Architectural Digest Magazine, August 2008

Subcontinental Composition
Near Mumbai, Southeast Asian and British Colonial touches Mark a grand house

Architecture by Made Wijaya with Bomi Irani (Project Architect) | Interior Design by Sunil Jasani |
Landscape Design by PT. Wijaya Tribwana International | Text by Penelope Rowlands |
Photography by Tim Street-Porter

“I convinced them to have more of a plantation house, like in the West Indies,” architect Made Wijaya says of the couple for whom he designed an Alibag, India, residence (above) on the Arabian sea. Wijaya worked on the interiors with designer Sunil Jasani.

For a visitor new to the Mumbai coast, the cultural differences begin at the front door. Or, rather, the lack of one. “It’s an open house,” the wife says of the plantation-style weekend residence that she and her husband share on the Alibag Peninsula, just outside the city. “It doesn’t have a proper entrance.”
Instead, you can enter the space she calls “the main transit room” through any of its dozen tall, glass-paned doors. Or you might step into another room all together by way of the colonnaded corridor extending around much of the exterior, its floor, of Kotha stone, as reflective as water.
Although “it’s a tropical house, South Indian Style,” according to its architect, Made Wijaya, “its bones are British colonial.” This is particularly true of the first floor, with its colonnade and stone arches. On the second floor, other influences come into play. What Wijaya calls its “timber elements” —balustrades and the like—are classically South Indian, while some of the windows and doors come from Southeast Asia.

Mumbai-based artist Chiru Chakravarty created the mosaic floor in the entrance hall. The votive statues are from Java and date to the island’s Hindu era.

The architect is himself a hybrid. Born in Australia, he moved to Bali at the age of 35, changing his name from Michael White and developing a reputation for his landscape design. “I’m Truman Capote with machete,” he jokes, alluding to both his flamboyant personality and his way with tropical plantings.
The house is nestled in a betel palm grove and so close to the Arabian Sea that “when it’s high tide, we have water at the gate,” the wife says. Although it’s large—some 15.000 square feet—the structure’s colonnade and numerous terraces reduce its mass, making it seem skeletal, wide open to nature.

Wijaya’s influences for the house came from all over South and Southeast Asia. The floor of the dining terrace, which is sited on the east side of the house to protect it from the ocean winds, was inspired by the Dutch colonial style found on Java; giant urli, traditional South Indian cooking vessels, are filled with bougainvillea bracts; and the furnishing are from Cebu, Philippines. Local basalt was used for the arches, as throughout the exterior.

Life here, in favorable weather, move seamlessly between inside and out; many spaces, including the main dining area, are outdoors. But India is a land of strong, sometimes unforgiving seasons, and the way in which almost every room is used can fluctuate with the time of year.
For the interior design, the owners turned to Sunil Jasani, of Fine Lines Designers in Mumbai; he and Wijaya joined forces in what the latter call “a happy collaboration.” Bright hues play a key part in the Indian vernacular: “When you go into the village, there’s so much color all over,” notes the wife. So it was only natural that they wanted to “give each room a different look,” in Jasani’s words, they did so by chromatic means.

“Australian decorators of my vintage are a bit theatrical in their interior design,” remarks Wijaya (formerly known as Michael White), who moved to Bali 35 years ago. In the loggia on the second floor, a Thai temple figure functions as a backdrop. The two doors, the antique Batavia chair, the gerobags, or chests, and the gamelan gong are from Java. Having a plethora of doors for ventilation is practical in India, notes Jasani.

The entrance hall is expansive, as reception rooms in Indian houses tend to be, and it has that particular gift, perhaps unique to the subcontinent, of using predominately muted tones—in this case, browns and beiges—in such a subtle way that the effect is somehow colorful. The adjacent study, by contrast, sizzles with bright, citrusy stones. Its walls are an acid green, and there’s a raspberry-silk-upholstered divan festooned with orange-striped draperies—all atop a bright yellow inlaid floor. The Thai statue at the end of the room is one of “lots and lots of Buddhas” in the house, the wife says. “They give such a sense of calm and peace.”
Such qualities apply to the interior spaces, too, notably the main sitting room—a loggia on the second floor with a soaring wood ceiling. This room was designed in part with acoustic in mind. To magnify the sound of waves crashing on the beach below, “we wanted to have it as high as possible,” explains the wife. “We felt that the higher it was, the more of an echo there would be.”

The wrought iron bed in the master bed-room is an old divan Jasani and the wife found on one of their shopping forays in Mumbai. “We added curtains to make it a little more dressy,” he says.

She came up with the idea of adding a pair of rectangular tile patterns—illusory carpets—to the floor. “There’s so much wood in the house,” she says. “I wanted this look to lift it.” She found an ancient carpet pattern in a book on the royal textiles of India, then had it re-created in mosaic form by artist Chiru Chakravarty. Flamingly bright, in turquoise, white and orange, this tilework indeed elevate the space while organizing it into discrete seating areas.

The hanging lamp in the dining room off the guest bungalow was made by Balinese artist Wayan Cemul.

Though near Mumbai, the area feels “a bit in the country,” says Wijaya, who sited the house in a way that honored the wife’s wish to keep all 280 of the property’s palms intact. Putting his approach in a larger context, the architect explains, “In Delhi, the colonial style is more Palladian. On the coast, the British gave way to their fantasies.”

As in a fanciful Indian legend, the house, with all of its attendant life, disappears on schedule once a year. “We kind of cover the place up,” the wife says, describing how, in the months-long monsoon season, the rear ocean-facing part of the house is draped in 13-floor-high jute panels to protect it from this perspective, wrapped, stark and monochromatic, it looks as if Christo and Jeanne-Claude happened by and were just beginning to transform this already artful residence into one of their signature works.

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