Tarun Tahiliani firmly believes that people who create style do not follow a style. The couturier — who also designs interiors and events, and collaborates on everything from fabric to carpets (like his 2017 project with Obeetee) — identifies as multi-disciplinary. With Ahilia Homes, his new brand that extends his language to living spaces, he is now splitting time between Delhi and Goa, developing luxury residences. “When you do your own projects, you do what you want. It’s like doing prêt, it has a lot more attitude,” says the 56-year-old, who has always wanted to be an architect, but could not because “back then you needed physics and chemistry, and I couldn’t understand either”.
With his son Jahan on board as the company’s CEO, Tahiliani prides himself on creating homes that combine Indian craftsmanship with “principles of light, air and technology”, the epitome of his philosophy of India Modern. “I am going to Goa next weekend and I’m so excited, thinking of colours and showing the artisans how to trompe l’oeil the bathroom walls to match the marbling”. Excerpts from an interview:
You have done everything from clothes to luxury residences. What keeps you motivated?
Design is a philosophy that keeps evolving. Rather like the many different aspects of our personality that we try to hone into one perfect person, I think all design is connected. It is not uncommon in documented history, to see people from one field work across disciplines — like Chanel, who did jewellery, clothes, perfumes, and things for the stage and the Ballets Russes. I love architecture, contemporary design, and interiors; it is exciting to take ideas and motifs, and create a world where everything exists in harmony.
Why did you start Ahilia Homes?
When I built my first home in Goa over 15 years back, we’d done a lot of referencing of Geoffrey Bawa’s work. I was so blown away by how he integrated everything that I went to Sri Lanka, to do a tour of his properties from Colombo to Galle. As I kept doing more projects, the more interested I got. Ahilia Homes was formed to give this some structure, and not be a ‘when Tarun feels like it’ sort of company. Our houses tie in with the India Modern philosophy — taking what is Indian to the next level. So we are still using courtyards, but we are bringing in technology, like in the Glass Villa; we have beautiful terrazzo from Jaipur, but in very modern designs.
At the Salvador Villa, the design is led by indoor water features and Mangalorean roofs.
The project [three houses on 21,000 sq ft of land] in Socorro is on a strange piece of land — an ‘L’, with a brook in front, and beautiful trees and bamboo. It doesn’t have long views; it is the design that is gracious. You enter and there is a colonnade with water; fountains that give you the sound of water through the day; and sloping, functional Mangalorean roofs that add interest with large skylights. All the rooms have lovely proportions and detailing, with cornices, lights that reflect off the ceiling, etc. A house is not about having expensive things; it has to work with all your senses.
What inspired you to do a glass house?
India Modern is all about the design. And at the Glass Villa in Nachinola, we have taken design to another level. It is envisioned like a Goan house with a courtyard, but [with double-height ceilings and two levels] the proportions are dramatic and modern. The specialised glass from Asahi India Glass (AIS) — sound and burglar proof, solar reflective and energy efficient — helps bring the outside in. It is classic contemporary, with architect Sameep Padora using laterite and black kadappa with steel columns and patterned floors. Trees grow inside, encased in glass, and form focal points, and when the sun sets, the structure glows a salmon pink. You don’t need art, that is the art! And layered interiors — dhurries from a maker Mirzapur, Indian onyx and agate consoles, slim lamps finished to look like laterite — add warmth.
Goa seems to be a favourite.
It is the number one location where people want to have a house. Goa used to be a winter destination; now it functions all year round. I’m yet to see an empty flight. Moreover, I work very long hours in fashion, and when I am in Goa I am very efficient — I can do five to six sites.
How important is sustainability in your designs?
My friend [artist-entrepreneur] India Jane once told me ‘Great architecture is literature in stone’. Unlike fashion — where today, because of Instagram, people don’t repeat their clothes, and most pieces will not become heirlooms — when you build something beautiful, hopefully generations will use it. I want quality that lasts. So, for me, it means using local and Indian materials, reducing carbon footprint by reducing energy requirements with solar power and water harvesting. We are also increasingly spending our time, finding out what is available in Goa.
What is next?
We are doing a beautiful home for [Telugu actor] Chiranjeevi in Hyderabad, and I’m working on a hotel, in the Goa Modern style with beautifully detailed rooms and lotus-filled pavilions, that will open soon. We are also opening a bigger store in Hyderabad, a pop-up in Kolkata, and working on a special show where we are taking pieces from our past, from up to 15 years ago, and mixing them with modern ones to show that designs in your wardrobe are timeless, you just have to style them differently.