Living spaces Society

Home with a view

A view of the 80-plus-old home with two facades on Krishna Vilasam Road

A view of the 80-plus-old home with two facades on Krishna Vilasam Road   | Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

A home on Krishna Vilasam Road seamlessly blends the traditional and the modern

Butterflies lazily flit around the bloom-filled garden in the vast compound of a two-in-one house with two entrances and two facades – one traditional and one modern, both enveloped in nostalgia. Enclosed by sturdy stone walls, the gates open into a tranquil space. The house, situated on 30 cents, seamlessly blends the traditional and the contemporary with a vernacular structure that was built about 80 years ago and a renovated portion with a seventies look.

A view of the poomukam.

A view of the poomukam.   | Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

This home, bearing TC numbers 15/1176 and 15/1177 on Krishna Vilasam Road, has seen many avatars and changed hands many times before it was bought by two brothers, V. Lakshmana Iyer and V. Sankara Iyer, who painstakingly maintained the old world charm of the original structure while making additions to accommodate a young family’s convenience. That both the brothers were civil engineers (who retired as chief engineers) must have helped in no small measure. But unlike many houses in the city, it does not have a name. “Oh, we never thought it was all that necessary. It has been our home since 1969,” says Sankara Iyer with a smile.

The living room that has not been altered much since the house was built in 1931.

The living room that has not been altered much since the house was built in 1931.   | Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

Once this was part of a sprawling piece of land owed by a wealthy businessman Raman Pillai. Later, one of his children sold a plot to Krishnan Nambiar, a distinguished bureaucrat from North Malabar who was appointed as Divisional Inspector of Schools in erstwhile Travancore

Eventually, the house was sold to Dr. H.S. Mony, Principal of University College. Over the years, it was rented out to many individuals and government offices and at one point of time it even functioned as the premises of Shishu Vihar school.

Around 1968, Sankara Iyer, then a resident of Valiyasala gramam, was looking for a suitable house to move in with his young family. “Since I had two daughters, I wanted a house near a good girls’ school, a place from where my daughters could walk to school. That was when a close friend of mine suggested I buy this house instead of looking for a rented place. By the time we bought the house, I also had a baby son,” he recalls.

He remembers the single-storeyed, tiled, old fashioned house and the compound filled with grand old trees such as mango, jackfruit and anjili.

“Krishnan Nambiar had built the house in the early thirties in accordance with Thatchu shastram (science of vernacular architecture) with the kitchen in the north-east and the poomukham in the east. Since, he was a high ranking official in the government, he had his own chariot and a shed was built for it. Seasoned jackfruit wood was used for the doors, windows and ceiling,” says Sankara Iyer.

The original structure with the charming poomukham still stands in splendid style. The living room with its old fashioned windows and door has not been modified. Only the flooring has been changed all over the house. The original, greenish cement floor and reddish terracotta tiles have given way to vitrified tiles. Two rooms open into the living room on either side while the bedrooms are towards the rear of the building. Before it was partitioned into bedrooms, a large, sun-lit, airy room in the rear occupied almost the entire width of the structure.

The garden that is the pride of Padma Sankara Iyer

The garden that is the pride of Padma Sankara Iyer   | Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

“In those days, the kitchen had a separate entrance. We removed that and made it the entrance to our part of the house. Without disturbing the walls of the older building, I put in new windows, a collapsible gate and so on in the front and extended the building a little to the rear to make a new kitchen. What was then the kitchen became the master bedroom. But all this was done without disturbing the original roof of the house. Wardrobes were also added in all the bedrooms,” he explains.

Instead of demolishing or breaking up the original roof, Sankara Iyer had it enclosed and then extended the building. Painted white, the wooden ceiling keeps the house cool. He also removed the wooden panels in a few places and put up glass panes strengthened with grills. As a result, most of the rooms have plenty of natural light. He has come up with several such pragmatic solutions all around the house. Since the bricks were made of pressed mud, he decided not to tamper with the walls but gave it a cement plaster. And to prevent civets from urinating all over the place, as it happens in many old houses with wooden ceilings, he covered the wooden roof with a wafer-thin sheet of concrete, thus insulating the house against civets. “That is the advantage when you are an engineer,” he smiles.

The attic.

The attic.   | Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

In the renovated portion, a kitchen, work area and store were added. A steep flight of steps from the store takes one to a spic and span attic of the house measuring 3,870 square feet.

The long room towards the rear of the house was partitioned into large bedrooms and one was used by Sankara Iyer’s mother T.S. Subbulakshmi till she passed away. “My mother was keen that we buy a place of our own and I am glad we were able to do it while she was alive. But my father K.S. Viswanathan Iyer had passed away when were quite young,” he adds. Sankara Iyer’s elder brother and his wife made their home in the living quarters of the earlier structure. The kitchen and work area are additions but the bedrooms have been left untouched and retain that vintage look.

An ancient well near the garage was closed and a new one was dug near the kitchen. It still supplies water all the year around. However, the jackfruit tree was cut down, the anjili got uprooted and so did a graceful mango tree in the front yard. “My son’s friends used to be all over that mango tree when they were in school. We used to put up a swing during Onam. They still remember that tree. However, its trunk got decayed for some reason and we had to chop it down,” says Sankara. A new mango tree stands in its place in the lovely garden that is the pride of the lady of the house, Padma Sankara Iyer.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:32:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-home-on-krishna-vilasam-road-seamlessly-blends-the-traditional-and-the-modern/article19279151.ece

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