A lovingly restored Assam-style house inspired by the aesthetics of the land


“Can you please mention Axel Vervoordt? I learned a lot from him and I really want him to take note of this house,” says Priti Rao with a big laugh as we sit sipping herbal tea, under a gazebo near the flowery lawn of her home in Shillong, Meghalaya. It’s not like Rao is an interior designer or worked with the Belgian art and design legend. Far from it, she designs public policies and works on projects related to financial inclusion and data privacy at the consulting firm Dalberg Asia. Its clients include giant NGOs such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and government agencies such as the World Bank. “It’s just that a lot of my confidence in mixing and matching comes from Vervoordt’s work,” says Rao. “’Intuition’, presented at the Venice Biennale, is one of the most profound exhibitions I have ever seen. He combined pieces from different periods and materials. Yet they just magically made sense.

Owners Priti Rao and Dr. Vijay Kumar have restored this red pine staircase to the first floor of their Assam-style home. The space is decorated with an Assam teak bench, a Peruvian rug – a travel find – and an Ikea mirror to reflect the light. The baskets used for the flower arrangement and the other plants are from the hills of Garo, Meghalaya. On the first floor landing is a mask from the Congo, picked up during a work trip to Africa.

Prarthna Singh

And that’s pretty much what she did by transforming an almost 80-year-old Assam-style house attributed to her husband, Dr. Vijay Kumar, one of the best IAS officers in the state. She seamlessly brought together objects from diverse cultural and aesthetic sources, as well as locally created objects, to create a home that somehow documents lives lived in places as diverse as Uttarakhand, Mumbai, San Francisco and Tokyo. . But with it all, there’s still a lightness, brought by the almost all-white palette accented with touches of warm, exposed gray wood.

“The bedroom gets a nice light in the afternoon,” says Rao. The bed has been crafted from locally sourced Assam teak and is inspired by George Nakashima’s live-edge furniture, which celebrates wood with all its irregularities. The table lamp shade was made from scrap ramie yarn by a local student, Ilamon Thangkhiew. The bedspread was picked up in Jaipur from a local store. The curtains, from Womenweave, were lined with old light-blocking curtains from Ikea to “combine functionality with a handmade touch.”

Prarthna Singh

A soft textured blanket in a handwoven banana fiber basket from the Kishkinda Trust in Hampi.

Prasad Ramamurthy

Handwoven cotton cushions by designer Margaret Zinyu from Kohima, Nagaland.

Priti Rao

A Harsil natural wool thulma blanket from Avani in Uttarakhand, traditionally woven by the Tibetan community of the greater Himalayas.

Priti Rao

Read also : Designer Sarah Sham’s Mumbai home breathes new life into a heritage structure

As you walk through the house, you see shaggy, undyed woolen blankets from Uttarakhand Avani brand made into rugs. WomenWeave cotton curtains from Maheshwar with just that hint of an indigo border. Noren (Japanese fabric dividers) through glass doors she had a friend in Tokyo courier between bouts of the pandemic. Naga throws in, like the one on her Ligne Roset sofa, a purchase from when she worked at IDEO, San Francisco. And hand-woven indigo-dyed throw pillows by Kohima-based designer Kevisedenuo Margaret Zinyu. “I always hoarded fabric – I brought them back from my travels. But when we got here, I found fabrics like the ones Margaret makes and I felt they had the same aesthetic that you would find in Tokyo or Paris,” she says. (Box: Her findings led Rao to co-create Northeast Edit, a platform to promote the arts, crafts and textiles of this region, which she describes as “part gallery space, part cultural journal, part creative collective”.)

Japanese noren (cloth dividers) at the front door of the house – it reads “Welcome” – with a floral arrangement of blooming rhododendrons.

Prasad Ramamurthy

“One of the first noren I picked up in Tokyo – an indigo-dyed batik-style mother and baby owl with night stars to cover one of the many half-glass, half-wooden doors in the building. ‘old Assam-type house,’ says Rao.

Prasad Ramamurthy

The Home Office: Rao bought the Eames lounge chair while working in California; the rug comes from Oaxaca, Mexico. Above is a lampshade Rao made for her husband Vijay’s 40th birthday. She used an old Meghalayan fishing basket and decorated it with “illustrations of her favorite things and messages from 40 of her favorite people around the world”. On the ledge above is an inflatable silicone sculpture by Goa-based artist Rajaram Naik, inspired by the ancient ruins of the state. The basket, again used as a planter, is from Kishkinda Trust, Hampi – “Where We Were Married!” Rao adds. The ivy noren in the background is from Tokyo.

Prarthna Singh
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