Little rustic touches in a concrete urban setting make this Chennai home unique, says Swetha Kannan

When Padmini Ramesh decided to expand her kitchen, the project threatened to eat up the well in her backyard. This was something she was simply not prepared to accept. She wanted to keep her well and have her kitchen too. “I needed to use the water from the well, at least occasionally. That’s when I was reminded of the old agraharam houses that used to have the well right inside the kitchen, with a muttram or open ceiling above the well to aerate it and let light in. I had found my inspiration! I kept my well and expanded my kitchen around it. It is now a great conversation starter.”

This sense of living close to nature seeps through everywhere. As you step into the bathroom of this lovely home in Ashok Nagar, a quiet residential locality in Chennai, the pleasant aroma of vettiver (khus) greets you, along with an instant coolness that the roots bring in, providing welcome relief from the sweltering heat outside. Vettiver screens on both walls of the shower area cleverly double up as shower curtains, adding a certain earthy charm that blends in well with the other elements of this rustic-styled bathroom. Tired of the modern look of bathrooms, Padmini decided to go all-out rustic when it was time to give her small bathroom a facelift. Today, her bathroom is not only spacious but also a visual treat for those with a discerning eye. Not everyone can appreciate art in a bathroom, but this one is bound to make even those in a hurry pause and look.

Pastoral theme

In a throwback to village houses, the walls have vilakku maadams (enclosed spaces in which earthen lamps were usually kept) to hold soaps and loofahs, while cement jaalis (grills) play host to shampoos and lotions. There are aesthetically designed wall niches to store other things such as towels and bath linen. Padmini, who abhors plastic, has replaced all her plastic mugs and buckets with aluminium ones. She has also creatively morphed jute sacks into laundry baskets.

Taking the pastoral theme a notch further are taps and an overhead shower made of bamboo spouts (for just Rs 150), reminding you of the pump set in paddy fields.

The idea is to keep it simple and derive inspiration from things around us without having to splurge. “I wanted the theme to be Indian and close to nature, using commonly available elements and accessories. I also did not want the fittings to be too expensive,” says this 43-year-old mother of two.

The flip side to the experiment is that accessories such as the bamboo spout, unlike stainless steel fittings, may not last for several years, but they can be easily and cheaply replaced, says Padmini. “It also gives room for more variety and experimentation in the future with different natural materials.”

“The other challenge is the plumbers and their attitude to discourage anything that is not the norm. Get around that with great persuasion.”

Instead of plastering tiles all over the bathroom, Padmini has used them sparingly — around the closet and the wash basin. The main shower area does not have any floor tiles; instead the floor has been left raw, interspersed with a few pebbles that give a rocky seashore effect.

That’s not all. A bullock cart in the backyard houses plants and planters, a ladder acts as towel rack, and there’s a thanni thotti (splash pool) in the garden for children to frolic in summer — just a few of the many charming touches in Padmini’s house that bring the village to the city and the old to the new.