Heritage buildings Harivihar and Dinbai House are tales in artful makeover

Death waited for years in their dusty corners. But before neglect broke the spirit of these two fine edifices at the heart of Kozhikode, well-wishers stepped in with a plan in hand. Now they stand proud, revelling in their new might and beauty.

Harivihar, the Ayurvedic wellness centre and home-stay in Bilathikulam, and Kingsbay restaurant, housed in Dinbai House, are stories of survival. These heritage buildings have got a makeover yet retain their inherent character. Both these double-storey buildings went through turbulent times before being restored in their present avatars.

In dense Bilathikulam with its wafer-thin roads, Harivihar is a surprise. Opening on to a slim alley, it is an expansive world once you're past the gate. It originally belonged to the Kadathanadu royal family and is about 160 years old. “My wife's grandfather bought it in 1948,” says Srikumar G, the managing partner of Harivihar and a practising neurologist. Tough times began when the joint family gave way to a nuclear family. “The house was leased out and it was a warehouse for Hindustan Lever for long,” he says.

At a critical point, when plans were afloat to pull it down, Srikumar and his wife stepped in. “My wife and I didn't want this to be brought down, but didn't know what to do with it. Initially, we thought of making this a stroke rehabilitation centre or an old-age home. But a home-stay was more viable,” says Srikumar. He, his wife, his sister-in-law and her husband drew up a salvage plan.

Restored in 2001-02, the structure, spread out on almost an acre, remains largely intact. The red-tile floor has been replaced with red oxide, but upstairs the old floor is maintained. A notable addition is the indoor bathrooms. Rooms adjacent to the bedrooms have been tastefully converted into washrooms. A couple of air-conditioners and a television are the only obvious signs of the times. Otherwise, Harivihar easily inhabits the past. A traditional padinjetta (West-facing house) with a tulsi in the middle, it has windows that open on to a well and the architecture today is a marriage of influences. “We have used the wood that survived termites and recycled them. The furniture has come from family collections and is also sourced from different people,” says Srikumar. The pillars, bought from a scrap dealer, are in the Thanjavur style, while the wooden window with swinging doors at the peep holes is a reminder of Islamic architecture. Harivihar has made it to many travel guides and is a favourite among European travellers. “We restored it on a shoe-string budget,” Srikumar points out.

At Kingsbay, location and ambience is as much a draw as the food. Set next to the beach, this salt-white building evokes a Goan feel with its wrap-around verandah and wide arches. For Sahir N.M., managing partner, a restaurant that serves dishes based on his niche recipes was a dream. He laid the groundwork nine years ago, but he had trouble finding a good location.

Running a dream

“After deciding against yet another location, a friend and I were driving back when I got out on this road (Customs Road) to light a cigarette,” Sahir remembers. “I told my friend that I am going to bury my dream of a restaurant. That's when he asked if I would like to have this building. I told him it is Marshall's and he would never give it. We decided to ask anyway.”

Though initially reluctant, Darius Marshall finally let out the 70-year-old building to Sahir to run his dream. “To woo the food lovers of Kozhikode, I knew I had to have a place where families can fine dine peacefully,” he says.

The sprawling dining area has chunky pillars, air conditioners that merge with the wooden ceiling, and a wall-to-wall painting of Kozhikode beach aeons ago. Dinbai House had its days as a used car showroom and the rented accommodation of many.

“My father began building it in 1939 with one carpenter,” recalls Marshall. “It was rented out to the Customs Department for the princely sum of Rs 75 then.” He rented out the building to Sahir on one condition — that no changes should be made in its structure.

“I knew it was a heritage building and cannot play around with it,” says Sahir. The stress was on enhancing the strength of the building — frail pillars were replaced by mighty ones that can shoulder the burden of years. The delicate play of blue, yellow and white on its exterior now colours the second coming of Dinbai House.