Living spaces Homes and gardens

Corridors of power

Cliff House is a mélange of vernacular architecture and colonial features

Cliff House is a mélange of vernacular architecture and colonial features   | Photo Credit: S. MAHINSHA

Cliff House, for long the residence of the Chief Minister of Kerala, has been a seat of power since its construction in 1939

This sprawling but Spartan residence has many tales to narrate: of power, political intrigues, chicanery, triumphs and travails. Home to political heavyweights inhabiting corridors of power, Cliff House, built in 1939, has always been a seat of power. Prior to Independence, it was the residence of the Dewan Peshkar in charge of Devaswom Affairs.

After Independence, it became a state guest house and the property of the Public Works Department. In 1957, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the first Chief Minister of the newly formed state of Kerala, chose to stay in this white-painted building and since then it has been home to several chief ministers of the State and their families.

Set on four-and-a-half-acres of land, Cliff House has had several additions and renovations and bears the imprint of the many residents who had called it home at different periods of time.

Kamala Vijayan, wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at Cliff House in Thiruvananthapuram.

Kamala Vijayan, wife of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at Cliff House in Thiruvananthapuram.   | Photo Credit: S MAHINSHA

At present, the rambling 78-year-old house is the residence of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his family. The two-storeyed house is a mélange of vernacular architecture and colonial features. A wide verandah runs almost all around the 15,000 square feet building. A flight of steps from the portico of the east wing leads one into a fairly large formal living room where the Chief Minister receives his guests. Paintings and award-winning photographs adorn the functionally furnished room. The rooms on the east wing seem to be later additions to the original structure and are strictly functional without any concessions to art or craft or Kerala’s rich heritage of architecture. But for a few antique pieces in rosewood and teak, even the furniture is run-of-the-mill sofas and cushioned chairs.

In addition to two bedrooms on the first floor, it also has an office room where the Chief Minister works while at home and a large conference room and two dining rooms, kitchens, a pantry, workspace and a store. The house, built into an incline, has doors and steps leading to the grounds behind the house and one can see the expansive grounds around the building.

The ornate wooden staircase inside Cliff House

The ornate wooden staircase inside Cliff House   | Photo Credit: S MAHINSHA

An ornate, beautifully worked, polished teak staircase with heavily worked bannisters and newel posts leads to the mezzanine floor and the first floor.

Kamala Vijayan, the present lady of the house, says she likes to entertain the family’s visitors and relatives in this space that is on the mezzanine floor.

Kamala Vijayan, the present lady of the house, says she likes to entertain the family’s visitors and relatives in this space that is on the mezzanine floor.   | Photo Credit: S MAHINSHA

On the first floor is the spacious master bedroom with a dressing space and attached bedroom. It also has a well-equipped office table and chair. On the table are two glass bottles, one filled with chocolates and another with boiled sweets. Looks like the CM has a sweet tooth! The enclosed sit-out in the front, outside the bedroom, has been turned into a modern, well-equipped gym.

A small room in a corner was the late K. Karunakaran’s pooja room while he was the Chief Minister of Kerala and lived in Cliff House. The late E.K. Nayanar liked to meet people in this room when he lived there. The former Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan also stayed in the Cliff House during his tenure.

Kamala Vijayan, the present lady of the house, says she likes to entertain the family’s visitors and relatives in this space that is on the mezzanine floor.

Kamala Vijayan, the present lady of the house, says she likes to entertain the family’s visitors and relatives in this space that is on the mezzanine floor.   | Photo Credit: S MAHINSHA

A private boudoir and three other bedrooms are situated in the West wing. Kamala Vijayan, the present lady of the house, says she likes to entertain the family’s visitors and relatives in this space that is on the mezzanine floor.

“It is my favourite place in the entire house. It overlooks the vast formal garden in the front and has a wonderful view of the surroundings. In the evening, it has a cosy look when the lights are turned on,” she says.

Enclosed with wood and glass panels, the gracious, lived-in, sunlit room is a mix of the old and the new. A fairly long corridor leads to her grandson’s bedroom, done up in happy colours for a child. Ishaan’s art work is up on the walls while his books are neatly arranged on the table.

Pinarayi Vijayan’s grandson Ishaan’s bedroom in Cliff House

Pinarayi Vijayan’s grandson Ishaan’s bedroom in Cliff House   | Photo Credit: S MAHINSHA

As is commonly found in old houses, the two other spacious bedrooms in the west wing are protected from the glare of the sun by the large, enclosed verandah outside the rooms. The timber shutter and glass panes bring in the colonial look to the structure.

It was senior politician Vakkom Purushothaman who reportedly had the house renovated with modern conveniences when he lived there as Finance Minster in 2004.

The west wing of Cliff House in Thiruvananthapuram Photo: S. Mahinsha

The west wing of Cliff House in Thiruvananthapuram Photo: S. Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S MAHINSHA

The extensive grounds around Cliff House have been turned into a large farm by Kamala. Once she discovered that there was an empty cattle shed, complete with ceiling fans, she decided to buy three Vechoor cows. The cows and two calves live in the cattle sheds. Geese create a ruckus inside a cage while quails keep themselves busy pecking at the food. Hens of different varieties have also found a home inside the coops of Cliff House.

The Chief Minister’s Office room inside Cliff House in Thiruvananthapuram.

The Chief Minister’s Office room inside Cliff House in Thiruvananthapuram.   | Photo Credit: S MAHINSHA

All around vegetables of different kinds are grown and there is also a pond with fish being reared in it. On one side of the house is the swimming pool that was constructed after Karunakaran was advised to go for a swim when he was recovering from an accident. Now, the pool is a picture of neglect. Kamala hopes that the pool, built with public funds, is renovated.

A little away from the main structure are quarters for the accommodation of the staff in Cliff House. There is also a shuttle court situated in the greenery of the compound.

Today, Pinarayi Vijayan and Kamala Vijayan celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary in Cliff House. So what are the celebrations? “Nothing at all,” she laughs. “Vijayaettan has always been immersed in his political work and so anniversaries do not mean we go all out to celebrate it. I remember the date,” she says with a wide smile.

A column on houses in and around the city that are more than 50 years old.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 10:09:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/cliff-house-has-been-a-seat-of-power-since-its-construction-in-1939/article19602761.ece

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