On a different beat

Visiting the StoneLife Super Studio in Hyderabad is like walking into a different world — a tropical haven replete with lush greenery, a water body, and the soft chirping of birds — which also happens to be a showroom filled with the finest curation of natural stones, marbles and Balinese artefacts and sculptures. Slow claps to architect Aamir Sharma and landscapist Naveen Panuganti, the creators of this paradiso.

Text: Deepa Nair; Photographs: Ricken Desai, courtesy StoneLife Super Studio

Landscape architect Naveen Panuganti and architect Aamir Sharma

It was a hot summer day in Hyderabad, a blazing 43 degrees, when architect Aamir Sharma of the famed Aamir & Hameeda was taken to an empty two-acre property — with three massive trees, a flat land with hard soil, and zero vegetation — by his friend Dheeraj Jain, and was assigned the job to create an experiential retail space for natural stones and exotic marbles for the latter’s brand StoneLife. This was to be StoneLife’s third retail venture in six years since its inception. “Dheeraj has been a friend for years, and is also my biking buddy,” smiles Aamir. “StoneLife is where we buy all the natural stones we use in our projects, so we know the brand well,” he adds. As the trust in the architect and his design prowess was long established, the only brief from the client was to design something unique and exotic by utilizing the brand’s products for its creation.

Aamir tells me that the entire project started with a sketch: “I spent an afternoon and evening with Dheeraj and my other close friends (also part of this venture) Vishal Jain and G Pavan Kumar, sketching the project. And I still remember how patiently they looked on, were intrigued at times and were so mesmerized with the outcome that they showed the sketch as a presentation to their partners, Subram Kapoor and Brijesh Chandwani.” The design plan which evolved, revolved in and around preserving the three neem trees at the property.

A view of the entrance. A visitor comes through an enclosed lobby space and is greeted by light and volume inside. Yet the outside setting where a large live tree surrounded by a water body grabs attention first.

This is where landscape architect Naveen Panuganti of Hyderabad-based Naveen Associates walked in and the project started taking shape. After some good thought, the architect and landscapist decided to create the main structure around a neem tree. Everything else, just fell into place after this design move.

For ease of understanding, let me take you on a tour of this grand place — slowly and leisurely. Pass the gates of StoneLife today and the warmth and beauty of the exterior landscape will cajole you to stay outdoors for a long time. Yes, Naveen’s green magic preludes the main structure too. “One and a half years prior to the design of the super studio, the clients and I visited Bali for a week scouting for studios and workshops dealing with Balinese artefacts,” says Naveen, who had also worked with StoneLife on many of his landscaping projects. “Since this studio was to trade in different kind of stones from all over the world with special emphasis on Balinese artefacts, the tropical landscape design (both inside and outside) was envisioned to showcase and accentuate these products,” he adds.

A waterbody was created by the artefact to mirror the neem tree, besides forming a tank of sort to harvest rain water. The carefully selected tropical plants and the garden/pond accessories completes this paradise-like habitat.

Pass a rundown metal and wood door in blue sourced from an old home, and you’ll enter the lobby area which highlights the Bvalgiri tiles and a jaali made from handmade ceramic tiles. You’ll be taken in by surprise and awe, as you step into a voluminous space… a whole new world where every single design, landscape and product seem in perfect harmony with each other. This is the main structure, which is further segregated into an outdoor (with a roof and skylights at intervals) and an indoor space. While the indoor structure — which sees the use of PEB, puff panels, metal and glass in its construction — displays all the natural stones, exotic marbles and a fine selection of Balinese artefacts and furniture; the exterior is a tropical paradise of sorts replete with a live tree, a waterbody and some more one-of-a-kind exterior tiles, curios and furniture. Aamir has consciously accommodated the office space for the directors in the outdoor section, on a mezzanine floor, so that they enjoy the view while working.

A view of the wall of masks — each, a unique one at that — which line the staircase that leads to the offices of the directors on the mezzanine. Note the gravel floor with stepping stones, an unusual set-up for the wooden sculpture, and the artistic bench and stools which are on sale.

In and around the focal locus of the design — the live tree — the architects have ensured that there is no dull moment for a visitor… every single corner has an element of surprise and intrigue. Therefore, some parts of this courtyard-like outdoor area has a gravelled floor, the other has artificial grass and some patches gave way for exterior tile floors. On these varied floor settings, artefacts, sculptures and furniture sit pretty. The protagonist of the story in this space, however, remains the neem tree which is further accentuated by the waterbody which was formed around it. “We created a huge water body around the tree to act as mirror pool as well as to collect rainwater. It also has the functional purpose of being a heat sink — in a semi-arid climatic region such as Hyderabad, it reduces the dry heat and induces enough humidity to create a comfortable environment,” explains Naveen. “This live tree, the waterbody and the lush tropical plants invite birds, squirrels and other small wild life,” Aamir adds.

Tandoor stone was used as the flooring material indoors, as the products on display would shine through when set against a rustic backdrop. Note the edges of the wall which are lined with pebble and gravel troughs, which breaks monotony. Plush custom-made sofas converse with raw wood chairs and a coffee table (in a seating corner); and swanky lights hover over dining tables and chairs made from a single block of wood.

The indoor area is air-conditioned and can be rightfully called a treasure trove of natural stones and marbles. Aamir hit the design brief bang on as he ensured that no element screams over the products retailed here. A gorgeous wall of side tables, a bespoke bike handcrafted from teak wood, a gallery-like corner assigned to a tile collection, a dining table above which hovers an artful multi-hued sculpture and unique artefacts and sculptures, and furniture at strategic locations makes browsing through the store an experience like no other. “Most of the walls here have been used for tile display, either in its application or on cassettes made with metal — it can be hung like a magazine cover displaying the wide array of natural stone and other exotic materials,” explains Aamir.

The focus does not shift from the wide selection of natural stones and marbles displays. But Aamir ensured that there are small design surprises at regular intervals to break the monotony.

A project of this magnitude where many thinking minds were involved needs perfect coordination, and a respect for each other’s craft — and this project is a fitting example of the same. “Aamir was very close to this project,” says Dheeraj. “He once told me that it would turn out better than any other project of his or Naveen’s — they were so involved that both of them would visit the sites during day and night on the final stages. This journey was what it required to complete a project of this magnitude,” he adds. Aamir signs off with a simple but effective line, “The clients remained stunned, shocked and breathless (in a positive way) most of the time during this project, and that’s how I like it…”

To create a showroom for natural stones, marbles and handpicked artful artefacts which gives customer a unique experience.

Walls: Paint, Bvlgari stone
Floor: Tandoor stone, artificial grass, gravel
Furniture: Natural wood, leather

Project: StoneLife Super Studio
Location: Vattinagulapalle, Financial District, Telangana
Principal architect: Aamir Sharma (Aamir & Hameeda)
Landscape architect: Naveen Panuganti (Naveen Associates)
Landscape design team: Shubhakar, Manikanta, Krishna Mani (Naveen Associates)
Contractor: Abhinay Konda
Plants: Srinivas (M/s Pavan Sai Nursery)