The Memory Keeper

Emitting warmth and positivity, the Khemlani home in Pune, designed by architect Rubel Dhuna, is a big treasure box filled with natural light, airiness and some stellar bespoke furniture, lighting, and decor accessories.

Text: Deepa Nair
Photographs: Harbirz Inc, courtesy Rubel Dhuna Architects

One can hear a soft ghunghroo sound much before they pass the entrance door and step into the well-lit lobby. Almost immediately, the eyes would be drawn to the Dalah chandelier which graces the ceiling here. The other elements that enhance the almost cinematic effect of the lobby is the classic patterned tiled floor, a bespoke vintage bench, the collage of traditional Indian artwork.

Some stories have a series of mini tales hidden in them… and the exquisite Pune home of the Khemlanis we feature here has some rather beautiful ones to tell. I heard the very first one from its creator — the hugely talented architect Rubel Dhuna who heads her namesake firm Rubel Dhuna Architects in Mumbai — much before I saw the project. “Hema and Tarun Khemlani saw our work first in your magazine, Better Interiors, and that is how they got in touch withus to design their home,” the architect disclosed, referring to the stunningly simple Mumbai office of a young lawyer couple we featured almost two years ago. “The simplicity and earthiness of the space really caught my attention. Rubel’s designs were subtle and understated yet at the same time striking,” explains the lady of the house when probed on what impressed her most about the architect’s work. But before we get into details, let us backtrack a bit to where it all started.

The impactful lone artwork on the wall is an ink on handmade paper by artist Namita Shah.

The story began when Tarun decided to move the headquarters of his family business from Mumbai to Pune. He heads the well-known Cradle Runways (a part of the CleanIndia Group), a company that provides cleaning systems for glass buildings across India. The Khemlanis — Hema, Tarun and their sons Vir and Arjun — have been residing in Pune for the last 10 years, and wanted to move into a house that was spacious and had an abundance of natural light. Their search ended at a 4-BHK, 2,000 square-foot apartment, with an open-air deck extension, at Waterfront Apartments by Panchshil realtors located in Kalyani Nagar. Rubel and her team walked into a typical four bedroom with attached bathrooms space with a closed kitchen. Additionally, there were air-conditioning ducts running through the living area, which lowered the ceiling and divided the space in smaller zones. Though roomy, the house was disjointed.

At the dining area, a sleek table is accompanied by wooden Scandinavian chairs. This setting comes together under the warm glow of the bespoke Huva chandelier, made in brass. A custom-designed bar table find place at the far end. It has an irregular angled fascia with built-in lights and a teak wood top. Note the French-style accordion metal and glass windows on the right, which open up to a pebbled balcony that affords a beautiful sight of bougainvillea vines.

The first task in hand, therefore, was to redesign the layout and services such that all spaces naturally led into one another. So now, the lobby leads to the living and guest rooms, while the living space is flanked by the family room and kitchen. The dining and bar areas overlook the terrace; and the private spaces, the master and kids bedrooms were accommodated at the far end of the corridor. As a feeling of spaciousness and airiness was key, sliding folding screens were introduced in the kitchen and family room, which allow for flexibility and privacy as and when required. “When both the screens fold away, the living space gets expansive, stretching from the lobby to the family room on one side and from the living to the dining-balcony on the other,” points out Rubel. After this rejigging, began the finer interior design work which transformed the space into the exquisiteness that it is today.

Rubel tells me that she received a well-etched out brief from the elders in the family, “Tarun and Hema value design. They wanted the house to have a unique experience and to be a narrative of their life. A place where they could surround themselves with memories/things they had collected over time and one where they could make fond memories with friends and family.

The family room cum guest room is separated by sliding folding shutters that allow for flexibility and privacy when required.
When the screens fold away, the living space gets expansive, stretching from the lobby to the family room on one side and
from the living to the dining-balcony on the other. Note the artwork on the left… it’s a 100-year-old painting belonging to Tarun’s grandparents.

Subtle elegance and sophistication were what they preferred. There were no rules laid out. I was given complete creative freedom and that is a blessing for a designer.” Hema adds, “I specifically wanted her to include patterned tile flooring from Bharat Flooring and French doors somewhere in the house. I also wanted to have sufficient cupboard space and storage which could be accommodated without being obvious.”

Taking into account all the requirements and after understanding the clients’ artistic taste, Rubel envisaged a “very functional space with lots of flexibility and an aesthetic that is traditional modern.” To put it simply, though modern in its functions and outlook, the house is deep rooted in tradition. Hence, the architect has used a blend of traditional and contemporary design elements that are subtle yet leave a lasting impression. “The house has an earthy tone. Broadly, the palette consists of natural materials. We’ve used textured stones, graphic cement tiles, wooden floors, and hints of brass through the house. Additionally, tapping natural light to penetrate deep into the house and creating wide visual connects, allowing energy to flow through the house was key to the design development,” explains Rubel.

Into this warm and earthy material shell, Rubel introduced some striking elements — furniture, lighting fixtures, art and accessories — which gives the home its distinct character. “The design team was involved from pin to piano on this project. Every single piece of furniture and light is custom designed by the RDa studio,” reveals Rubel proudly. These pieces of bespoke art are smartly introduced at regular intervals through the house to create what the architect calls a dynamic cinematic experience.

In contrast to the rest of the house, the kids’ bedroom has a brighter palette with Blue Lagoon and white chevron patterned
cement tiles from Bharat Flooring paired with Bamboo Vanilla wooden floor from Xylos. Note the caricatures of the family
made by street artists from various cities in the world, which are displayed at the winding stairway which leads you to the upper level.

Like the engaging Dalah chandelier which features brass ghungroos at the entrance lobby; the captivating eight brass Liah Pillars inspired by Tibetan prayer wheels that greet you before you step into the open living-dining and kitchen space; the cortan steel-lookalike coffee tables and the Scandinavian single seaters in the living area; the sleek table with Scandinavian chairs in the dining area which is highlighted by the lovely Huva light that is inspired from the magnolia flower. And then there is the wonderfully detailed construction of the white-hued library which features in the family room — besides displaying books, this treasure trove also showcases artefacts which the globetrotting couple have collected from their travels. Every single nook of the library wall has an engaging story to tell.

It comes as no surprise when Hema discloses that their home has been well-received by family and friends, and she credits Rubel and her team handsomely for the same. On the other hand, Rubel feels that, “When clients trust your aesthetic and ability, everything else falls in place rather smoothly.” Touche!

To create a home with a unique experience, one that is elegant and sophisticated… and one where memories are cherished and made.

Floor: Cement tiles (foyer, guest room, children’s bedroom); river washed French Vanilla stone (living, dining and kitchen); engineered wood (master bedroom and children’s bedroom); blue and white mosaic tiles (kids bathroom); river washed Rain Forest brown stone (master bathroom)
Walls: Stucco finished paint
Screens: Brass, wood
Furniture: Wood, brass
Lighting fixtures: Brass
Doors: Veneer
Windows: Mild steel

Clients: Hema and Tarun Khemlani
Location: Waterfront Apartments, Kalyani Nagar, Pune
Area: 2,000 sq ft + 200 sq ft terrace
Principal architect: Rubel Dhuna
Design team: Audrey Sabu, Namita Shah, Wajid Ansari
Furniture and lighting design: Rubel Dhuna Architects
Civil Contractor: SK Decor
Carpentry: Umesh Sahani
Electrical Contractor: Manvith Electricals
Metal Work: Prakash Fabricators
Painting: Om Painting Works