Home of the week: Raseel Gujral Ansal’s Minda House in New Delhi, India
India has gone global. Banished are the hackneyed images of a poor, postcolonial subcontinent. Instead, a dramatic rebranding is under way for this 21st-century country, which is exhibiting its own hybrid of international culture. New high-tech satellite cities have developed around India’s capital New Delhi as a result of the country’s rush to embrace information technology. Spanking-new glass and steel skyscrapers dominate the skyline, manicured green-grass roundabouts are encircled by the latest models of BMW and Mercedes, while gleaming new shopping malls are interspersed between colossal new residential blocks. And Minda House, the work of the chic designer Raseel Gujral Ansal and her husband and business partner Navin Ansal, with their company Casa Paradox, is right at the heart of this buzzing city, a statement of that same irresistible optimism.
Raseel Gujral Ansal was given carte blanche by her client, one of a new breed of extraordinarily successful industrialists who have reaped the rewards of India’s new capitalism, and spared no expense to achieve a building that celebrated his achievements. With several of Ansal’s previous projects in mind, the client wanted a courtyard-style house that was unmistakably contemporary and occidental in style, and, above all, imposing in scale.
“My job is to interpret and guide my clients,” explains Ansal, “so this client’s request for a courtyard house, a traditional form in the Indian context, had to be reinterpreted.” Although in a congested urban environment, the house had to maintain the feel of a courtyard plan but also be contemporary, all the while coping with Delhi’s often extreme climate (as low as 5°C in winter, but as high as 45°C in summer).
The sheer scale of the project never daunted Ansal. “In Delhi, we are spoilt for space; the projects I take on are rarely less than 100,000 square feet, and I am far more comfortable with a large format.” The core of the house shows this through its dramatic, enclosed courtyard, a double-height space off which all other areas of the house lead. “I asked my architect for the double height in the atrium area, but also I wanted this drama in other areas of the house as well; the family area is one-and-a-half times height, so it makes for drama and accentuates the accepted norm, shifting your sense of scale in terms of vision. I wanted to create a play of levels; just having a single level is very dry.”
A free-flowing space has been created through massive exterior and internal plate-glass walls. “I always work to achieve interior spaces that move seamlessly from one area to another and avoid any feel of a series of boxes. I would have gone even further with the free flow, however one has to take into account the climatic conditions in Delhi.” The exterior glass walls add an additional dimension by allowing the outside in, with clear views of a landscaped urban garden, which was also designed by Ansal.
“I had a clear idea of the direction I wanted to take the client,” explains Ansal in reference to the interior decor. “Part of achieving the essence of what I saw, a contemporary and occidental concept, meant taking the client to Milan. I wanted to expose him to the highest international standards, and Milan was really the only city that could set the ‘benchmark’.”
“My inspiration is global. I am particularly inspired by Japanese style – not so much the Zen look, more Japanese ornamental. It’s that whole belt stretching across to Tibet; there’s a certain sensibility of colour that is so distinctive. It’s vibrant, yet it has a sombre feel.”
This is reflected in the beige-and-taupe palette that Ansal has chosen for the Minda House interiors. ‘I wanted a muted spectrum in front of which the artworks and accessories could stand out with clarity. It’s about display; this was the essence of the client’s need.”
For this particular project, Ansal wanted to explore her fascination with textural contrasts. “I’m excited by the idea of being able to juxtapose slick materials,” she says. “The high-gloss leather finish of the Fendi furniture against sandblasted and gloss-finished stones, the subtle silk finish of the hardwood flooring and textured floor rugs, as in the master reception area.’”
She also loves the translucence of glass and its jewel-like colours, particularly Murano. Such pieces are carefully placed around the interior for full dramatic effect. With the extensive use of plate-glass walls, the subtleties and extremes of finishes are constantly dramatised by the play of plentiful natural light.
Ansal wanted an opulent feel throughout the interior. However, she explains: “With our rich crafts tradition, such as stone and marble inlay work, it’s all too easy to go overboard with ornamentation in India. I relish opulence, however it should be underplayed.” Examples of this are the mother-of-pearl inlay work in the bedhead in the master bedroom and the ethereal fingerprint pattern, one of her signature designs, in the entrance hall area. “I’m not attempting to effect a minimal or monastic feel. I see it as wearing an exquisite pair of diamonds, rather than the whole chandelier.”
While making no attempt whatsoever to be enigmatic, Ansal robustly declines to be drawn on her working method or to deconstruct how she arrives at the finished product. “You know, it’s like asking for yogurt to be turned back into milk. There are so many influences that you see and which coalesce and evolve into a finished project. The final product takes over all the initial inspiration and thought processes. You can’t unwind it.”
She does admit to being restless in her work. “Actually, I think I often move too fast for my own good. Every project has to offer something new for me to be inspired. It can be a problem with established clients, of course, because when they come back to me I have moved on – they associate me with one thing and I have changed.”
She completed the Minda House, but was then asked back, and the jewel-like cushions in the atrium area are an example of a later experiment with a new thought – “additions that follow my current vision. The whole business is not one of being studied, it’s spontaneous, instinctive and always evolving. If it works, it’s wonderful.”
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