HOUSE PROUD: INDIA’S TOP CREATIVE PEOPLE OPEN UP THEIR PERSONAL SPACES

Go ahead. Put up that Live Love Laugh sign. Set out those essential oils. Arrange all the laughing Buddhas, collected over the years, on the side tables in plain sight. Set up Castle Grayskull and He-Man right there on the living room coffee table.

Everyone deserves a room or corner in their home, to which they can retreat or where they know they can thrive. For some it’s a tiny nook – a balcony with a green view, a book-lined shelf that’s entirely their own, or a memory wall lined with personal treasures. For others, it’s a workspace styled painstakingly to deliver exactly what’s needed to hone the best ideas. Or the complete opposite, a place to welcome new people, spark new fires. And for a very lucky few, a personal space is a whole palace, as this story will show.

Brunch spoke to four creative people, Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar, philanthropist and executive director at Historic Resort Hotels; architect Dikshu Kukreja; interior designer Minnie Bhatt; and singer Shilpa Rao, about the one spot where find their calm. Come check this...

LAKSHYARAJ SINGH MEWAR Maharana of Udaipur

Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar is a philanthropist, educationist, sports patron and six-time Guinness World Record Holder for nationwide clothes donation drives, for getting people to donate school supplies, for mass potting of plants, and giving out hunger-relief packages. So, where does someone like that go to unwind? To his palace, of course.

It’s not just any palace. Udaipur’s Jagmandir Palace was built in 1624 and is situated in one of the two natural islands in the Pichola lake. “One of the reasons it is so fascinating is because it was purely built for entertainment,” says Mewar. “The beauty of it is that it’s still being used for that very purpose, and as a family, that makes us happy. I escape there as much as possible, to unwind and to work.”

The palace features a courtyard, domes, a colonnade of cusped arches, fountains, pools, gardens and terraces. “The architecture is the most beautiful part about it. And the water that surrounds it adds a touch of romance,” Mewar says. The Jagmandir Palace was not built by one person. “Udaipur was founded in 1559 by Maharana Uday Singhji, and since then, until my father, everybody has added their own space to it. But when one looks at it, it looks like it’s been done by one person, and I think that’s the greatest compliment,” he adds.

The reason Jagmandir is special to Mewar is because it was the first assignment his father gave him when he came back from Australia in 2007. “I’d finished my hotel-management degree, and was asked to refurbish Jagmandir, and put it on the map,” he recalls. He turned it to a luxurious heritage hotel. “I enjoy seeing how the whole place has transformed and come into the shape and form that it is in. The beauty of it is that it’s still evolving and growing every day.”

SHILPA RAO Singer

We may recognise Shilpa Rao’s voice from hit songs such as Khuda Jaane from Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008), Malang from Dhoom 3 (2013), and more recently, Besharam Rang from Pathaan (2023). Hitting those notes doesn’t come easily and requires a lot of practice, which is why Rao has a small corner in her Mumbai home that holds great significance for her.

“It’s where I engage in my riyaz, a solitary process that takes weeks and months to perfect,” says Rao. This corner, situated next to the windows of the music room (which she uses for rehearsal), houses her harmonium and music speakers. “It’s the space where I listen to and practise the music I’m trying to learn. It’s become my personal sanctuary, where I embark on my solo journey of self-improvement, acquiring new skills,” she adds.

This corner is the space where Rao puts in all her hard work. “People often mention that I sound effortless when I sing, but that’s only because all the effort is poured into this room. It’s where I practice songs, make notes, sing them hundreds of times, and strive for perfection. All the toil happens right here,” she says.

Rao designed the room herself, handpicking each item to reflect who she is. The old carpet is a simple, yet cherished object. Her harmonium, a gift to her from her father on a recent birthday, occupies a special place here. “But the most significant aspect is that, regardless of how challenging a day might be, I always return to this space the next day. It serves as a reminder to never give up and keep moving forward,” says Rao. “Even on the toughest days, this space inspires me to persevere.”

MINNIE BHATT Interior designer

Minnie Bhatt is a Mumbai-based interior designer who works on both commercial and residential projects. Recently, she designed the Butter restaurant in Pune, Cafe Holiday in Mumbai, Hortus in Kochi, and completed her 100th project. It’s clear that she’s excited about her work. She chose her office space as the one area where she truly can feel at peace.

“This space is my dedicated work area, where I interact with clients and carry out my day-to-day activities,” says Bhatt. She spends anywhere between six to seven hours in her office most days. Bhatt adds that her office is special because it offers her a quiet corner in the midst of constant activity, where she can focus on complex tasks, think creatively, and work without interruption.

Bhatt designed the office herself, tailoring it to her needs, preferences, and work style. “The environment is designed to be relaxing and cozy, with ergonomically supportive furniture. Plus, I ensured that there was soft lighting, soothing colours and a pleasant design,” she says. Bhatt also made sure to include objects that hold special memories. “The papier-mâché elephant that I bought during a trip to Myanmar serves as a beautiful reminder of the beauty, friendly people, and culture I experienced on that journey, and it adds a personal touch,” she says. “Additionally, there’s a painting behind the couch done by my sister, artist Jenny Bhatt. It was a gift from her when I obtained the new office space, making it even more special. I also think that the painting on the brick wall creates an intriguing visual contrast between textures and materials.”

DIKSHU KUKREJA Architect

As an architect and urban planner, Dikshu Kukreja’s job is to dream up ways to make our cities livable. But when it comes to his own space, it is his den at his New Delhi home where he feels the most at ease. “This space is my living laboratory of subterranean architecture, where I walk the talk,” says Kukreja. “It’s where I let my imagination soar and creativity flow.” He spends a couple of hours every evening here, listening to music, basking in the natural light and keeping cool, thanks to the comfortable temperature provided by the natural insulation of the surrounding earth.

Kukreja is a gold medalist from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi and has a Masters in architecture and urban design from Harvard. But this space was designed by his wife Arunima Kukreja, with whom he shares a passion for art. “The eclectic mix of contemporary art and antiques from our travels adds to the immersive nature of the space,” he says. The room features a Kerala oil lamp, ancient Chinese art crafted from cork, a bronze sculpture of the Varanasi ghats by Tapas Biswas, a photograph by Colombian photographer Adriana Duque, century-old altar pieces and Riyaz Komu’s sculptures. “They all come together to create a unique and personal space,” says Kukreja.

Kukreja’s firm, which was started by his father, CP Kukreja Architects, consistently ranks among the top 100 in the world and top five in Asia. But at the end of the day, it is his den filled with special memories that he comes back to. “The bar, sculpted out of Makrana white marble, is modelled on a typical Indian townscape and is a collaboration with contemporary artist Sangam Vankhade, who was featured with me in Brunch as his mentor!”

From HT Brunch, July 22, 2023

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