Star of India
A New Delhi residence by architect Rajiv Saini is awash in temporal pleasures
Elizabeth Eapen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
In the dusty haze of a hot, still evening on the outskirts of New Delhi, Salil and Madhu Singhal's home is an island of calm. Beyond the poplars and silver oaks ringing the carefully tended 10-acre property, a metropolis struggles with the onslaught of summer's searing desert winds. Inside the magic circle of greenery stands the house. It's unusual among the upscale residences that characterize this suburb of the capital city—a low-key 1990s design by one of Delhi's senior architects.
"When we built this house, we never really thought we'd be here permanently," recalls Salil Singhal. "We were living in Udaipur at the time, and we planned to stop in New Delhi in the course of our frequent travels." When the Singhals did decide to move—and carry out a rather extensive renovation—they hired Rajiv Saini + Associates Architecture + Design, a firm they'd worked with at their lakefront house in Udaipur.
Much of Rajiv Saini's aesthetic involves a clever interplay of color and texture, a deliberately unconventional pairing of one material with another. "Mixing elements, underplaying most and highlighting a few, really forms the core of my work," he says. He's been particularly excited about stone's multiple possibilities ever since experimenting with Indian marble, terrazzo, and lapis lazuli at Udaipur's Devigarh Fort hotel, a historic building whose interiors have received international acclaim.
Slabs of finely chiseled black Indian Cuddapah limestone define the front entry to the New Delhi house. A built-in waterfall mingles its trickling harmony with the scent of frangipani lingering in the air, and the monolith as a whole provides visual connection between the residence's two separate blocks.
Mirror images of each other, they could easily accommodate two independent families, and the layout unfolds in stages that may seem confusing to a casual visitor. Simply stated, each 3,000-square-foot structure contains a formal living room, a den, a kitchen, a dining room, and three bedrooms and baths. As part of the renovation, Saini built a paved granite walkway connecting the two, so they now function as a single unit spread over three levels.
The two formal living rooms are a study in the kind of boldness that Saini espouses—tonal juxtapositions abound. In one living room, he erected a wall of glass, steel, and solid granite that's 12 feet high and 4 inches thick, weighing more than 4,000 pounds. "This wall was not designed merely for peripheral, enclosing purposes. It's one of the highlights of the entire space," says the architect. In a wall of the other living room, he inserted a granite window styled after the traditional Indian stone grille called a jaali. A nearby bench in polished black granite, the arm clad in lapis lazuli, is spotlit from above, forming an integral part of the theatrical composition.
Bedrooms offer up their fair share of surprises, too. In the master bedroom, Saini built a desk of polished white Indian marble, then backed it with a wall of rough travertine marble. One guest room has just a single piece of artwork on the walls; instead, the architect installed four rectangular panels of backlit onyx. Picking up on the warm color of the onyx, he hung a curtain of brilliant orange Indian silk across a 16-foot-wide window wall and used similarly colored silk for two pillowcases.
Furniture throughout the house was predominantly designed by Saini. "We were at first baffled, then worried, as to how it would eventually look," Salil Singhal jokes—laughing as he remembers Saini's drawing for the dining table. As it turned out, the family was delighted with the result, a phalanx of interlocking teak fins that conjures up images of the long racing boats found in the southern state of Kerala; the clear glass top could well be a slice of river frozen in time.
Saini also advised the Singhals on art and accessories. Pastime-Activity-Decoding, a Jitish Kallat acrylic on canvas commissioned for one of the dining rooms, appeared in "Century City" at the Tate Modern in London in 2001. In a living room, a series of acrylics on canvas by Rekha Rodwittiya occupies silver-leafed plywood niches, and an exquisite ceramic sculpture from Peter Hayes's studio in the U.K. stands on a wengé-veneered table. As silk caresses steel, lapis and aventurine flirt with marble, and rose petals nestle granite, the senses are seduced.