A Slice of Homeland

For a couple who moved to Bengaluru some twenty years ago, constructing a home meant recreating their homeland.

Standing outside in the large verandah, head down and soaking up the sun that has percolated through a foliage of plantain and tamarind, I sense something special about the house I have just arrived at. A remarkable departure from the dusty city roads that I left behind a while ago, it is a comforting palette of earthy browns, yellow ochres and muted pomegranate-reds, all surrounded in a verdant harmony. The air is constantly being permeated by the call of birds, most of which I haven’t heard — or seen — in many months. I think to myself, it is almost unreasonable for a house in the city to exude such a bucolic charm.

The house wonderfully nestles in a diversity of trees and flowering plants. Teak, silver oak and sandalwood fringe the boundary creating a wilderness around it. The addition of the sloped roof to the design is inspired from the traditional homes of Malnad.

The verandah, with its red-oxide flooring, is simply the best spot in the house to catch a bit of sun on a wintery morning. A continuous garden strip stretching from the gate to the far end of the house is a soothing bridge between the public realm and the domestic life.

Building with mud-blocks considerable brings down the embodied energy of the building.

The mud-block house was built for a family, a software professional, his wife and their 12-year-old son, in an up-coming neighbourhood of Bengaluru. Having their roots in Malnad, a hilly region in Karnataka known for rain and abundance, the couple aspired for a city dwelling that addressed their perpetual longing for their ancestral homeland. In essence, they wanted to be as close to nature as possible, nurturing a garden and growing their own food as they always did back in their villages.

They also wished for their house to be large enough for guests and celebratory gatherings, while accommodating their long-staying relatives coming to town for studies.

I spot large, swaying leaves of plantain from every opening of the house I peep out of. An entire harvest of bananas was recently consumed I am told, somewhat apologetically, and offered instead a platter of the sweetest papaya I have ever had. This too, from their garden. The couple’s love for farming ensures that a few favourites from their traditional diet, like the Malabar spinach, is just an overstretched arm away. But their pride is the beetle vine that grows quietly pampered — unusually thriving in Bengaluru weather — whose tender leaves along with arecanut kernels are chewed as part of a much cherished post-prandial ritual.

A view of the living space. Most of the furniture in the house is also designed by the architects. The stairs lead up to the mezzanine, which is used as a study-cum-music room.

The view from the living room is a panorama of greenery and light.

From the mezzanine, the stairs lead up to the first floor, which has two bedrooms and a large, central library space right under the vault.

An expanse of the library on the first floor. The door at the far end opens into a balcony.

The wardrobes adjacent to the powder-room are custom made using rubber wood.

A view of both the floors of the house, as seen from the mezzanine.

As I unravel and explore the many layers of the house, the couple frequently underscore the role of the architects in its making. Martin Laferriere, one of the senior architects of the project, lent a patient ear while they detailed out their idea for a rural, idyllic ambience that would slow them down after the daily tussle with the city. It would be one way of nursing them out of a separation from their native roots.

Eventually, the final design happened as a result of a clarified collaboration between the two, while it also heralded the beginning of a sustained client-architect relationship. The couple often invite Laferriere to join them on their trips to Malnad. He is like family, they tell me, and drops by our house every time he is in the vicinity.

We sit down on the red-oxide floor for lunch with a stainless-steel plate each, much like the traditional homes of Malnad. A simple, traditional fare is laid out in front of us: there is kosambari (a salad of soaked moong dal, grated carrot and cucumber), partially polished red rice from their village, pumpkin huli or sambar, lemon rice, citron pickles, home-made curds and a large jar of buttermilk. I wonder if the lady grinds sambar powder before every meal as I heard her do today. How can you not make it everyday, she retorts, it just takes an extra two minutes.

The kitchen and dinning areas flow seamlessly into each other, with a small breakfast counter for two in between. A pooja niche is seen on the far right.

The airy and brightly lit kitchen is where the couple sends most of their time, I am told.

Sitting down for lunch on the red-oxide floor was an experience to cherish.

It’s late afternoon as I prepare to leave. I am tempted to stay for a cup of tea but the fear of the evening ebb of traffic looms large. I linger for a few moments, going around the garden and taking in the mellowness of the house one last time. Seeing me off, the lady adds, please drop by for some buttermilk when you are in this part of town. I most certainly will, I tell her.

Beetle leaves along with arecanut are chewed as a post-meal digestive, a common practice among the people of the Malnad.

Contractor: Mr. Ranganath L
Year: 2013
Location: South Bangalore
Carpet Area: Approx 2300 Sqft