When Abin Design Studio and Square Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. pooled in their talents to deliver a holistic experience for the newly expanded restaurant ‘6 Ballygunge Place’ in Kolkata, they turned to what would be instantly recognisable imagery for Bengalis; they went on to simply steep the space in the local culture.
Think of Kolkata…what comes to mind in connection with its art and culture? Films by Satyajeet Ray? Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali? “Those associations are very commonplace,” says Abin Chaudhuri of Abin Design Studio. Since this is an iconic restaurant which serves only authentic Bengali cuisine with no pretence of any attempt at fusion, the team chose references which are a little more esoteric.
An extraordinary Bengali primer by Rabindranath Tagore called Sahaj Path, is used by every child to learn the language. Illustrated with linocuts by Nandlal Bose, it was chosen as one of the references. If you’re not a Bengali, you’re unlikely to ‘get it,’ when you see the visuals derived from this book on the white exterior which provides a perfect canvas. Oversized painted motifs from Sahaj Path wrap around the ground floor.
The other reference was to the work of the famed artist Lalu Prasad Shaw, known widely for his highly stylised portraits of Bengali women and couples, using the greatest economy of line and colour. Kalighat paintings (a class of paintings and drawings on paper, produced by a group of artists called Patuas in the neighbourhood of the famous Kali temple at Kalighat during the 19th and early 20th century), were also referenced, with an artist being commissioned to create the artworks.
Motifs recalling those on the walls of old Bengali homes were stencilled to recreate an ambience familiar to the diners. “The Bengal potochitro that so inextricably depicts the local flavour has also been incorporated. The huge wall on the first floor, framed by a series of arches presents a traditional wall painting, with a symbolic representation of a balcony on one side,” says Abin.
“This restaurant was located in an old building at 6 Ballygunge Place, so we merely used the address itself as the name,” says Abin. When the owners bought over the first floor, it was time to revamp what had now become a 10,000 sq ft place.
The project involved a total facelift of the exterior, addition of floor area to house extra dining space and services, aided by landscaping. “Since it had once been a home, there were many pockets of rooms. We were stuck with this layout, since it was a heritage building in which we couldn’t get permission to pull down any walls, as they were load bearing,” says Suvra Mitra, of Square Consultancy Pvt. Ltd., a firm which specialises in interiors for the hospitality sector.
This led to the idea of giving each room an individual look, so that repeat diners could have different experiences each time they visited. All the lights and furniture have been customised. The rooms were intimately designed for the first floor, in contrast with the second floor which provides an expansive banquet hall.
The first and the second floors use expansive black and white chequered floors that are ubiquitous in traditional mansions. Impervious to trends, the classic pattern has retained its credibility.The ground floor provides a predominantly rustic grey surface, with patterns at the centre.
“The smaller rooms house traditional Sara paintings on the walls, which are typically terracotta plates painted with mythological figures. These are augmented by wooden louvered fenestrations that allow filtered sunlight to create a play of light and shade, enlivening the interior. Accent lights were customised, combining illumination and decoration. While the central buffet holds a chandelier made with traditional Bengali kitchen equipment, the cage chandeliers recall the Bengali fascination with birds,” says Abin.
Imagery hasn’t just been picked up from the past and placed here. The style has been replicated, using the past as an inspiration, taking cues from the way strokes were used by an artist, or the colour palette employed. “The homage to traditional art and culture was envisioned through some kitschy tweaking of colours and use of industrial products to represent traditional designs,” says Abin.
The enormous variety of art and graphics honour the quintessential Bengali home, without being just a mindless repetition. Traditional elements abound, down to the auspicious ‘swastika’ in the railing of the staircase. A line of individually suspended pendant lamps cascades down the narrow stairwell, echoing its geometry.
Exploring areas of art and culture which would resonate with the patrons of this restaurant, the architects have created a unique dining experience which keeps pulling the crowds back for more. “It’s not only about the food…it’s a complete sensorial experience, bonded by a theme,” says Suvra.
The complex associations with the art and culture of Bengal, together with the reinvention and reinterpretation of traditional imagery have created a contemporary aesthetic…albeit with flashbacks and fond nostalgia.
Hovering between tradition and modernity, the rural and the urban, the space is at once old world yet kitschy. With bright pops of colour comfortably rubbing shoulders with classic elements, the spaces beguile and entice, inviting exploration.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Ravi Kanade, Subhrajit G Mitra