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An antique collector's dream

This house was literally built up piece by piece. K. A. Alexander went around collecting antique pieces, which he intelligently used into his dream house. ELIZABETH NINAN walks through this newly built structure and feels transported into an archaic world.

IT WAS around thirty years ago that Advocate K. A. Alexander began work on his dream house at Veliyanadu, near Mulanthuruthy. What he hoped was to build a unique, old-fashioned building. Something new, but still had that ancient look about it. The house was literally built up piece by piece for Mr. Alexander picked up fragments of lovely traditional craftsmanship wherever he got it from to be used in his dream project. It took him nearly a decade to complete it. But when he finally put the last brick on the house turned out into a pleasant structure. His ancient family home was transformed completely into one that matched that gelled well with the traditional look of the original structure.

The Valiyavanathil family home, is an ode to the beauty of traditional architecture, and a tribute to the diligent care and passion of the builder.

Years before he began work on the house, Mr. Alexander started collecting antique pieces and archaic materials. And by the time he was ready to begin construction he had enough and more materials to choose from. From the single-stone pillars that greet one at the porch, Mr. Alexander made intelligent use of his collection, blending it with the design of the house. There are aged remnants from old structures, designs typical of various faiths that settled down in Central Kerala. The kilivaathil (small window) used in the sitting room, must have been from some ancient Namboodiri `illam.' Perhaps it must have the same little window through which the womenfolk of this huge ancient house must have peered, shuttered from the world outside, unseen by those on the other side.

The original, small, family house is set almost totally inside the new structure. And what gives the whole place its traditional aura is the `kuthazhi' or the slanting windows made of wooden bars, in three different styles that enclose the verandas on two sides of the house.

Though the house was originally built facing east, the remodelled structure now has an entrance from the west too. The porch and living room face the west, though the garden is still on the eastern side. Mr. Alexander says that he never built the house according to Vaastushastra, though the house features some decoration where the `yamasutra' passes. "I don't believe in all that but my grandfather did consult someone on the matter. And they insisted that the path of `yamasutra' should not be blocked. So I retained it, decorated the exterior of the window there, making it look more like an entrance," he says.

The whole house is a visitor's delight. The cool interiors of the living room is especially inviting on a hot afternoon and sitting on the modern sofa one feels cocooned in an old world charm. In fact, this sofa is one of the few modern things here. The other one being the modernised kitchen that looks totally out of place in this antique setting. A huge wooden swing (attukattil) now serves as a side table with four short thick legs. The small cast-iron windows provide plenty of light and air into the room. In one corner there is a small wooden cabinet and what strikes the eye is the crucified Christ head that is affixed on the wall. It is a fine piece of work, with different pieces strung togther to give the effect of a single piece. The ornamental pillars, painted with natural dyes, a table lamp made out of a traditional fishing tool and a pot used for storing curd and making butter, are some of the artefacts that decorate the sitting room. Most of these and other items have been designed by Mr. Alexander and built by Kunjappan, using bits and pieces of various objects. The nilavara, the ornamental doors and the wooden furniture used, all add to the archaic look of the place.

Mr. Alexander and his family take great pride in their unique house. Most of their evenings are spent sitting on the stone benches in the garden watching the sun go down against the backdrop of the flower filled Konna tree.

Now, Mr. Alexander has great plans for his house. He plans to invite tourists to stay here. He is sure that they will enjoy their stay amidst cool gardens, green paddy fields, tall trees and the lovely bathing pond. "I want to share this with tourists. A sort of village tourism, where by the tourist can get a taste of the real Kerala. He can stay right here and live the way we live but in good comfort. But the plan is quite expensive, as I'll have to add all amenities essential for their comfortable stay. So now I'm working on a project whereby I can do it in a cost effective way," explains Mr. Alexander. Once the basic plan is worked out, he plans to submit it to the Tourism Corporation.

And for Mr. Alexander the pleasure of living in his home, surrounded by all the old things he had collected over the years, can be summed up from the wall hanging he has got for the house.

It says `I love everything that is old; old books; old wine; old friends'.

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