Homes and gardens

Looking up

As the Chettinad market booms, its intricate wood, metal and painted ceilings are finding takers

On the river front in Mattancherry, Kochi, is a unique hotel. Not because of its view or food, but for the fact that everything you see within its walls are on sale. Including the walls and ceilings! “We’ve had several occasions when a customer wanted a particular ceiling (each of the Ginger House Museum Hotel’s 10 rooms has a theme, and the Chettinad and Travancore are especially popular). So we would shut down the room for a couple of weeks, dismantle it and send it off,” says Vishnu Majnu, Executive Director. Outside of antique stores, such spaces (the hotel launched last December) are the newest haven for people who want to purchase a slice of the past. And as fewer Kerala tharavadus come on the market, these fill the gap quite well.

Floral connect

However, there are many who still prefer going directly to the source. Eyes are ever-increasingly turning towards Chettinad, where traditional homes are being torn down to make way for the new. Shaji Thomas, managing director of Thomas Hotels and Resorts, constructed his 12,000 sq ft house in Thiruvananthapuram a few years ago with roofs, pillars, doors and windows brought from Karaikudi. “I first became interested in their architecture when I sourced elements for our resorts. The work is so different from what you find back home, and the finish of the roofs and stone pillars are incredible. I don’t think anyone can recreate them today,” he says.

Looking up

He bought a 6,000 sq ft, 110-year-old house from a family (who, he shares, was relieved it would get a second lease of life somewhere else) and also scoured the market for more pieces. “The ceilings are my favourite part. They have floral paintings. We shifted two roofs, and it was a big task as each had over 600 pieces, which the local artisans numbered and then placed correctly so the paintings matched. It took over 18 months to transport and recreate,” says Thomas, who spends most evening in his courtyard, flanked by the soaring pillars.

Think geometric

Umayal Ramanathan, an architect based in Boston, is currently on the hunt for accents for a house she is building in Karaikudi. “I will be working with a nagarathar architect so that we can follow the guidelines of the traditional house plan, which suited the local climate and culture,” she says. While she may have to forego the waterproof egg plastering for the walls (as there aren’t too many who specialise in it any more), she does want her ceilings and windows to be authentic. “There were three kinds of roofs earlier — one that used woodwork, mostly geometric; another with etched metals as decorations; and a third with intricate paintings. I am partial to the woodwork, as it is simple and doesn’t date,” she says. But Ramanathan advices that if you do buy pieces from an old wood market, then you must “study the period in which the houses were built and find pieces of the roof from similar structures”.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 12:31:33 AM |

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