The Courtyard House in Alibaug sets out to walk on a middle path between traditional and modern architecture. Parallax Design Studio who was at the helm, has created an elegant home with a refreshingly open plan which allows both sunlight and sea breezes to roam free.
“To experience sublime natural beauty is to confront the total inadequacy of language to describe what you see. Words cannot convey the scale of a view that is so stunning it is felt.” -Eleanor Catton, author.
If sublimity had to have a built form, it would in all likelihood look exactly like The Courtyard House. This comfortable sprawl of earthy, airy rooms is a delight for the senses. The house manages to elevate the charm of its primary visual inspiration – the traditional courtyard system of home-design, but with a tempering of modern forms – to peak elegance levels.
The intelligent and subtle mix of materials, colours, and forms here seem to seek to obscure boundaries between home and retreat, and yes, they succeed.
Located in Alibaug, Maharashtra, The Courtyard House’s ambition was to create an ensconce away from the bustle that exists quite close to it. The cleaver knife-shaped site sits in the vicinity of the main jetty, so the narrow entrance patch is a smart diversion from it in the interest of privacy and visual integrity. An approach road starts from the main road and cuts through the landscape, passing an outhouse before landing at the house’s porch.
The visual operation starts with the eponymous courtyard. The rectangular, open-to-sky space has a polished black tile central patch that shimmers in sunlight; but its greatest whimsy is the custom detailing of colourful fish patterns on every single tile, all together looking like a fantastical constellation.
All around the court is an explosion of eye-popping yellow; the paint job looks like a generous smear of beauty-enhancing turmeric.
“The graphic was adapted by the architects from a fabric design and each tile was custom made to bring the pattern to life,” explains the team from Mumbai-based Parallax Design Studio. A stout, short tree sits pretty at one end of the patch, while on the other end is a surprisingly attractive chain pipe connected to an upper drainage spout; the minor metallic waterfall here looks surprisingly at home.
The rectangular verandah, propped up by metal columns, establishes multiple spots of seating around the court, some looking out to the beauteous green landscape while allowing others some peering into the interiors.
Speaking of the interiors, the verandah and courtyard are the links between the two distinct pavilions of the house. The living room, kitchen and TV room form the public cluster, while the pool-facing master bedroom and another bedroom make up the more privacy-seeking section. “The rectangular living pavilion and the L- shaped sleeping pavilion are slightly skewed in plan, creating a dramatic pause at the entrance, with the views of the garden and hills slowly unfolding beyond,” states the team. The large pool becomes an unexpectedly traditional element in the scheme as it mildly conjures up visions of temple ponds commonly seen in the southern parts of India.
At night, the combined beauty of the metal detailing, the resplendent yellow from the court, the subdued browns of the furniture from the room, and the surrounding greenery can be seen reflected in the pool; it all somehow represents the calm design thinking that realised the home.
The other courtyards are outside the bathrooms and are wrapped in a Corten steel embrace. The screens, made out of a rotated square grid and three-dimensional in character, are sources of both light and privacy, facets that the Courtyard House clearly admires.
The rooms have no trouble shining in the daytime, with streams of sunlight rushing in to elevate the sheen of the smooth flooring. The colour palette inside is dominated by tranquil polished wood that includes many tall rectangular window and door frames evening out any possibilities of rough edges.
Bursts of colour, acting almost like palate cleansers, have been stationed around carefully – there is the kitchen island, dipped in iridescent green-yellow and then there are the rectangular photo frames in the sitting area, looking clinically modern in an earthy universe. The furniture pieces sport slick finishing but clearly display the style of yore – all long arm-rests, crossed legs, and fabric upholstered or woven furniture.
The house’s roof system is composed of a triad – the topmost slope is affixed with the familiar spread of terracotta Mangalore tiles; then come the wooden louvers; and finally, a roof overhang most noticeable over the courtyard. The foremost element is undoubtedly the most traditional, but the layout also establishes the sustainable tenor of this artificial air-conditioning-less home.
“The panels let out heated air and bring in fresh air through the openings below, keeping the house significantly cooler throughout the day,” states the team. White lime plaster, another old faithful, further aids the process of maintaining energy efficiency. The east-west inclination of the face of the house (with the façade looking westward) means that sea breezes can very easily criss-cross the main rooms. The east-facing private sections get the added perk of uninhibited views of the Alibaug hills and a shield from too much direct natural light.
The Courtyard House’s lingering charm is a sum of all its parts. It is a home that makes you yearn for the monsoon. It is a home where one can escape and re-appear on whim. With this project, Parallax Design Studio proves its remarkable talent at creating spaces that are so self-assured in their inspirations that they don’t need glorified totems to succeed.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Courtesy the Architect