IF your idea of a farmhouse on the outskirts of a bustling metropolis is that of thatched roofs,chicken scratching dirt in a backyard overrun with weeds and antiquated lamps casting sinister shadows in the night, banish the thought. The farmhouse today is a luxury in marble and stone set amidst landscaped gardens and orchards. A breath of fresh air after the noxious existence that is city life. Originally intended as a quick getaway over long weekends, improving facilities have turned many farmhouses into permanent residences, with a lot of thought and passion going into making them dream homes.
Sultanpur village near Delhi boasts a number of such sprawling estates, but you are unprepared for the grand post-modern piece of architecture that greets you at the end of a long, winding driveway. Visions of the quaint village baithak-khana (sitting room) swiftly disappear as you take careful steps on the Indo-Italian marble floor of this farmhouse, entering a 30 by 40 sitting room, the floors of which are bordered with black Cuddappah stone from the South. As one interior designer observed: "Every good specimen of architecture speaks with a distinctive voice. The ability of the interior designer to hear that alongside the needs of the client and interpret that successfully, results in invisible harmonies." So, while the style of the house is post-modern, the interior treatment is contemporary, providing enough leeway for free designing. The contemporary spectrum invites the use of antiques, contemporary furniture and furnishings, new and traditional carpets. In short, a very wide range of aesthetics that one can call upon.
The interiors have essentially been done up around the colours of the two large canvases by a contemporary Indian painter which grab attention at first sight. The split-level room is divided by a glass partition which makes the lower level more intimate, yet retains the feeling of space and that of a single unit, with large windows running along one side. On the elevated level which is more formal, three comfortable seating arrangements of sofas and armchairs juxtaposed against a mix and blur of old and new textiles like paisleys and zardozi embroideries give the interiors a regal touch.
A large centre table of Italian Dark Emprador marble stands on a wrought iron base treated to give it an antique copper finish. Anglo-Indian furniture has been blended in to give the interiors a sense of history. Replicas of old Indonesian furniture find a place among more contemporary pieces, the picture perfected at intervals by heavy silver, bronze and marble artifacts. Paintings on old Mughal firmans, new lamp-shades faux finished to simulate stone, four Husains, three Gujrals and a collection of Tanjore paintings exhibit a complete disregard for any kind of time frame.
Stepping down into the sunken informal entertainment area, the intimate ambience is heightened by the low seating arrangement where the mix and match of the old and the new is repeated. The decor comprises pieces collected painstakingly over the years, the colour scheme a sensuous plum. Old Anglo-Indian side tables, recent paintings by Jatin Das, the furniture a blend of nubuck leather, woven cane, wood, copper, buffed metal, stone and Emprador table tops, Cloissene lamps—an enameling technique practised widely in the Far East—are some of the pieces that catch the eye. A centre table stands on antique Mughal style beaten copper payas (legs). A colonial almirah inlaid with floral tiles at one end of the room finds a soul-mate in a fully functional Victorian fireplace at the other end. The 19th century carved wood fireplace has been given a post-modern look by the addition of burnt copper plates and brass buttons.
The dining room, with its simple clean lines and French windows, is awash with natural light and air. The view is equally dazzling—a sunlight dappled lotus pond framed in luxuriant foliage against a backdrop of well-manicured lawns. A glass-topped dining table for eight on a stone base rests on lion heads in black and white. The chairs upholstered in blue are inlaid in black and white and the two wooden console tables on either side have black granite tops, the fronts facaded by lapis lazuli inlay work.
While the console tables and dining table chairs are modern, an old Kerala wood and brass chest brings in the period flavour. An 80-year-old Burma teak cabinet inlaid with gold leaf rests above it. Silver attar danis find a place on the cabinet shelves. The mirror at the centre of the cabinet opens out to serve as a food hatch—aesthetic and at the same time utilitarian.
While there are bedrooms and more bedrooms, one that deserves mention belongs to a farmhouse in Mandi. Neoclassical, with understated elegance and measuring approximately 500 ft, the room opens out from the entrance into a kind of hexagon.
Italian Botticcino marbled floors are complemented by walls in a neutral palette of light beige and curtains in bleached cotton. The entire colour scheme is muted—black, white and teak. At one end of the hexagon, a wrought iron lampstand stands next to the fully upholstered bed in bleached cotton and leather, a wooden sculpture placed at the head. A painting by Dharmanarayan Dasgupta along with a rug and a few cushions are the only colours in the room. At the other end, a small seating arrangement is offset by more of Dasgupta's canvases as well as painted terracotta vases.
The attached bathroom is a study in marble, done up in the Alicante and Botticcino varieties. A false ceiling accommodates the home office above, reached by a spiral staircase that rises from the bedroom. The mainframe of the staircase is in wrought iron and then combined with natural wood with marquetry in different tones of other wood.