DRIVING down Delhi's Mehrauli-Gurgaon road, you slow down at a board loudly proclaiming 'Garden Estate' and swing into a tree-lined private avenue. A colony of highrise apartments and identical semi-detached row houses, Garden Estate epitomises Delhi's growing upper-middle class suburban culture. While not exactly "Little Boxes all in a Row" as urban folk singer Pete Seeger protested, yet, the structures standing shoulder to shoulder, each sporting a profusion of green, could be part of just any other housing society, maybe a little more upmarket than most but that's where it ends. Till, you enter self-taught interior designer Raseel Gujral's house.
"When I first bought it, it was like any other builder's home—four walls and totally lacking character," says Raseel. And the transformation is complete, right from the time one enters. Built on three levels, you enter through the front door into a small hallway and what fascinates at first sight is the play of a myriad hues.
Let's start from the basement, says Raseel, before the colour all around begins to seep in. We walk down a cedarwood staircase flanked by a pale ochre faux finished wall streaked with a delicate peach. A lone Mughal miniature hangs on the Meditteranean green landing wall opposite. You step into a small L-shaped family room with two separate seating arrangements, the floors tiled in terracotta, the ambience cosy and private. The small sitting area as you enter has two armchairs upholstered in black-and-white zebra stripes and a glass-and-wood table and three paintings on the walls by Dharmanarayan Dasgupta. The wall colour scheme is again a Meditteranean green but touched with fuschia pink, with casually strewn cushions to match. Early 20th century metal-and-wood Buggatti chairs with inlay work and upholstered in velvet defy any conservative form of design and the lines exhibit a strong Moorish influence. A copper chest serves as a base for the music system. The room exudes warmth—two glass shelves at one end sporting cheerful well-framed family pictures. Straight ahead, an archway leads to the other secluded sitting area with a mosaic centre table and a contemporary three-seater done up in the same black and white, the cushions the same Santa Fe shades—dusty versions of pastel colours. A table lamp in one corner reflects the colours, a painting by Raseel's father, artist Satish Gujral dominating the rear wall. Here again, the concept of the family room is heightened by a TV on a copper chest. The floors thrown over with Aztec rugs in the same dreamy muted colours. A glass door leads to a tiny courtyard-cum-garden resplendent in lush greens.
It's while climbing back to the ground floor that you notice an interesting facet of the staircase. The touch of a homemaker with an eye for detail. Each step vertical is tiled in glazed vivid Meditteranean green etched with delicate fish patterns.
Back in the hall is a powder room, and it's obvious Raseel had a lot of fun doing it up. "We haven't changed anything. We just painted the tiles and tented it in to make it more fun," says the designer. Sure enough, with these few deft innovations, the guest could be walking into a turn-of the-century canopied washroom at a safari camp.
From the hall we enter the drawing room. At first glance the complete lack of inhibition startles. Clashing colours, conflict-ing styles, antique, neo-classical and post-modern furniture and accessories, which blend surprisingly well to create a room with a unique view. The faux finished walls simulate stone and the haveli-style borders in rich colours give it a tented mood. The feel here is one of adventure and an ongoing process of experiment with interiors, comfort being the key word. Wooden inlay centre tables flashing mirrors and tiles, comfortable contemporary sofas, etched and painted glass-and-bronze lamps with silk shades, colourful cushions, antique side tables, Satish Gujral paintings, present a picture of harmony in contrast. It's a marriage of the old and the new defying any label—antique textiles rub shoulders with new weaves. Mysore paintings, icons from Goa and framed miniatures in marble set with semi-precious stones—essentially medieval jewellery designs. The period and the post-modern blend to impart the aesthetics of assimilation and amalgamation. Bay windows along one wall are hung with woven organza in a golden ochre. The afternoon sun streams in through the window, bringing out the best of the kaleidoscopic tints. Daring by some standards, daunting by others. The effect—vibrant yet tastefully simple—reflecting the joie de vivre of life.
Through an archway from the drawing room is the dining alcove. The rural niches in the walls have ornamental borders hung with period pictures in heavy wooden gilt-finish frames. Yet, the glass-topped oval dining table on a wrought iron frame offset by wooden chairs is set for a very un-Indian lunch of salads and fruits.
And if you think Raseel would stop with the basement and the ground floor, think again. The first floor is as much a revelation in innovation as the rest of the house. Livening up the long landing wall is a large stencil—a springing tiger abruptly coming at you.
The modest 12 by 12 master bedroom is stark, the floors done up in black-and-white tiles in a chessboard pattern with acqua borders. Here, the accent is more on white and the walls are done up in the haveli style, scattered with Mughal floral motifs in a Meditteranean green to match the floor borders. The tented feeling continues with apricot pink cushions and curtains to match. The double bed is the only piece of furniture.
Explains Raseel: "The idea is to come into the bedroom only to sleep. If you have everything in your bedroom, then you never move out. That's why I've converted the room next door into a walk-in closet. There's no TV, there's nothing, you come in, you sleep and use the other areas in the house as much." Raseel's son's room leads out from the soft mauve and white lobby. It's a teenager's room with a difference. No posters clutter up the walls which are again faux finished in blue and white stripes, with matching curtains. A small settee fits perfectly into the space under the windows at one end. Touches of emerald green break the study in blue. Back into the first floor lobby which also doubles as the reading area, Raseel explains her choice of colours which is almost too post-modern for the average taste. "The house is done up in Santa Fe colours. There are no pure colours. And we have tried to blend it with the aesthetics." The floral patterns in complementary colours on the faux finish are stencilled by hand, lending character and uniformity to a home which, by conservative estimates, follows no sense of logic. What emerges is the vast field of possibilities that has opened up in the way one can do up one's home—be it a cooperative flat or a promoter's housing complex. There's nothing that's too expensive here, according to Raseel, nothing that cannot be easily made or accessed. It's a combination of taste, a sense of aesthetics, use of imagination and the chutzpah to go ahead and do what seems natural, drawing from all schools of design to ultimately turn that much-bandied maxim on it's head and create a home with a heart instead.