Elements of Indian Home Décor:
A Preservation of Culture
Written by Shirley Thomas, designer at Atelier Drome
The world is truly getting global. We live in a melting pot with people from various ethnicities and cultures. As designers, we realize that design solutions can reflect and celebrate the culture and taste of our diverse clientele. As I navigate the world of design in the west, I am always carrying my experiences from the east. Whether it is architecture, interior design or home décor. One of the fascinating aspects of home décor and interiors that I learned growing up in India is how people preserve the historical heritage in a modern world. Considering that India’s history dates back to 3300 BCE, indigenous tribal heritage and abundant local history of every single state along with slight influences of the Portuguese, French, Persian and British, it would be impossible to cover everything in this blog. But here are some of the interesting historical elements of Indian home décor that continue to remain a part of the contemporary or modern home units both in urban and suburban settings!
Dewan / Diwan
As the Mughal empire strengthened its roots in India, so did the Persian influence on Indian arts & crafts. The Diwan or Dewan is one such example of Indo-Islamic art. Diwan style of seating came to India somewhere during the 16th century. Diwan was synonymous to a seating place in the royal palaces. ‘Diwan -e- aam’ was the hall of regular audiences and ‘diwan- e-khaas’, hall of private audiences. Today this idea of Diwan finds a humble representation as the main seating of the living room of an Indian home (predominantly North India).
The Jhoola (swing) continues to remain an integral part of an Indian home, much like the Indian mythology. It is seen as a place where reality meets spirituality. While the exact time of origin is unknown, it is very well documented in the Indian subcontinent in the form of traditional dances, crafts and festivities. For the people who deeply believe in mythology, the jhoola represents a spiritual form of an array of heavenly values or concepts of love, fertility, the onset of menstruation of mother earth i.e. monsoons and celebration of life itself. The jhoola continues to find its place in a modern Indian home as an symbol of spirituality.
The jhoola in modern Indian homes
The majestic red and yellow sandstone structures have always been the gems of arid desert regions of Rajasthan. The jharokha, a masterpiece from the medieval Indian architecture, is a version of shaded and enclosed balcony. The Jharokha was used by kings or royal family to overlook the outside world or often a place of daily activity like the bazaar. Jharokha soon took various forms of adornment on a window in a lot of common structures. As Indian houses are finding ways to integrate medieval traditions of the region with modern architecture, the jharokha has taken over various two dimensional forms like frames of mirrors and entryway furniture. In a way, it continues to be a window to the rich past of Indian vernacular architecture.
Elixir of life – Tulsi
The courtyard / verandah / entryway and the basil plant (Tulsi) are the holy union of the Indian home. The basil plant, referred to as the elixir of life is the center of spirituality in an Indian home. Its strategic location in the center of the courtyard suggests that it purifies air and gives a pleasant feel to someone entering the house and also traps all the negative energy before it reaches the house. For all that it gives, Indian practice believes in showing its gratitude by praying to it and giving it a spiritual significance. The base of the plant is adorned with handmade designs and patterns. While this tradition is difficult to be followed in small urban homes, the tulsi plant is found in various miniature versions in a modern Indian balcony in all its glory of delicate designs and patterns done by local craftsmen.
The hand crafted athangudi tiles have adorned the royal Chettiar palaces of south India for decades. The local craftsmen from the Athangudi village of Tamil Nadu continue to make special handmade eco friendly tiles for the people of south India till today.
An Uruli was the humble copper or bronze utensil found in the kitchens of south India. It was used both for cooking and preparing herbal medicinal paste as per the ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda. While Uruli continues to be the best utensil for slow cooking and known to preserve the flavors of food, it has also become a vessel of home decor. Uruli is now found in various sizes and depths, carrying traditional Indian diya (metal or wooden lamp) or flower petals, on festivities. Don’t be surprised if you find the Uruli decorations in the far south east Asia, as the Chola dynasty of southern India ruled for more than 1500 years and parts of modern day Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In the hot and dry desert regions of north west India, particularly Rajasthan, the use of architecture to establish the right balance of light and shade is everything. Jali work (net pattern) is an excellent example of this idea. Jali facilitated cool shaded indoor areas with excellent ventilation. Today the Jali pattern seeks refuge in the modern brick work of sustainable buildings in India.
Arts, crafts and handwoven textiles are the heart of Indian home décor. There are at least 10-15 distinct styles of paintings in India originating from different state regions depicting different eras of Indian history and Indian mythology. Historic towns known for local artists, painters, craftsmen, sculptors and handlooms are alive and vibrant as their art continues to be celebrated by their local communities. The toran, a garland of flowers or embroidered cloth has always been of special importance in Indian homes at doorways or entryways, especially on festivities around the year.
This inspirational edition was written by Shirley Thomas, who is originally from Mumbai, India, and found her way to the Emerald City two years after finishing her Master in Architecture at Iowa State University. Before coming to the US, Shirley practiced as a junior architect in India. She brings experience in residential, retail, commercial, sports, historic and adaptive reuse projects. She grew up surrounded by Heritage buildings in Mumbai which were her greatest source of influence and speaks of Mumbai as a “living architectural model of inspiration.” She particularly loves to explore adaptive reuse and finding ways to strengthen our connection between architecture and the natural world. Learn more about Shirley through her bio!