Weaving the past and present

Architect Animesh Nayak of Open to Sky works with clean lines, ambient lighting and cleverly placed accents in Kolkata’s Bombaim to create a perfect backdrop to complement the clothes and accessories on display.

Text: Rupali Sebastian
Photographs: Photographix | Sebastian, courtesy Open to Sky

Bombaim: modern and clean-lined yet warm and inviting. The strong geometric elevational treatment is tempered by the fluidity of the space within.

In a city that revels in the now, looks to the future, and cherishes its historical roots, Kolkata’s trendsetting fashion boutique Bombaim is a testimony to the beautiful balance between past and the present. The name (Bombaim) itself is how erstwhile colonial superpower Portugal referred to Mumbai, founder Richa Kanoi’s hometown — Bombay is actually an Anglicized version of the Portuguese moniker. When she felt the need for an overhaul of the store she’d been running since 2009, Richa knew Bombaim had to speak a language it had built for itself over the years. “There were three words I kept repeating to myself: warm, strong and clean,” says the advertising graduate from Boston University.” This was the brief she presented to architect Animesh Nayak of Open to Sky, who was charged with renovating the retail space — housed on the ground floor of a 100-year-old British Raj-era bungalow on AJC Bose Road — from its earlier kitsch-laced avatar into something more modern. More than the damage wrought by time — creeping damp on the walls, unsightly salt efflorescence, uneven floors due to settling of the foundation — Animesh remembers the atmosphere of the space. “The colonial buildings of Kolkata are atmospheric spaces, where the smell, the light, the air is unique,” says the principal architect of Open to Sky, which operates dually out of Bengaluru and Kolkata. “The existing store was designed and adorned to retain and celebrate this atmosphere… but by using more contemporary materials and facilities, with a more modern aesthetic.”

The display racks were designed for the space using slender metal sections with brass accents and dark polished wood.

The spatial programme itself was dictated by the need for distinct spaces for accessories, clothing and work. The transformation unfurled room by room because it was a functioning store — the most challenging aspect of the assignment for the architect. It began with strengthening the floors with steel and concrete, and redoing the waterproofing. They then unified the ‘cellular arrangement’ of rooms, says Animesh, into a single, modern, free-flowing entity by using a single material for the 1,250-square-foot floor plate: monolithic concrete polished to a high sheen. Along with addition, came subtraction, involving teasing away stifling interventions made over the years to release the beauty of the existing design — such as the full-height arched openings to the outside. Though the space is fluid, with “the outside almost coming in into the inside,” the degree of engagement can be controlled with Parisian-style grilles that front the plate-glass arched windows.

At the accessories section a back-lit fabric painting from Tilla creates a visual pause. The arched doorway leads to a more private clothing section.

Commensurate with the restrained modern aesthetic, the material palette features white lime plaster walls, patterned polished cement floors, decorative plaster of Paris elements, dark polished wood elements and brass accents. The interior treatment — inspired by the stars and the sea, harking to Richa’s roots as Mumbai is blessed with both, in plentiful — is pared down to allow the loveliness of the structural bones to shine through: high beamed ceilings, beautiful arches, pristine expanses of walls… Yet there is subtle textural and motif play that is sensed, at first, rather than seen. The fluted beauty of the handmade corrugated ceiling — inspired not by a pleated fabric as we originally thought, but an effulgent sun. Also on the ceiling, glorious back-lit brass Garudas, wings unfurled, with the sun on their back. Swathes of striking back-lit fabric paintings from Tilla (an online store) depicting silhouettes of a variety of foliage, complementing the immaculately crafted merchandise. Slim brass strips and handmade scalloped patterns on the concrete floor — graphical representation of sea waves. “I would say every element of the space has been closely looked into and is there for a reason,” says Richa. “Whether it is the texturing, the colours used or the art (canvas prints and Garudas), every tiny detail in that space is something that has been well thought and executed.”

The store, says Animesh, exemplifies that ideal scenario: a wonderful and close collaboration between architect, fabricator, contractor and client — and for Richa, it is everything she imagined it to be and more. That it has gone on to win them many accolades, is the proverbial cherry on the cake… or should we make that pastel de nata?

Project Bombaim
Client Richa Kanoi
Location 218 AJC Bose Road, Kolkata
Area 1,250 sqft
Principal architect Animesh Nayak
Design team Shachi Chandra
Interior contractor Jeffrey Chen
Furniture manufacturer Jeffrey Chen
Graphics and creatives Conceptualized by The Space at 9/2, and executed by Jit Chowdhury