He rustles up the most amazing salads and is passionate about wooden jewellery. She is excited about the vallarai pachadi she recently made and the numerous cookbooks that line the kitchen shelf of her well-kept home. The couple also shares a love for creating buildings. Beautiful ones at that. Homes and offices that reflect the owners’ needs juxtaposed with P. Karthikeyan and Ruckmini’s sense of style. Spaces that showcase native craft without being overwhelming. Spaces that prove less is indeed beautiful. Spaces that radiate a positive energy which springs out of being environment-friendly.
Luckily for them, the transition from run-of-the-mill to niche happened early on, in the 1990s, following an interaction with their spiritual guru, Jaggi Vasudev. “I realised that Nature is an integral part of design. It is there to inspire, emulate. That shaped our work ethos,” explains soft-spoken Karthikeyan, his eyes a pool of calm.
However, getting clients to understand and accept a new design concept took time, admits Ruckmini aka Bhama. If her husband is the design man, she handles management. “We believe every building must reflect the owners' expression, but have our touch. We can't leave them with an alien space. Which is why Karthikeyan spends a lot of time with them in the planning stage to understand their personalities and the kind of space they would like to inhabit,” she says.
Every request, however small, and even from the youngest member of the family, is considered. For instance, the couple's spacious home is a showcase of sorts for their daughter Shreya's creations — the mask she made adorns the bathroom door and the three pock-marked badam leaves she carefully dried out as a child are now a wall hanging. “These are what make a space the kids' own,” says Bhama.
The couple's leitmotif is the harmonious use of traditional, natural materials alongside their contemporary counterparts. Think interesting stone artefacts and wooden bric-a-brac alongside cutting-edge technology. “We wanted to use slowly-dying local craft in a more contemporary form. These skilful artists just need a platform to showcase their craft, and help with imagination. Later, they learn to ideate, and so many beautiful things come out of this collaboration,” says Karthikeyan.
That's how they found Arun, a painter of hoardings. Today, he's a confident painter whose creations are admired by all. The stonemasons fashioning aatangals and ammikals near Sivananda Colony were asked to make works of art using the same material — beautiful stone vases emerged.
A sculptor of name boards in Five Corner now creates masterpieces in copper. Stephen, a carpenter, creates pieces that rest elegantly on mantelpieces in stately homes. “It is very satisfying that we gave them a chance at a better life,” says Bhama.
Talking about the choices they made, Karthikeyan says: “It's a simple play of expression. The same story can be told in a different way, right?”
But, not all understood the “different story” Karthikeyan and Bhama brought to the table. The couple felt it was time to show them something tangible to explain their concept better. Thus was born Turya, their design-cum-production platform. At Turya, which is more than a decade old, they create furniture and curios using iron, wood, copper, steel, mixed media, mother of pearl… From a small tea tray for Rs. 800 to fancy designer sofas, they make them all.
Wealth from waste
They use a lot of high-tech machinery, but the human element drives it. Bhama also ensures nothing goes waste. She came up with a Ribs series using broken glass and scrap wood. Using discarded casuarina trunks, the duo designed a coaster holder with coasters. Bhama admits the price ceiling ensures some people can only aspire to buy some of their creations, but says they try and accommodate most requests. “The idea is that everyone must own an object of beauty. If only raw material sourcing became easier, we can reach more people,” she says.
The couple also tries to educate people on what is energy-intensive and what is eco-friendly. “We tend to opt for replanted woods, prefer composite marble over Italian marble…” says Karthikeyan, who still prefers sketching by hand.
And when it comes to design, they prefer clean, straight lines, with colours, tiles and art work adding to the appeal. Not for them, elaborate curves or carvings. As for colours, they choose a combination of warm and cool tones — a sea-blue wall with pale turmeric squares! “The Indian way of life is so enriching, and it belongs to all. So, we try and keep things beautiful, yet utilitarian. Nothing is so artistic that you wouldn't want to use it,” says Bhama.
An open mind
Turya is a striking example of their creativity. Their home in Theethipalayam, set in the midst of greenery, is another. But, while some clients give them total freedom (“We work best then. The final product surprises even us,” says Bhama) doubts rule in others' minds. That's when Karthikeyan steps in. “I'm open to suggestions. I've learnt that it is better to walk some distance with clients without taking a position. And, an open hand policy works.” Bhama agrees: “The most beautiful thing about this creative journey are the like-minded friends we've made.”
The couple has worked extensively within the city, Tirupur, Erode, Salem, Gobichettipalayam, Karur, Chennai and Bangalore.
Among their notable projects are Century Apparel, Tirupur; Soup and Salad, Chennai; over 50 outlets of Sri Krishna Sweets; and Isha Life, Chennai