Naturally Contemporary

Siddarth Garrimela-led Esquisse Designs dovetails modern aesthetics and a warm spirit in this Mumbai penthouse — creating not a showplace, but an abode hallmarked by personalised timelessness.

Text: Rupali Sebastian
Photographs: Photographix India, Courtesy Esquisse Designs

Architect Siddarth Garrimela

Leaving the safety net of a joint family to establish a unit of one’s own always gives rise to mixed feelings. On one hand is the loss of the security and back-ups that living in a large family affords, on the other, the excitement of creating one’s little slice of heaven. For this young couple, that slice of heaven — in the form of a 2,800-square-foot duplex apartment — reposed in one of Mumbai’s prestigious high-rises. And to make it even more… heavenly, the lady of the house approached Siddarth Garrimela, principal architect and founder of Esquisse Designs with whom she enjoyed aesthetic kinship having worked with him earlier. “She and I think alike,” he declares. “She was absolutely against anything synthetic.” While the core design idea revolved around words such as “vibrant, classy, high-end and modern,” he adds further, “there was a conscious attempt to lace these traits with warmth and earthiness. Once that was established, other things fell smoothly into place.”

The hero of the space was undoubtedly the view: the urban sprawl of a throbbing metropolis, the ferry wharf at Bhaucha Dhakka, the Nhava Sheva container port… “A vista infinitely better than just a watery view that turns into a black patch at night,” emphasises Siddarth. “This meant that we had to consciously work towards meshing the inside and the outside to leverage the vantage point.” But while the views from this apartment in the sky were stunning, the internal programme needed a lot of alteration. The rooms were afflicted with that bane of Mumbai apartments — small dimensions. So the design team gutted down all the internal partitions, except those of the kitchen and the two children’s toilets. “We created spaces that didn’t exist earlier,” reveals the architect. “That essentially was the challenge in this project. To create space. To deal with the compact dimensions and somehow make the home look larger. The aesthetics were never a problem; the success of the project hinged upon what plan we’d give the clients.” While the number of bedrooms units has been maintained at four (one below and three above), the restructuring yielded a foyer near the three bedrooms upstairs with a mandir area, a 17-foot-long walk-in closet for the lady of the house and storage for staff.

Classy and contemporary it may be, but this duplex is also replete with vibrancy, rendered through elements imbued with a ‘natural’ property. Space — or the lack of it — was a challenge. Volume was ‘added’ by lining the ceiling with mirrors — which also makes the space somewhat surreal. The glorious yellow sofas — a point of much discussion between the architect and his clients — and elements such as the ladder display unit point to a certain intrepidness in design.

In the task of making the home appear larger, the first ‘zone of reclamation’ was the ceiling in the living-dining room, where the architect and his team discovered an incredible three-foot-high space wasted above the builder-provided ceiling. Leaving enough room for music speakers — “the quality of music was very, very important to the gentleman,” discloses Siddarth — the new (and higher) ceiling was finished in plywood-backed mirror panels, which not only add illusory volume but also lend a surrealist, reflective tone to the room.

Materiality performed a great role in setting the natural-meets-contemporary aesthetic direction. Timber, copper, concrete-finish paint, painted brick and nickel were teamed with rough-textured natural stone — matte marble, rough-hewn granite and burnt travertine. Wood, one of the stars of the material palette, was assiduously courted by visiting warehouses and timber yards in search of pieces that could be integrated into tables, chairs and headboards. Driftwood furniture was sourced from Indonesia. Now, pure wood flooring of the living/dining spaces continues as deck flooring in the balcony, creating a cohesive inside-outside feel heightened by the large floor-to-ceiling sheers-lined windows. While the material selection was responsible for establishing the essence of the space, its application impacted how it would be perceived. “The intent was to create a space that was stark yet, paradoxically, possessed a certain richness,” says Siddarth. “Therefore, materials were applied as large monolithic expanses — ‘erasing’ things such as doors. We stayed away from needless embellishments.”

There was a conscious effort to integrate the outdoors with the indoors — and one strategy that enabled this was the flooring. The timber flooring of the living room segues seamlessly into that of the balcony, with large floor-to-ceiling windows strengthening the connection between the enclosed and the alfresco.

The gravitas of the concrete-timber combination was lightened with quirky, unexpected elements, best seen in the living room — a ladder-like display unit, decor elements sourced from Mumbai’s flea markets, a coffee-maker, a cascade of lights… and a suite of yellow sofas that now defines its forward-looking yet rooted character. “The sofa,” smiles the architect, “was a point of much debate. I wanted it; the clients were apprehensive. But I must say, they were open to experimentation. They rose to it.”

Almost zen in demeanour, the master bedroom speaks a language of serenity and warmth. The ‘unsophisticated’ sophistication is largely established by the brick-textured backdrop and rough wooden surfaces.

Much of the warmth evidenced in the home emanates from family memories and vignettes of their personalities that have been woven into the space (especially bedrooms) as photographs taken by the man of the house. So while cherished moments of togetherness are displayed in a gallery-like setting near the main door to the house, the master bedroom exhibits artfully taken photographs depicting familial bonds. And if you are welcomed in the son’s room by close-ups of his foot and a football, his hand holding a chess piece and his hands, again, holding Lego pieces (he loves sports and likes to ‘make’ things), one of the walls in his sister’s room flaunts pictures of her growing up.

The favourite colour of little girls all over the world comes here as a graphic representation of a Cherry Blossom tree and a quirky suspended seat in the daughter’s bedroom.

So what learnings has he taken back with him from this project, we ask Siddarth. “Stay true to oneself, avoid excesses and…,” he pauses for effect, “be fearless about using yellow sofas!”

A contemporary space with a warm soul, articulated with clean-lined forms and natural materials.

Floor: Timber, matte marble and metal sheets
Walls: Concrete paint, metal sheets, wood, painted brick and mirror
Ceiling: Mirror and wood

Project: A Home with a View
Location: Mumbai
Area: 2,800 sq ft
Principal architect: Siddarth Garrimela
Design team: Prashant Dasvant