Visiting heritage structures are in itself a visual treat. The enthusiasm doubles when one comes across house owners, who are not only extremely aware of the need to preserve such buildings but also modify their lifestyle as best suited to the same.
Such are the vibes that abound in every nook and corner of this compact abode situated at Sundarapuri. Its current owners are Uma Maheshwari and Ashok Yethiraj. Having purchased this house more than a decade ago, the couple have painstakingly refurbished it and added extensions while not deviating in the least from the original style of construction.
The house aptly named ‘Sundara Illam’, displays a pretty quotient that is worthy of a picture postcard! The walls are a pristine white, offset by the brick red of the natural terracotta roofing, burnished tones of wooden pillars and surrounding greenery. Standing before this simple but arresting structure, the gaze is immediately pulled towards the upper floor. A balcony at a higher level is an aesthetic way of keeping the connect between the outdoors and the inner dwelling. The decorative balustrades that frame this outdoor space, on the top as well as serving as a parapet wall is extremely eye catching and lends much beauty to the feel-good countenance of this home that is said to be over 80 years old.
While the centre portion of the house consisting of the smooth egg shell and lime-lined walls make up the original structure, the twin rectangular portions that exist in parallel lines on either side are a more recent addition. They blend in so beautifully to the original framework that if not mentioned by the owner, the subtle differences are not immediately visible to the layperson’s eyes.
Self admittedly, Uma is passionate about heritage buildings, vintage furniture, and artefacts. A corner of her home houses a miniature collection of brass cookware utensils which she inherited from her grandmother. The furniture is an eclectic mix of wood inlaid with tile, collected from an antique store and others restored or gathered over the course of time. The interior aesthetics veer more towards spartan and minimalist rather than an excess of grandeur. The sort of contrast between ethnicity and modernity is what sets this neat home apart in looks and character.
The many wooden windows with its double shutters and vertical black railings gleam with the obvious care that has been lavished on their upkeep. The walls in most of the rooms contain wooden cupboards which match the veneer on the windows. These too are extremely attractive in their functionality. They provide flushed storage spaces that do not infringe into the pathways or living spaces.
The stairway to the upper chamber is located rather unusually inside one of the side rooms and not in a common space. The reason behind it becomes apparent as the stairs lead to an area meant for a sole occupant. Before getting to that, the narrow but heavy wooden set of stairs deserves special mention. It’s rather tall and the illusion is further heightened by the fact that it ends in a wooden box-like landing, the kind that one visualizes in a fairy tale princess novel. It forms the perfect setting for a Romeo-and-Juliet-type enactment if ever a young performer had the chance here to act out childhood fantasies!
Behind the landing is an arched, low doorway that leads into an open room which on one side houses the sleeping arrangement, complete with book shelves and space required for other comforts. The other end is fitted with a stark and simple bathroom furnished with modern amenities. In between that openness lays the doorway to the balcony that is visible from the driveway.
The flooring for the newly constructed portions was done by artisans from Pondicherry and blends attractively with the older floor which was the result of a skilled workforce of generations past. While Uma is conscious that every day spills are glaringly noticeable on such floors, over time, these smudges add distressed charms that are in keeping with the vintage appeal of the place.
The floor at the entrance is treated to a blue oxide finish that looks like it’s a reflection of the sunny sky above, interspersed with paler, cloudy tufts. Many a painter would strive to achieve this sort of finish which at Sundara Illam has happened naturally with exposure to nature’s elements.
The opposing view, when standing beside the intricately carved front door, is of the gate with its roadside backdrop of majestic Neem trees. The line-up of these imposing trees, known for their therapeutic anti-bacterial properties, stretch out just enough as if they were planted especially for this home. Close to the gate, is situated a quaint well in working condition.
Another feature that is noticeable is the lack of tile work in any part of the house other than on the kitchen walls. This was done deliberately so as to not mar the look that this house shares with many of its ilk that existed, before the current building accessories found their way into newer living requirements.
On display at this charming residence are building nuances that are now becoming the objects of fascination with architect designers from far and wide. For example, rounded walls that have never been subject to chemical paints, large solid beams weathered to last many generations of continued living and above all, the alignment of rooms which allow the ease to live during all weather conditions in an environmentally sustainable manner.
The positioning of the windows away from the afternoon sun, the open doorways that form a straight line to encourage cross ventilation, an uninhibited flow of air and energy combined with sloped roofs that absorb heat and do not allow water stagnation, go a long way in ensuring the longevity of such structures.
The fact that architecture is a science to be approached, keeping in mind the understanding of the surroundings, is a lesson to be imbibed from the elders, who fashioned homes of this kind which exhibit a deep understanding of involved living.
In order to maintain it as such while tackling current mind-sets requires utmost dedication and a complete love for the land. Sundara Illam is where the visitor is transported to a tranquil space that embodies all of the values that make heritage homes, priceless works of art!