An A-list art collection holds centre stage, ably supported by iconic furniture in this design for an apartment in South Mumbai by Rajiv Saini.
When a client owns a serious art collection, displaying it adequately becomes a prime concern in any design of the space, which is commanded by a unity of thought or perception. Calling this collection an A-list one, would not be an exaggeration. Reading like a litany of the greats in Indian art, the artists include Ram Kumar, Jogen Chowdhary, Akbar Padamsee, FN Souza, MF Husain, Sudhir Patwardhan and Anju Dodiya, amongst others.
“When these clients contacted me through common friends, they were already familiar with my style of work. They gave me carte blanche to redesign this home, which had last been renovated in the late 80s,” says Rajiv. “They had been buying art for many years…that their collection would have to be curated, was evident. It just wasn’t possible to display it all, unless we started using the ceiling for this purpose as well,” he laughs.
Even the powder room has watercolours by Prabhakar Kolte. So a sizeable amount of the art would have to be put into storage and rotated with the pieces in use, grouped according to mood and feel.
Since this was a home and not an art gallery, Rajiv used a neutral palette of pale grey, and white, with wood and veneer accents contributing to the warmth required in the backdrop for the priceless art. The flooring is a light grey customised terrazzo. Luckily, the apartment was surrounded by greenery rather than a concrete jungle, as is normally the case in Mumbai. “Since the building was undergoing a major renovation, we could increase window sizes and lower sills to give the space a bigger feel. And as the greenery itself provided a great deal of privacy, we didn’t need curtains in the living space,” says Rajiv.
At the entrance, Rajiv has removed a wall which gave a hemmed-in feel and replaced it with suspended copper-shuttered cabinets sitting atop vertical wooden “fins.” Light percolates at the floor level from the dining room on the other side, creating an illusion of a larger space in this foyer. A Prabhakar Barwe enamel on canvas and three watercolours hint at the splendours within.
In a pairing of the old and the new, some of the furniture was customised, while other pieces are classics which go back five or six decades. “Even where we’ve used contemporary pieces such as the Hans Wegner chairs and the CH 28 chairs by Wegner were designed many decades back and the ‘Track’ daybed by Piero Lissoni, I can see them becoming classics in a few years,” says Rajiv.
The living room has a custom-designed banquette sofa designed by Rajiv. “I felt its exaggerated scale anchors the room,” he says. A block of white Corian is placed at right angles to this seating, graced by a bronze bull by Tyeb Mehta. There is a day bed at the far end, a Charlotte Perriand coffee table and the aforementioned Hans Wegner CH28 chairs. A white Corian plinth runs the length of the room opposite the banquette, serving both as a ledge and as light source, its illumination grazing the wall behind. Some of the light fittings are from Viabizzuno.
The master bedroom has a white Carlo Mollino lounge chair called Gilda. A suite of drawings by Hebbar has been hung in an unconventional way, with voids in the sequence of a grid. The study has Domus chairs by Ilmari Tapiovaara, while the custom desk overlooks the verdant greenery outside the window.
In the son’s bedroom, the back of the wardrobe forms the headboard of the bed which can be approached from two sides. An 18 ft ledge at the window defines the room, above which the television is suspended. Concealing it when not in view is a sliding screen on which an artwork is mounted. The third bedroom has been converted into a den for watching TV and has a sofa bed. One of the bathrooms has a monolithic block of white Carrara marble with an in-built basin.
Screens slide back and forth in various places in the apartment, doubling up as a backdrop for the ever-present art, in addition to their primary function. Whether to hide a television in the son’s room or a shower unit in the guest powder room, or to ensure privacy in the guest bedroom with a den, screens have been used as a device to enhance convenience.
Replete with internationally recognisable furniture, the iconic pieces in this apartment nevertheless decline firmly to compete with all the high voltage art looking down from the walls. If art collections necessarily bristle with a complex psychology, this is a quiet home which unfolds its treasures in layers meant for the discerning eye of connoisseurs. A far cry from the screeching “Have money will spend” syndrome, it speaks a language in hushed tones, to be deciphered by the initiated.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs By Sebastian Zachariah