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Heritage goes glam

In the search for that extra touch of class, young entrepreneurs are unearthing architectural marvels that even the heritage list has missed — and preserving these gems by turning them into fine-dining restaurants and boutiques.

mumbai Updated: Jul 11, 2010 01:44 IST
Bhairavi Jhaveri

Every few weeks, those dreaded aluminium sheets go up around one more property in Bandra, signalling that yet another old bungalow has bitten the dust.

The grading system for Mumbai heritage

Grade-I heritage structures are buildings and precincts of national or historical importance, or examples of excellence in architectural style, material usage or aesthetics. These are structures that have been or are prime landmarks.
Examples: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Gateway of India, Flora Fountain
Grade-II (A & B) heritage structures are buildings and precincts of regional or local importance, with special architectural or aesthetic merit, or cultural or historical significance. These are local landmarks, which contribute to the image and identity of the area. They may be the work of master craftsmen or models of proportion and ornamentation.
Example: Municipal headquarters at Fort, Amarchand Mansion in Colaba
Grade-III heritage structures are buildings and precincts of importance to the local townscape. They evoke architectural, aesthetic or sociological interest and contribute to the character of the area. They may also be representative of the lifestyle of a particular community or region.
Example: Most of the Art Deco buildings on Marine Drive

But in parts of the suburb, a new retail trend is finally offering some protection to a few of these old homes — while also giving plush new boutiques and restaurants a touch of class they would be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Take Mozaic, 37-year-old Shilpa Gupta's home furnishing boutique.

Packed with ornate chandeliers, carved wooden side tables and crystal goblets, she could have gone ultra-modern with the store itself.

"But I wanted a stunning venue to match the sensibilities of my store," she says. So she alighted on Victory Villa, a 68-year-old, Portuguese-style bungalow on Turner Road.

"With its old mosaic flooring, arched doorways and intricate front porch, all it took was a fresh coat of paint and some mood lighting and it now cuts down every ultra-modern glass building around to size," she laughs.

This kind of "adaptive reuse", as it is called in the West, is ideal for unique structures that fall through the cracks and fail to make it to the list of protected heritage structures.

"In a city with so much history and heritage, it's hard to get protected status for every deserving structure. We are now getting experts to recommend new additions, but until recently it was just activists and locals doing the rounds," says heritage committee member Vikas Dilawari. "Adaptive reuse makes the most economic sense in the long run."

The really good news is, the trend is catching on. Just down the road from Gupta's one-month-old Mozaic — incidentally, she has bought the bungalow as a good investment and great location and has saved lakhs on rent already — is the Snip spa.

Last month, Goa-based couple Sumeet and Archana Bhobe replaced clothing boutique Escada in the ground floor of the 90-year-old Patkar Villa bungalow, another impressive but unlisted site.

This is the couple's first Mumbai outlet and, as such, they were looking to make an impression.

"Which is why this bungalow with Corinthian pillars and original Burma teakwood construction was the perfect choice," says Sumeet.

The three-member Patkar family continues to live upstairs, having leased half the ground to Snip and the other half to an upcoming jewellery store.

This way, their beloved home can finally begin to pay for its own maintenance. And since both the lessees have picked the structure for its history and architecture, there is no danger of them wanting to alter or redevelop it.

At the other end of the city, on Madam Cama Road in Colaba, twenty-six-year-old Kajal Fabiani, a first-time restaurateur, finally found in March the perfect European-style venue for her dream Italian restaurant.

Villa 39 is now cosily settled into the ground floor of Amarchand Mansion, a Grade IIA heritage structure.

"I fell in love with the arches, the stone finish…" Fabiani gushes. "And a certain amount of glamour and prestige comes with a heritage property, which is why I was in search of just such a site for my restaurant."

Also in Colaba is Maithili Ahluwalia's interiors store, Bungalow 8, ensconced in Grants Building, Colaba — built in 1857. "When more niche business owners like me move into an old building, we are validating that old is gold," says Ahluwalia, who was drawn to the building by its Burma teak rafters, iron columns and wide wooden staircases.

"It had just the right number of old elements to allow for reinterpretation within the modern context," she says.

The newest addition to the growing brood of 'adaptive reusers' is designer Sabyasachi, whose first Mumbai outlet is right next door to Muse (formerly Upadastra House) at Kala Ghoda.

In 2007, Tarini Jindal bought the Grade IIA heritage structure for what is now her three-storey designer fashion store. This area is now becoming a noted high fashion address.

"There is only one flip side to this conservation trend," says conservation architect Pankaj Joshi. "Heritage could end up being equated with elitism, given that these stores offer very little scope for the local man to experience these heritage sites."

But it is a global trend, he adds. "It began in London 50 years ago and has worked wonders there."