Although Kolkata has lost much of its urban heritage due to negligence, families unable to maintain huge houses owing to spiralling costs and the roving eye of real estate developers, there are a few entrepreneurs who are walking in the opposite direction. They have been acquiring old houses, restoring them and using them as commercial spaces while retaining the character of the building.
Way back in 2006, when the reinvention of Kolkata’s crumbling urban legacy was in its nascent stage, 85 Lansdowne happened. Located on Sarat Bose Road, the 75-year old house, reminiscent of a traditional Kolkata home, was turned into a concept store, which describes itself ‘as a place where one can get an entire look – from clothes to shoes, bags and accessories – under one roof.’ The spacious and airy feel of the bungalow has been retained as it lends a stress-free ambience, which customers appeared to enjoy. The store also encourages upcoming and established designers to showcase their collections here.
The Calcutta Bungalow
Tucked inside north Kolkata, the Calcutta Bungalow, is fast becoming a popular B&B in the city. This very characteristic 1920s building would have probably ended under the real estate developer’s hammer if it was not for Calcutta Walks founder Iftekhar Ahsan and his close friends. Conservation architect Akhil Ranjan Sarkar and scenographer Swarup Dutta ensured that the dilapidated building bought by Ahsan and his friends was restored keeping its inherent character alive. Today, it is a six-bedroom unit, each room designed after some of the unique neighbourhoods of the city, namely potuapara (where the clay artists live), jatrapara (home of Bengal’s local theatre), sahebpara (the colonial town), dorjipara (where the tailors live), muchipara (where cobblers live) and boipara (a neighbourhood full of bookstores). Artefacts typical of each area, including posters, pictures and tools of the trade, have been used to decorate the rooms. For breakfasts, guests are encouraged to join the long table for a hearty conversation and sharing of ideas. They can also arrange for heritage walks in and around the city with prior arrangement and separate payment.
Shopping for eclectic products from around the globe, Indian ethnic wear, and art are some of the key attractions of Z’s Precinct, not far from south Kolkata’s popular shopping zone Gariahat. But not many are aware that this 1930s building would have crumbled away were it not for Rajesh Sen. He not only restored the building to its former glory–retained many things that came with it, from the red oxide floor to furniture–but also turned it into an art quarter. On the ground floor is a museum shop called Zoyah’s Treasury and on the first floor an art den called Zarah’s Gallery. The museum shop stocks a wide-ranging collection curated by Sen. Z’s Precinct also holds interesting programmes related to art, music and food.
The Corner Courtyard
Just as the name says, this quaint building is wrapped around a corner on Sarat Bose Road (formerly Lansdowne Road) in the heart of south Kolkata. A plaque at the entrance dates it 1904 and, according to reports, it belonged to a Bengali landlord family. But when Megha Agarwal saw this dilapidated building bought by her uncle, she set her heart on it. Instead of tearing it down, as most people would have done, she decided to renovate it and make it a boutique hotel along with a restaurant and patisserie. The Corner Courtyard opened its doors in October 2013. The old and new have been blended in to give the place a modern look with a retro feel. Each of the seven rooms has a special colour to it, each colour associated with a bit of history or an aspect of Kolkata. Black and white chequered floor, huge four-poster beds and other furniture, and some of the décor are an instant throwback to the old days. The display of old locks and keys that were once used here has been liked by many reviewers.
When Aditya Poddar of Wellside Group bought the dilapidated house on Ho Chi Minh Sarani in 2006, it was difficult to imagine this was the house of the founder (Sir Rajendranath Mookerjee) of a construction company (Martin Burn) that gave Calcutta, as the city was known then, its major buildings, ranging from Victoria Memorial to Belur Math, among many others. Under his son, Sir Biren, the founder of IISCO and daughter-in-law, Lady Ranu, founder of Academy of Fine Arts, the house was visited by India’s political, mercantile and cultural elite. However, Poddar, with a serious interest in heritage conservation, decided to renovate the building as an opulent commercial complex, which will support the Calcutta Heritage and Art Club to be housed here. A grand wooden staircase connects the three-storied building predominantly done up in a vibrant red and gold colour scheme, which contains among other things lots of wood work, chandeliers and the original stained glass work on windows and doors. The 1910 in the name of the recreated building is a reminder of the year it was originally constructed. There is a picture gallery depicting the buildings that Martin Burn built. Apart from Kalyan Jewellers, a large section is occupied by Truefitt & Hill, a famous UK-based grooming salon for men. Galleria 1910 was unveiled on World Heritage Day this year.