In our case, the entire journey has brought a lot of clarity in our understanding of each other and more of our own selves. We have ended up with a result which speaks to both of us and which depicts our personalities… and that, to us, is truly satisfying.”

A home that would reflect the original identities of both its owners, with a little bit of drama and conflicts, warmth and comfort and stories and memories. A place to unwind as well as energize; a place where the owners would like to come back “home” to.

Floor: Kota stone with brass inlay
Master bathroom accent wall: Handmade tiles by Keramos
Walls: Stucco paint by Oikos
Lighting: Surface lights by Flos and customized brass lights by Ekya Lighting, Surat
Furniture: Birch Plywood by DuroTech with Anti-Scratch PU Polish
Kitchen: Kalinga Quartz Stone top, Birch Ply shutters, ABS Baskets by PraOsh
Cladding: Clay bricks (Mahi)

Location: Vesu, Surat
Area: 2,500 sq ft
Principal architect/designer: Eshita Marwah and Rutvan Sheth
Design team: Ekta Patel, Yogini Patel and Yunus Bangdiwala
Execution team: Nisha Mahatma, Akshay Jariwala and Dharmesh Kanoje
Civil/Structure: Amish Mahorwala
Plumbing: Aiyub Malik
Electrical: Ninad Desai (Power Cafe)
HVAC: Unicool Agency
Carpenter: Baluram Suthar and team
Flooring works: Harshad Hadiyal Contractor
Artists: /e (By E: Eshita Marwah), Devjit Singh and Vaibhavi (Rogan Designs)