Join us on a voyage through the world’s most influential interior design traditions, starting with the colours and textures of India…
At Pooky our designs for lights and shades draw inspiration from right across the planet… but actually that’s hardly surprising, since the best interior design is generally a glorious mish-mash of influences, from local to global. So in our new blog series we’re exploring some of the most important interior decor and design traditions and cultures around the world.
And where better to start than India? Rich in tradition and with a wealth of artisan skills, India also offers a unique interpretation of contemporary styles and approaches, with a new generation of designers skillfully blending old and new.
Meena Bagh, a Himachal cottage in Shimla. Image credit.
In a country as vast and as varied in climate, culture and geography as India, there is no single archetypal approach to design. Shimla, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, and Thiruvananthapuram in the southern state of Kerala both have their fair share of buildings dating from the colonial era but when it comes to interiors, there’s a marked difference. Nevertheless, there are certain elements that bind India together. We’ll aim to give you a flavour….
A rich heritage
Long before the arrival of European colonialists, India – or rather the states that now form India – had proved themselves adept at planning cities and creating buildings that worked well. Almost 5,000 years ago, cities based on a strictly geometric grid were being built in the Indus Valley. Houses had thick solid walls made of baked bricks and there was very little of what we might think of as decoration.
In the millennia that followed, Indian homes - and palaces, in particular - for those that could afford them, reflected an increasing range of influences. These included the major religions and their respective sacred spaces: Buddhism, Hinduism (and Brahmanism), Jainism and Islam, each of which contributed its own distinctive features, including the high vaulted ceilings of Buddhist temples, the intricate marble work seen in Jain temples, and the domes, rich colours and geometric patterns of mosques.
Exterior façade, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan. Image credit.
The advanced masonry skills and materials used in religious buildings can also be seen in many of India’s remaining palaces, such as the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) in Jaipur, designed by Ustad Lal Chand, at the request of Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, for the women of his court. Dating from 1799 and built to resemble the shape of Lord Krishna’s crown, it is a stunning combination of Rajputana, Mughal and Hindu architecture. Its 953 small perforated windows concealed the women of the court from the outside world while enabling them to look out on that world.
Interior, Hawa Mhal, Jaipur, Rajasthan. Image credit.
Behind the impressive façade were open chambers, walkways and courtyards. There were ramps rather than stairs, so that the women of the court could be wheeled from one area to another, weighted down as they were with elaborate saris and jewels.
India’s forest harvest
Thinnai (porch) overlooking a muttram (courtyard), traditional Chettinad house, Tamil Nadu.
Trees have always occupied a significant place in India’s history and many different types of wood – teak, rosewood, satinwood, mahogany, mulberry – have been used in construction work for at least 2,500 years.
Wood has also featured consistently as a design element within Indian homes and, since the colonial era, for furniture.
As the American film maker, James Ivory, pointed out in his introduction to Indian Style (see below), “The traditional Indian interior has always been floor oriented, as in Japan.” Western style furniture – found in many Indian homes – was, “an importation by the various colonialists…”
Drenched in colour
Image credit: Harini Calamur
Of course, we cannot talk about design in India without talking seriously about colour. It isn’t simply the range of colours – and what magnificent colours they are – but their significance too. Each colour has a symbolism beyond the visual and from region to region.
India’s Triranga three-barred flag, for example, features saffron (sacred to Indian culture and representing courage and selflessnes), white (the symbol of honesty, peace and purity) and green – standing for faith, fertility and prosperity. Many brides opt for red (the colour of the goddess Durga, the mother of the universe). Blue is the colour most associated with Lord Krishna.
Contemporary Indian homes often feature vibrant colours such as peacock and deep pink, set within a neutral colour scheme, for maximum impact.
Image: Creative commons
Mapping Indian’s textile crafts. Image credit.
Wherever one goes in India, there are artisans, skilled inheritors of techniques that are centuries old: wood turners, metal and leather workers, dyers and weavers, textile printers and producers, embroiderers, and silversmiths, for example.
Like traditional craft skills around the world, many of India’s artisan skills are under threat – from industrialisation, globalisation, migration, and the low social and economic status of crafts and their makers. The British Council through its India-UK collaboration scheme, Crafting Futures, is one of a number of international programmes set up to support Indian crafts by linking artisan producers with overseas partners. Sustainability – which recognises and supports craft skills - is now firmly on India’s interior design agenda, although there is no room for complacency.
Textile crafts, Kaach, Gujarat. Image credit
Indian interior design today
Given that India is the world’s sixth largest economy, with a young and burgeoning middle class that has driven an upward trend in living standards, it is not surprising that interior design is a rapidly expanding industry. Its interior design market is now worth an estimated USD20 billion. The services of today’s most successful interior designers, including Sunita Kohli, Manit Rastogi, and husband and wife team, Aamir and Hameeda Sharma are more in demand than ever.
Sunita Kohli has worked on some of India’s most prestigious residences and specialises in research-based design, drawing on the country’s heritage but in a way that is relevant to modern buildings. She now runs K2INDIA with her architect daughter, Kohelika Kohli.
Manit Rastogi is the founder of New Delhi-based architectural and interior design firm, Morphogenesis, known for its creativity and emphasis on sustainability. He has the first Indian recipient of the World Architecture Award and has won numerous national and international design awards.
A taste of India at Pooky
If you have fallen in love with marvelous block prints from Rajasthan, do take a look at this fabulous green Paisley shade designed by Matthew Williamson. It;’s a contemporary take on Indian and Persian motifs, characterized by curving, embellished almond shapes:
The word chukka has several different connotations but it is Sanskrit in origin; it evolved through Hindi, and means a circle or wheel. Here at Pooky it’s the name we chose for this delightfully elegant antiqued brass floor lamp:
Given the importance of wood in Indian design, a sell as colour, do take a look at our Kelpie lamp, which features a transparent turquoise resin lacquer that reveals the grain of the wood. Top it with coral silk lampshade for maximum effect:
If you would like to know more about traditional and contemporary design in India, look out for two fine books on the subject:
India Modern: Traditional Forms and Contemporary Design, Herbert J M Ypma, Phaidon Press, London, 1994.
Indian Style, Suzanne Slessin & Stafford Cliffe, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1989.
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Top image credit: Ninara - Jai Vilas Palace, India