A journey's End

Features Issue 39 Aug, 2010
Text by Shrijan Joshi / Photo: Raj Bhai Suwal

Ahouse is like a dialogue, conversations between its surroundings, with hopes and ideas tied under that single roof; all expressing a feeling of numerous emotions as one approaches it. The house in many ways takes on a living form projecting the characters of its inhabitants. George Varughese and Kala, both development consultants working in Nepal had searched for an antidote to the hectic city life; a weekend getaway that would capture the beauty of the valley.

The setting for which, would be on a spur of land above the Newar town of Lubhu on the outskirts of the valley. The land, originally an orchard, has a splendid view of the valley below, with the towering Langtang range as a backdrop. Having been born in the foothills of these very mountains, the decision to George, was an emotional one. This   home would always have a visual link with his birthplace, and remind him of the carefree childhood days in the villages of Kailali.

The house was to be a culmination of all their travels, and as Kala put it, “a journey’s end.”  The setting was to be in the midst of the orchard, a modern house without overstating itself. A house that was to represent, as the architect, Arun Pant of Design Cell aptly put it, “a contemporary lifestyle in a traditional setting, brought about by designing in context.”  

The rustic feel of the single storied façade blends comfortably with the rural setting. The terracotta tiled roof supported by wooden struts, niches in the wall, a  stone plinth and an entry porch appealed to them, as it gave a sober traditionalistic outlook of the local vernacular. The roof itself broken into components, further helped to bring stability to the form, and fuses the stretched façade to the setting. They want to make the house merge seamlessly with the landscape, prompted the garage to be tucked neatly in the existing mound. Retaining as many existing trees as possible, the footprint of the house positions itself to gain the breathtaking view of the valley below.

As you walk into the house, stepping on the rough stone slab from the local quarry, and step through the massive wooden doors, one can only feel that you are entering a medieval dwelling. Surprisingly enough, on entering, one is welcomed by a very unique interior. The single storied house (roughly 2000 sq. ft.) designed in split levels, dividing the private and the public living areas, has been masterfully balanced to make the interior spaces both grand and intimate. Essentially, a two bedroom house, the living-room, dining room, and the kitchen revolve around a massive curved structural pier. This in turn forms the backdrop for a 20 ft high wood stove, which immediately forms the focal point, around which all the spaces blend into each other. Taking the natural terrain’s full advantage, the double height living space opens out to a covered porch, which frames the fields and the valley beyond. The use of large single pane glass windows in the living space draws the surrounding nature into the house. In this sylvan setting, the house breathes in unity with its surroundings.

The unique interiors with the plain white walls of rough plaster and soft curved edges complement the rich texture of the wooden flooring. The wood for the floor planks themselves originally from carpet looms, must have stories as colorful to tell as the burnt orange in the niches in the wall. The exposed wooden rafters of the roof truss impart a juxtaposition of shadows played on the walls, as with the terracotta tiles on the floor which give warmth to the corridors. The double height corridor is made more intimate by bringing the scale down by introducing wooden beams and book shelves along the wall.

The kitchen is definitely the most colorful and lively part of the house. The terracotta tiles for the floor and the brick and surki (lime mortar with brick dust) pointing above the jet black granite counter top gives off a warm orange glow providing a foil for the white walls. The rich wooden provincial dining table, with benches for sitting, around which most family activities revolve, bridges the kitchen to the living area. The living area itself is furnished with a comfortable divan in red fabric. The elegant sofas create a more formal corner and an assortment of lamps provides the drama to the setting. The throw rugs and the inescapable clutter of daily life add warmth to the bare architecture.

The guest room tucked into a corner with its double swinging door similar to those found traditionally in the houses in Kerela, represents a fragment of a memory of ones ancestral roots. The bedroom is less moderate, with the rich buffalo leather sofa on the red Rajasthan durie and the heavy green fabric curtains. The bedroom window looking into the tangerine orchard, and the huge French doors that open out onto the high platform, filter the warm morning sun into the room. Natural light pours through the skylight into the walk-in closet in the master bathroom. The master bath itself is prepared in a mosaic of bright blue glass tiles and a huge tub looking out through the square window that frames the hills beyond. This enviably luxurious room is the pride and joy of its owners. 

The whole design centers around the living space with its massive windows overlooking the valley. This forms the heart and life of the design. The contemporary setting of the interiors cocooned in an orchard, and hidden behind layers of trees and shaded verandah, gives one a feeling of being a spectator watching the world from the safety of the window pane. The mood within the spaces is cleverly exploited by the use of the tonal qualities of light. Light has been used not merely as a source of illumination but also as an important form-producing and space-defining element.   The stark contrast of the interior to the rustic exterior expresses the duality in the design. The design is an amalgamation of the contemporary and the traditional within a single structure. It has avoided all unnecessary ornamentation and retains its integrity. The constant conversations between the designer and the owner, the meticulous effort to details and respect to its setting have produced a house that truly has a quality of timelessness about it.  As one guest put it, the house is an example of “nordo-nepali” architecture.  The essence of the house truly lies in the play of scale of the spaces both inside and outside, and its delicate setting in the landscape. The house neither competes nor imposes its will, it just complements the setting. For Kala and George, their dialogue with nature continues with the background of the valley below. A journey they had begun in a shell of a house today is their home.

Designer: Arun Pant
Architectural Firm: Design Cell
Kamal Pokhari, Kathmandu
Tel. 4423165, 4410887
Email. admin@dcell.wlink.com.np