Right in the centre of Mumbai’s touristic haven Colaba is located Abode, a hotel just overflowing with old-world charm yet infused with modern hospitality.
South Mumbai has its fair share of hotels set in its historic Victorian age buildings, many of which are now being restored to their former glory. One such gem has been uncovered in the shape of Abode, the city’s “first real boutique hotel” a stone’s throw away from the Gateway of India.
The Lansdowne building dates back to the early 1900s and was originally built for David Sassoon, a name inextricably linked to the history and architecture of Bombay. The building, now owned by the Sham family, needed several months of restoration to peel back years of architectural changes.
For designer Sian Pascale, the first step was stripping it down to its bare bones. Over the years, many of the heritage features of the building like iron girders and teak beams had been hidden under false ceilings and plastering. Sian’s vision for the building meant unravelling these modern additions and seeking the history hidden underneath.
Abode’s unique character stems from its use of quintessential Bombay-style furniture and artefacts. As part of her design process, Sian broke down the city into four parts – “the coconut grove and fisherman’s village, the British Colony and the Raj, Art Deco Bombay and the Mumbai of today – crazy, air conditioned covered buildings, with pipes in all directions and lots of plastic.”And this became her inspiration for the interiors and the ‘look’ of the hotel.
The lobby is the centre-piece of the space with its grand and open interiors. The idea was to make the lobby seem more like a café than a hotel reception and the first step towards that was to do away with the traditional reception desk completely. Sian knocked down a disused lift-shaft and re-structured the space completely.
Much of the designing happened as the designers were building – so when the plaster walls in the lobby uncovered the beautiful original brickwork below it was decided to keep the bricks exposed and paint them white. The space was also completely landlocked, so a big round steel window was created, echoing the shape of the original iron girders that are scattered across the building.
The round window opened up the lobby to natural light that came in through the lift shaft. Furthermore a communal table encourages guests to move away from their little bubble and mingle.
Next to the lobby is the Library – a cosy room stuffed with books reminiscent of the pavement booksellers around Flora Fountain and other streets in Mumbai. Book covers with arresting artwork were framed turning them into one-of-a-kind art.
The two-storey, 20-room hotel has bespoke traditional hand-made cement tiles throughout the ground floor. The lobby and public spaces have a black and white palette while each of the twelve bedrooms downstairs has a different colour combination. “In this way a guest can come and stay at the hotel repeatedly and have a different experience each time, with each room having a different ambience.”
Upstairs, the floors are of reclaimed Burma teak, which were left unfinished. The eight bedrooms on this floor are nested among the original iron beams of the building, giving it a vintage feel.
Abode’s popularity also stems from the quaint pieces dotting the hotel, making it easy on the eye. Wicker furniture, vintage electrical switches and sari fabric for upholstery shows the effort taken to maintain the period look.
Commendably, what Sian didn’t source, she had made locally. “Almost everything in the project was sourced from within the city itself, which made things extremely difficult, but the client and I were 100% committed to the concept and also the resulting environmental brownie points,” says Sian. Sian’s studio Young Citizens Design created the Bhel-Puri bedside tables and also most of the lighting including the Bhel-Puri wall lights and the hand-thrown ceramic lamps, with turned wooden tops modelled on Mughal domes.
British graphic designer Katy Buckley put together the art work including the signage which was created in collaboration with local truck-art painters; this added a whole lot of fun to the rooms.
Creating a fantastic contrast to this hand-drawn aesthetic is the neon signage at the entrance (a quote from Rudyard Kipling) and the neon lighting in the bathrooms. Other vintage elements like a large ‘Hotel’ sign, enamelled tea-pots or copper water-jugs add to the charm.
Abode aspires to be a “soft landing in one of the most intensely overwhelming and fascinating cities in the world”. For the millions of tourists who visit Mumbai, this slice of old-word Bombay will surely be something to look forward to.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy The Designer