Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Writing on Walls

I was four or five years old when I started scribbling on walls, I don't remember it very clearly but the wide open canvas must have been pretty hard to resist. My mother tells me that I'd use anything that I could lay my hands on - pencils, paint, sketch pens, crayons - and my favourite subjects were abstract depictions of the English alphabet, decapitated stick figures and flowers that looked like flies.

After many failed attempts of trying to introduce me to paper and colouring books she decided to let my creativity run wild, as long as it was contained in my own room. And instead of coming after me with a cane, she came after me with a can - a can of distemper (cheap whitewash that most army households are familiar with) acquired from the painter on his nth clean-up visit. When I'd finish with my hard day's work, mom would just splash some paint over it and I'd wake up to a clean slate the next morning. I'm not sure if I liked this blatant disregard for my artistic creations but I guess it was a lot better than getting whipped for writing on walls, like some of the other kids...those kids have gone on to become NASA scientists or housekeeping assistants. But look where it got me, I am still painting and writing on walls.

Just spent two whole afternoons writing and drawing on my kitchen wall. God knows what came over me, maybe it was a recent trip to a restaurant that had illustrations all over it's walls, obviously much cooler than these.

I played around with a couple of thoughts before deciding to create a graffiti with funny quotes related to food and cooking; definitely lightens my mood and keeps the guests entertained as well. I'm not quite done with the illustrations yet and will be squeezing in a few more. In case you couldn't read some of the stuff, here's a closer look at some of the lines and illustrations...

I know you're smiling reading this, just like me :)
So long!

PS - thanks mom, for never yelling at me when I scribbled on your walls.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Jyotsna & Rajat Sethi's Dream Home

Ensconced in the Kumaon mountains, wrapped in soft white clouds and guarded by the mighty oaks, this home is a literally a piece of heaven for those who abide here. Welcome to Iris Cottage, the private getaway of two wonderful people, Jyotsna and Rajat Sethi - Jyoti didi and Keetoo mama for me as they are my friend Upasana's aunt and uncle. In fact, it's a happy coincidence that all home tours featured on my blog so far have been from the same family - the first was Upasana's brother, Anuj's pad in LA, then her own in Gurgaon and now the uncle's lovely cottage which interestingly has also been designed by Anuj - with this the family trilogy is now complete!

Located in a small village called Sagarkhet, Iris Cottage is approximately a seven hour drive from Delhi on a day when the traffic gods are favourable. I had the privilege of visiting it around three years ago and remember feeling like I was in an enchanted forest. So I wasn't surprised when Jyoti didi told me that it was Keetoo mama's idea to name the place Iris Cottage thanks to an Enid Blyton hangover that he still carries around - kinda cute for a 50 something guy - but she decided to build the connection further by bringing home a Van Gogh reproduction also titled Iris which she found outside Musée d'Orsay in Paris. This painting is the central focus of their living room and the blue colour scheme of the house flows from it.

You guys are in for a special treat this time because we are going on a tour with the lady of the house herself! So without further ado, I'll step aside and let her do the talking...

Path leading down to the entrance of Iris Cottage, located at the back of the house 

"We visited this beautiful and quaint little village in the Kumaon mountains in 1998 when we went on a camping trip with Devika and Nandini (their daughters) who were eleven and eight at the time. We fell in love with the place and talked to some people about buying a little piece of land there, if possible. A couple of months later we got a call and rushed back to purchase the very first plot of land we were shown, no exploring, no bargaining! The only thing we knew was that the plot was in an oak forest on a steep hillside, so steep that is was really difficult to walk down to see it! In hindsight it sounds really stupid but then it was also providence!"

The front of the house looks on to the magnificent mountains and every single room in this house opens out to nature

"We did not construct until 2004 because all the architects we met complained about our choice of plot and told us that the only way to build would be to cut down all the trees, flatten the land by razing the hillside and make a gigantic retaining wall. We could then have a cottage on the flattened piece of land which was not attractive to us at all! Anuj was the only one who thought out of the box and had different ideas. We were lucky that he had finished studying architecture and was in the process of applying for his masters in the US. Of course Anuj also thought that the land was a “khadda” (ditch) but took up the challenge of designing a house on that steep piece of land, keeping all the trees intact. 
So what we have now is a lovely hill house where the natural contours of the land have been woven into the design of the house and levels, not walls, demarcate the different spaces in the house. The outside of the house and the garden too is in levels and all the beautiful oak trees that were on the land remain a part of the landscape, including two tall evergreen oaks that are at the entrance of the house."
Colourful potted plants at the entrance
Through the main door and into the spacious cottage

"We knew from the outset that finishing would be an issue since most of the labour available in the hills is unskilled, plus they have their own idea of what looks good and it's difficult to make them understand otherwise. So we planned for the house to have a rough and rustic character. The other big concern was funds since we were working on a shoestring budget. So we had to come up with ideas such as dana (raised spots) in the interior walls which were finished with cheap exterior paint. The floor was done using slate which is really cheap and not a typical flooring material but the effect that it produced was that of stone."
Gorgeous rustic interiors of the cottage

L: Part of the living room that opens on to the deck; R: the lovely swing on the deck, perfect for a lazy day

"The dining table and bar is another such innovation, the table top was designed by Anuj and made by the local carpenter using simple cheap board. The bar was made out of left over pieces of wood from doors, windows and cabinets. The louvered doors and cabinet shutters in the house were also made by the local carpenter and served to keep the rustic look of the house and turned out to be cheaper than buying and installing solid wooden doors. The open plan kitchen is deliberately bare but has an interesting assortment of knick-knacks including a tall pepper mill which is my latest acquisition, I also have a pretty decent collection of mortar pestles in different shapes and sizes since I have a particular and peculiar passion for these. My pantry is always stocked with a collection of spices, sauces and other ingredients that help me whip up meals for my foodie family.
L: dining cum bar; R: open plan kitchen from where the smell of freshly baked bread often wafts through

"The design of the house is such that retaining walls have been taken into the main structure. For example, the wall behind the bed in the master bedroom is the retaining wall of the hill and is made of natural stone. The bedroom is located on the lowest level and a flight of wooden stairs leads straight to it from the living room. The roof of the bedroom is low and lined with wood, so it remains warm and cosy even on the coldest days."
L: Steps coming down to the bedroom; R: Looking into the bedroom from the steps
Split level - studio on top and kids' open planned bedroom below, leading out into the garden. 
L: wide doors that open into the garden from the kids' bedroom; R: One of the beds with a fireplace in the corner that keeps the entire house warm and cosy
The upstairs studio that houses the painting corner used by their younger daughter once in a while

"We try to go up to the cottage at least once a month to get our dose of the mountains, the crisp air, the deep blue skies and the smell of the oak forest...we love going for long walks along the village paths just to take in the sheer natural beauty of the place. Rajat and I have a passion for birding and we get to see many varieties of Himalayan birds just sitting in our balcony and he spends his time waiting to shoot birds with his zoom lens! A lot of our time is also spent pottering around the house reading and cooking.

L: entertainment nook in the living room; R: books that keep them company 
Clockwise from top left: early bird catches the worm - shot by Rajat Sethi; split level decks & garden at Iris Cottage; a full moon night that hangs like an overhead bulb; flowering pots fresh off the nursery

So that's all folks! Hope you enjoyed the tour. 
And a big thank you to the Sethis for allowing us a peek into their dream home.

*All photographs courtesy Jyotsna Sethi
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