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10 commandments of interior design
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July 08, 2006

Over the last decades, designers in India have shown themselves to be a confused lot, if only because they haven't been to handle international and Indian influences simultaneously.

Where traditional havelis have replaced the low-seating in the baithak with incongruous imported sofas, apartments in cities have attempted to play the ethnic card with ludicrous results.

India's great tradition in crafts was never intended for urban homes, and though a few designers have been able to carry it off with panache - Romi Chopra, for instance - most times the interface between cultures simply ended up in a mess.

The new millennium was all set to change that. With glass-fronted buildings springing up everywhere, complete with dazzling granite and marble floors, matte-finished steel and stark lighting and bathroom accessories, it was the moment for minimalism. Out, out the unnecessary and the decorative. In, in the white sofa, the vase for a single stalk, the two prints (no more).

No more clutter, said designers, as they put statuary and paintings, carved panels and pottery lamps, dowry chests and Afghani carpets away in storage.

The replacements might have been simple, but they cost a pretty packet  - the floor lamp a couple of lakhs, the shaggy rug and sofa a ransom, the huge centre table with grooves cut in place for three candles, as much as a luxury sedan.

The TV made way for the plasma screen. The gallery of family photographs was banished for viewing on the computer monitor, suggestive of porn rather than shared fun. And though there was so little kept on any surfaces, you couldn't simply put anything anywhere.

The fruit bowl was never to be overfilled with fruit - that was so anti-minimalism as to put the entire movement at risk. The nightshelf on the bedside table was okay to hold a piece of installation, but banish the thought that it might be used to stack books you might want to read or, worse, your medicines. Even bathrooms went bare, all gels and shampoos and lotions hidden behind concealed cupboards.

So, you wanted minimalism, you got it - what's the fuss about?

Well, actually, just that minimalism in India doesn't work. Not even with the brave new generation that thinks differently from us old fogeys. Because inside every Indian is a magpie that likes to collect all manner of things - gawdy, trashy, even - yuck! - traditional. An ashtray here, a couple of throw rugs there, some pictures on the table, silver and glass, objets d'art that make you smile nostalgically, gifts from friends.

But more than anything else, the reason why minimalism hasn't worked in India is because - unlike in Shanghai and Manhattan, for instance - our cities don't have a skyline that is theatrical.

You can sit in Hong Kong watching the light change as it reflects off skyrises, clouds drifting across the mirrored surfaces, gold limining their outlines at dusk till the kaleidioscope of the night adds a more dramatic dimension to the view from any apartment.

In India, on the other hand, buildings are not built for the view. Not in Gurgaon, where dusty fields, construction rubble and the occasional highrise in the distance offend the eye. Not in Mumbai where uninterrupted views of the sea are rare. Not in Bangalore which is not highrise, but a tentative mid-rise with concrete facades that do nothing to attract eyeballs.

Indian interiors are about what's inside an apartment. So, even though you might be in a modern tower that has Shanghai's sensibility, you'll want to watch what's inside your apartment, not outside.

Bring back the clutter, already?

Not yet, no. Designers agree that the overflowing museum-in-a-home look is of the past. But homes still need a sense of drama. They must be operatic settings. The appointments must supply the dialogue to please the senses.

Thus, the 10 commandments of interior design, should you make your home in an apartment.

Use colour. Boldly if necessary, but not by itself: just a wall painted gold isn't dramatic enough. Outline niches, alcoves or the wall itself in a light pastel, or white. Create highlights on the painted wall. Place your seating in such a way that you are forced to look at it. Display it.

Have art. It's sexier than diamonds on a woman. Don't believe me? Ask any gallerist... Contemporary art is the new collectible, and jokes about hanging it upside down are so last century!

Place furniture in the centre of a room, like an island. No more wall-to-wall seating. Three armchairs and a lamp on a rug are enough. Visitors? Entertain them at the bistro down the road.

The day of the mirror is done. With so much glass around, the mirror has no more role in any interior.

Bathrooms = luxury. Must haves: a jacuzzi, a library and a bar. Yes, in the bathroom.

Tut-tut, you don't have servants cooking dinner for you, do you? Not in that huge kitchen which the servants will mess up. Besides, the Caesar salad matches your interiors - and Kamla Bai is hardly good for the cheese fondue. Of course, the kitchen is air-conditioned - that's where you entertain, right?

Artworks must be global. Glass bottles. Small installations. Wood-carved Indonesian "flowers". But traditional isn't trendy unless it's tribal.

Yep, gotta have plants. Exotic, of a necessity. No palms, but if you have space for a small pool on the terrace, a small grove of dwarf bamboos would do very nicely.

Teak doors and wardrobes - eeks! Doors are now leather padded, with buckled steel straps. Or matte-finished in silver. Any New Age material will do, but wood is so not in.


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