C&J Blog Article


Styling your home with Indian influences

Indian Style

Diana Vreeland, late voice of fashion, one mused that ‘Pink is the navy blue of India’. And, as far as we see it, her simple description hits the nail on the proverbial head. In fact wherever there is true Indian culture, an explosion of pink, in its variant guises, can be readily witnessed. It’s as popular - across demographics - as navy blue has become for the western world. From dusty salmon to vibrant Magenta, this warming tint is the common denominator that connects deprived Calcuttan homes with the richly adorned palaces of Jaipur.

Yup, colour, in India, is critical, but it doesn’t stop at pink. Indeed for every example witnessed, there’s a supporting cast of pulsating rainbow shades, shades that span zesty orange and sun drenched saffron to sky wash blue and dramatic red. And, if our myriad toned historical analyses comes as a surprise, it’s because observers, generally, think of moody, low key decorating as the foundation of all things Indian. But we can explain: reporting and photography have been unjustly skewed over the last century. What you might imagine to be relevant… is actually less so.

In fact the wood clad, white washed rooms so typically associated with India are a more recent phenomenon, transpiring as a result of the country’s colonisation by Britain, a legacy which prompts many decorators to specify the obvious: billowing white fabrics, dusty terracotta floors and heavily carved, dark wood furniture. Fact of the matter is that long before this cultural overlay occurred it wasn‘t common for Indian homes to even have furniture. Until, that is, the British arrived and recreated affluent rural London (Suffolk, Surry, Cambridge etc) in the baking heat. And, with the passage of time, the Victorian ‘colonial’ look became the aesthetic which many commentators still look upon, erroneously, as traditional Indian.

Original ethnic homes, however, were much more streamlined. Even those inhabited by the wealthy elite threw life onto the floor, employing, as they did, eminently simpler attire. Think low slung padded cushions, hand woven carpets and shallow brass tables as the main elements required for a comfortable life. In the poorest homes, perhaps to make up for a lack of costlier embellishments, colour reigned supreme but it should be noted that, to this day, peasant housing varies in relation to geography and land quality. In the northern province of Kutch where extreme temperatures often give way to deluge, most modest abodes are raised on legs to protect against flooding. But inclement weather seldom obviates the desire for colour and embellishment: inside, walls and closets are brightly dressed and uplifting. In Rajasthan, mud homes are enlivened with silvery detail and intricate mosaic made from shards of brightly hued glass and mirror gathered from the street. And if you happen by and spot ruby red handprints on exterior walls, let us tell you these aren’t just decoration: the naïve daubs of paint actually announce the birth of a son.

Our own interest in things Indian spans back to childhood, but it wasn‘t until our first visit some twelve years past (on a press junket with a team of British journo’s) that we became hypnotised by the country’s significant allure. With just four short days to gather info’ for a broadsheet travel story, we dashed around Goa in a desperate attempt to sight every landmark… while still leaving enough time to sample the gastronomic delights of this fascinating country. Hailing from Glasgow, you see (the UK city that wears, with Birmingham, a crown for highest number of Indian restaurants per capita) we called it research (billing our editor accordingly) and raced from Indian pillar to Indian post in a hungry attempt to ensnare the magic of everything local.

As the years have passed, and our interest grown, we remain utterly enthralled by all things Indian but our interest goes far further than epicurean fancy alone. As commentators, we’re enthralled by India’s social issues, by its politics and of course by the country’s various religious factions. But, as designers it’s the architectural vernacular and design detailing witnessed in this fine country that really seduces us.

Whether embellishments that dress the majestic Taj Mahal, or those played out in the erstwhile mud, brick and lumber dwellings, India’s colourful heritage is staggering. And it isn’t difficult to transplant some of this rich heritage into western domiciles. Drawing inspiration from disparates like the plum and saffron coloured cloaks worn by Buddhist monks or from the great vats of spices that huddle together in the country’s bustling markets, imagination can run wild. Be inspired, too, by bottle green and ruby traditional textiles from Rajasthan and Gujeret. Hey, even simple embroidered appliquéd cloth, known as katab (from the English ‘cut up’) is stunningly beautiful. It‘s interesting to note that many bright ethnic fabrics owe their ‘fastness’ to the Indian discovery of ‘mordants’, substances which give vegetable dyes their staying power. These mordants include rusted iron, lime, vinegar and even, ahem, urine. Fortunately, as years have passed, less disquieting colour stabilisers have been developed.

Religious iconography too, which can be used as a fabulous kick off point for many ethnic schemes, is prevalent in both modern and traditional Indian worlds. The beautiful Shiva, for example, a major Hindu deity, is worshipped. In figurative statuary, it appears prominently throughout decorating history, chosen by many designers as a holy symbol of Indian purity. Today this icon can be found in trinket form from import shops or via antique and quality reproduction specialist dealers. We regularly counsel that the best interiors are those which don’t slavishly ‘theme’ or imitate a particular style; less, after all, is much, much more. So with this in mind try to exercise a little restraint. Making coffee tables with Shiva legs, for example, is a no no, whereas positioning one beautiful sculpture atop a naïve console is a much better direction to follow. And besides, a little respect…

Courtesy of a fascinating, diverse and colourful history, it’s no surprise that retail outlets the world over have capitalised on the growing appreciation of all things Indian. Couple this with the plunging costs of global travel witnessed during the last two decades, and India’s influence on the design world has become ever more intense. To help discover the very best of what’s available we’ve composed a shopping guide to steer you in the right direction. In addition, we’ve collated a list of reading - reference and pictorial - which should provide all the inspiration required to capture the beautiful spirit of India within your - soon to be brightly painted - walls.

 - a composite site with a multitude of Indian shopping ideas.
 - for Indian bedspreads, cushions, sculptures, yoga mats and jewelled boxes.
 - for traditional Indian artefacts and accessories.
 - check out this site for Indian antiques, statuary and bed linens.
 - for furniture, accessories and mosaics.
 - for Indian decorative arts, gifts and handicrafts.

Recommended reading

Indian Style: Landscapes, Houses, Interiors, Details -

by Angelica Taschen and Deidi Von Schaewen. Published by Taschen. This lovely title features jaw droopingly beautiful imagery as well as a wealth of historical information.

The Guide To Decorating Indian Style -

by Priscilla Kohutek, published by Mapin Group. Simple, concise information as well as a potted history of collectible artefacts and home styling.

Indian Style -

by Suzamme Slesin, published by Thames and Hudson. Simple, easy to follow text and beautiful photography make this a superb reference point to steer you in the right direction.




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