What do home and garden experts do when it comes to designing their own spaces? That’s exactly what prompted us to visit celebrated architect Pinakin Patel’s living room in Alibag, on the outskirts of Mumbai, and landscape artist Deepak Badhwar’s lavish garden in Hauz Khas, Delhi. Here’s what we discovered.
Live and let live
Architect & interior designer Pinakin Patel’s living room is all about himself.
There’s no formal entrance door to celebrated architect and interior designer Pinakin Patel’s living room and house in Chondhi, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Rather, after following a rambling path into a courtyard and through a garden, one arrives at a double set of French doors that marks the beginning of the house. This, I find, is just the first of many surprises that delight one about this living space.Firstly, there’s the complete and utter silence, although Chondhi is a stone’s throw away from Alibag and Mandwa, both popular weekend destinations across the harbour from Mumbai. "I deliberately designed the house so that one gets out of one’s car far way and walks in," explains Patel. "This way the noise and pollution stay far away." Next is the uncanny symmetry that is a unique feature of the house, with one door directly opposite another. "I have an obsession for it," admits Patel when I quiz him. "But it is also a vastu principle." The other dominating feature of the room is the central gadda unit. "This is my favourite piece of Indian furniture, and it is so versatile," explains Patel.
“Unlike a standard sofa, a gadda can also be dressed up or down. It’s also conducive to relaxation – you kick off your shoes, you can chat, sleep, listen to music or play cards – it can even be an extra bed if you need one.” Flanking it are two sofas, each set off by a square mirrored table, which Patel says “acts like a jewel and brings a sparkle to the room”.
Other elements of the home are also unique – the rough Shahabad stone floor, the inexpensive wall panelling (it’s usually used for the insides of cabinets, says Patel), and the books (usually coffee table tomes, segregated according to category), that are neatly arranged on practically every table. “I don’t believe in having a formal library,” says Patel. “This way, I can find a book wherever I am in the house.”
Patel maintains that a living room “is almost like your family name in an urban environment”. “When I design one, I get all family members together and ask them what is the common message they want to send out,” he says. “There is no such thing as fashions in living rooms, and there’s nothing wrong in the room reflecting that the people living there have ‘arrived’.”
When asked what the most common mistake is when people plan a living room, Patel says that instead of designing the room “for the 300 days when you will use it, people design it for the 65 days when they will have guests.” “Live in your living room, since you spend so little time at home,” says Patel, “Don’t have different layers of home.”
That’s also why he’s not rigid about having a TV in the room, or a wash basin in the space next to the dining area. “You can find a stylish way to mask this,” explains Patel. “Be honest, do not do things for effect, and don’t become a slave to style.”
That’s also why he isn’t bothered by the fact that his living room is not as much of a showpiece as it could be. “I could have Italian marble and a whole lot more,” says Patel, “But what I have done I have done for my own delight. Even my pictures are not hung on the wall but rather stand against the wall on tables so that I can move them around.”
As a parting thought, Patel offers a final bit of advice. “If there is a sore point in interiors, it is the budget. So many people have been made to feel small about their budget. But even when we moved here, we didn’t let the budget bog us down. Don’t let anyone fool you about this.”
The dining room
Patel says his first rule when designing such a room is to “question its very existence”. He adds, “A dining room can be redundant in urban areas. A six or eight-seater table is a waste of space – instead I encourage using a folding table, or a smaller table (with a study table placed near it that can be used to serve salads or desserts), or a counter where people can eat meals.”
Patel describes his own dining room as “more of a lunch space”. “This is because when people come to visit us on weekends, they usually arrive in time for lunch.” A dining table can have hundreds of interpretations, says Patel. Before you plan one, analyse your entertaining pattern, food style and how many people will use it at any point of time.
Patel loves to use white, since “with so much green outside, white is a very flattering colour. But I ensure that the interiors are easy to maintain. Chairs have slipcovers, so they can be bleached or starched, or are made from artificial leather so they can be washed.”
Patel’s dining table is a mirrored one. “It uses a geometric inlay of mirrors to deconstruct images and create an edgy mosaic in the room.”
He designs formal gardens for his clients, but landscape artist Deepak Badhwar prefers a kind of tropical forest for himself
The best place to seek God is in the garden. It’s a belief that has been part of landscape artist Deepak Badhwar’s philosophy and work for the last 29 years. As a botanist, Badhwar adds to the beauty of a house either in the form of potted plants or through a peaceful garden.
In his career, he’s designed Mediterranean gardens, Islamic-style scented gardens, water streams, ponds and formal gardens in homes and farmhouses. So his own garden at his Hauz Khas residence is a surprise. With about 700 sq ft of space at his disposal, Badhwar hasn’t created a garden with its implications of a formally designed landscape blooming with flowers.
Rather, it looks like a jungle, a wild looking place, covered with ferns, bushes and creepers. But this is not a case of a doctor refusing to heal himself. If Badhwar’s garden looks like a jungle, it’s by design, not laziness. “I am fond of the unconventional and I really love the wild look,” says Badhwar.
“That’s why I decided to give my garden a tropical forest look. But my garden has only looked like this for the last three and a half years. Before that, I had a typical Delhi garden, complete with flowers and the works.” Badhwar’s jungle retreat begins with a lovely wooden bridge with a little pond on the right, complete with water lilies and about 1,200 fish.
The fish, he explains, are important. They help maintain the ecological balance of the garden and to keep it completely insect-free. “Every year the municipal corporation people come to my house with the intention of issuing a challan but they never find even a single mosquito here,” he laughs.
“That’s because of the fish. They are all mosquito-eating fish, so there is no way that mosquitoes can breed here despite the greenery.” To keep the fish in peak mosquito-destroying condition, Badhwar doesn’t feed them. “They get enough to eat thanks to mosquitoes and even weeds that fall into the water,” he says. Badhwar also refuses to use any form of pesticide. If it’s necessary, he uses tobacco to treat the plants.
There are not a whole lot of trees in Badhwar’s ‘tropical forest’. There are a few, such as the khajoor, but even that has been trimmed to a very short height. Mostly, there are creepers and much tropical ground cover. As for flowers, Badhwar plants just one or two varieties.
“The garden is not very difficult to maintain but it does need to be pruned at times,” he says. “So a gardener comes three times a week and I take care of things on a daily basis.” The plants need to be watered at least twice a day in summer and once a day in winter. “But I need to be careful about extreme weather conditions,” says Badhwar.
“Aside from that, the bad quality of water available in Delhi can actually spoil the plants. And rats are something I really need to be very careful about, since I don’t use any pesticides. But then, I don’t want to hurt the squirrels.”