Architecture

Souvenirs of ShahJahan…Delhi and Agra in Instagrams

Taj Majal Agra India

I guess it’s not really fair to call this post ‘India in Instagrams’ as we only had a few days in New Delhi, ostensibly to “watch” our teenage daughters in a soccer tournament. While we did make it to the late afternoon games, the truth is it was an opportunity to dip our toes into the wonder that is India. Resplendent with color, in particular white, pink and green, it provided me with a jolt of energy after months here in the very beige desert. We managed to tack on a quick day trip to Agra for the Taj Mahal, because in the end, we needed to see that pearly resplendent monument itself, but I think we would all agree that it was not necessarily the highlight of our trip.

White marble was unquestionably one of the storylines throughout our days, from the incredible carved Mughal flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal…

Mughal Flowers marble Taj mahal

…to the ongoing and surprising details at the nearby Red Fort in Agra – which is not at all just red! It seems apropos just after Valentines Day to mention one of the world’s greatest love stories – that of Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal, over 22 years no less, as a tomb for his beloved wife. He was eventually deposed by his own son, but lived out his days confined to the Fort, with a perfect view of his masterpiece. Because Agra is not at all built up, some of the best views are from a distance, like those from the Red Fort and from the terrace of the Oberoi Hotel (more on that later).

Marble square Red Fort Agra

There were modern-day inspirations to be found everywhere, including this simplified arabesque floor pattern which I am planning to use as a model for a bathroom renovation back in Brooklyn.

Marble mosaic floor Red Fort Agra India

And speaking of marble and bathrooms, I must stop and mention one of my favorite places on the whole tour – the ladies washroom at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. This colonial era Art Deco masterpiece is on that list of historic hotels I have been carrying around with me and I was privileged to stay there this trip. The art collection and thousands of engravings that line the halls are worthy of a post of their own. But the ground floor loo with its bank of freestanding back-to-back sinks and mirrors takes the cake!

Imperial Hotel New Delhi Ladies Washroom Bathroom marble

We have all been told that pink is the navy blue of India and it is true. We could not stop snapping photos of the glorious pink saris everywhere, from the Sikh Temple in Delhi…

pink is the navy blue of india lady in sari

…to more subtly in Agra at the Red Fort.

Red Fort Agra Sari

Back in Delhi, we visited Humayun’s tomb which served as a model for the main building of the Taj Mahal. It was peaceful and relatively deserted, in great contrast to the aforementioned monument and therefore magical.

Humayan's Tomb New Delhi

In fact, other than the breathtaking moment when you first enter and the de rigueur perfect photo of the Taj, we often preferred the other sites for their mystery and mood.

Ladies at Humayan's Tomb New Delhi India

No trip to India is complete without shopping – and lots of it – so it is no surprise that green – the color of currency – was one of the other main hues of our visit. We hit many of the major markets including Khan market, Sundar Nagar and Santushi, along with a bicycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi. I bought everything from Indian cottons – lots of scarves and kurtis at Anokhi and Fabindia – to carved wooden legs (custom ottomans anyone?) in the back alleys. I desperately wanted the stack of bracelets below, but you can imagine the price tag, so I contented myself with armloads of silver and a particularly delicate gold and raw sapphire necklace.  But all of that shopping was merely a distraction as I had come to India searching for one thing – Indian miniature paintings. At Sundar Nagar market, which sells bits and bobs of ‘antiques’ as well as all the lovely modern inlay furniture so popular today, I picked up a few fairly fine reproduction miniatures. In general these tend to be copies of famous original paintings done on old paper so as to give them a nice patina.

bracelets and indian miniature

In fact I had thought I might be content with my repros until we stopped in at the highlight of the visit, the home of Rohit Kaicker, also known as Gallery 29 Sunder Nagar. In all the rooms filled with spectacular artwork, this turn of the century painting of Shah Jahan himself on a background of malachite, surrounded by a border of Mughal flowers (remember the ones carved in marble at the Taj in the photo above?) screamed to come home with me from the very moment I walked in. I cannot recommend Rohit’s home gallery highly enough as prices are reasonable, his knowledge encyclopedic and seeing his home itself is worth the visit, although I guarantee you won’t leave empty-handed. I’m actually thinking Indian miniature paintings might deserve a post of their very own so let me know if that would interest you.

Indian Miniature Painting Shahjahan Taj Majal Rohit New Delhi Mughal Flowers

And for one more glimpse of amazing Mughal flowers I must share the living room off the terrace at the Oberoi Hotel in Agra. Anyone else would be sharing the view of the Taj from the window, but then I am not anybody else. I wanted to move right in here and stay, or at least try this in a project. Any takers out there?

Oberoi Hotel Agra Taj Majal Mughal Flowers

I must give a final shout out to Fiona Caulfield‘s Love India, billed as a ‘Handbook for the Luxury Vagabond’. This book was our bible, albeit a carefully annotated one by our dear friend Lisa who used to live in Delhi. Other cities in India appear in the series and I am tempted to buy them and dream. Be sure to notice the accent color 😉

Love India Guide Fiona Caulfield

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Eastern Dreams…Serdar Gülgün’s Istanbul Jewel

I don’t know what is different about this arrival and re-entry to the US, but somehow I can’t wrap my head around being here. Only seven hours of jet lag should be better than the usual thirteen, but it hasn’t been and that’s the least of my troubles. Perhaps its the pressing and unfinished business commitments back in Doha, or perhaps its the breakdown and subsequent immediate ticketing of my car as I entered the five boroughs? Maybe the tearing of my new (and very cute) dress by a careless woman on the subway or the breaking of a molar while eating some pretzels!?! Whatever it may be, my inconveniences, while actually quite small, have kept me from fully entering the mix here. On that note, I picked up the summer issue of Town & Country and was immediately transported back east by the opulent Turkish fantasy created by Serdar Gülgün in his Istanbul home, Macar Feyzullah Pasha – a home with a name like that should in itself prepare you for what is about to come! I’ve been making it a habit lately, being entranced by these extraordinary renovations and recreations, this one being a hunting pavilion built for an exiled Hungarian pasha in the 1850s. Lovingly restored by Gülgün, an interior designer, author and Ottoman art expert, the house features myriads of finds from decades of exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. The massive antique Oushak sets the tone for the carpets to come while the light filtering in from all sides makes the space glow like a jewel box. Be sure to click the photos for large detailed versions.

T & C Istanbul entry

Proving yet again that there is nowhere that doesn’t benefit from a dose of blue and white porcelain, this entry vignette with its antique red Chinese tables, porcelain ginger jars, inlaid mirror and Islamic ceramic medallions from the Grand Bazaar is the kind of mix that references centuries of trade routes.

T & C Istanbul entry detail blue and white porcelain

Like the Lebanese houses I have written about before, the rooms open directly off of the central entry. Here the dining room is laid with a vintage suzani for a tablecloth.

T & C Istanbul dining room

The second floor is laid out in the form of a Byzantine cross, giving 360 degree views all around. The layering continues, but my eye is drawn to the pair of slipper chairs upholstered in a myriad of fabrics and ringed with bullion fringe, much like the ones I always love in Muriel Brandolini’s projects. I also spy a massive inlaid armoire (one of a pair actually!) in a study that contains Gülgün’s collection of antique embroideries and textiles. Can you imagine? While soaking up the rest of the details – carpets, calligraphies and accessories – be sure to note the delicate domed ceiling.

T & C Istanbul upstairs

A detail shot of the back study reveals that color combination I am loving lately, with lavender, yellow, light blue and grey/beige playing off with wood tones and mirrors. This makes my bedroom updates feel tame by comparison. And that Iznik pitcher has me swooning and simultaneously hoping in my earthquake sensitive way that it is sticky tacked to the pedestal.

T & C Istanbul LR detail

The global mix is evident again here in a series of bedroom chambers hung with Chinese ancestor portraits.

T & C Istanbul bedroom

The Belvedere is a private guesthouse house that sits above the main house with incredible views out over the city. An unexpected and bold color combination works in the light suffused space.

T & C Istanbul Belvedere

On my must buy list now is Gülgün’s and Laziz Hamani’s book, The Grand BazaarI haven’t been to Istanbul since my honeymoon, and it is only a four and a half hour flight from Doha, so I am thinking it needs to be revisited this fall.

The Grand Bazaar via Assouline

For more details and photos, see the entire article by Whitney Robinson, photographed so beautifully by James Merrell over at Town & Country. For a video walk through and interview with Gülgün (in French), take a look at Maisons d’architectes. And I’m off to pick up my car from the mechanic and allow myself to get absorbed back into my America life…at least for a while.

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Brooklyn Brownstone Project Updates

 

brooklyn door before and after

From this…to this!

You may recall some posts from last year about numerous projects I was working on in a Brooklyn brownstone, including this door restoration. While the house will be professionally photographed soon, I got to stop by this weekend so I can’t resist showing you some quick updates. The front door has been returned to its 19th century glory but as beautiful as the outside now is, the interior of the entryway may very well have become the favorite room in the house. The new front doors added significant space but it is the Farrow & Ball Ringwold wallpaper in green and the black and white marble floor that have dressed it up to scream elegant welcome.

brooklyn entry farrow ball ringwold

The two are such divinely perfect partners that the young daughters of the house have taken to having tea parties in here – wouldn’t you? There is still an antique art deco iron coat rack to go in and while the marble is eminently durable and we don’t want to hide any of it, we need a simple entry mat for bad weather.

brooklyn entry farrow ball ringwold

Some of you may be scratching your head recalling we had originally planned for encaustic tiles on the floor. In the end, the marble was more sensitive to the period and design of the house. I found a better use for the encaustic tiles anyway, as you can see below!

brooklyn kitchen encaustic tile

The kitchen renovation at the brownstone is almost finished and looking stunning. If you recall the Sheila Bridges kitchen, shown below, that served as the original inspiration, we are very close, but the dark woods and rich colors elsewhere in the house demanded some pattern and color complexity be added to all the white. Enter encaustic tile backsplash!

Final painting and window treatments still to come, but the counter-depth refrigerator, farmhouse sink and paneled dishwasher make all the difference. Peek back here to compare. Other final choices included white macoubas quartzite for the counters (which is reading gray in these photos although it is white in person), the single lever Perrin & Rowe faucet, with sprayer and water filter, which really is easy to use and a budget choice with the Barclays fireclay sink. Links to the original posts on these decisions can be found at the bottom of the post.

brooklyn kitchen encaustic tiles

Speaking of Sheila Bridges, be sure to check out another luminescent brownstone she has designed in Harlem in the new June issue of Elle Decor.

Sheila Bridges ED June 2014 brownstone

Sheila Bridges dining room harlem brownstone ED June 2014

And on the wallpaper front, my client has generously offered to give me the leftover F & B Ringwold to line the back of my china cabinet at the beach. It would look great, or I might use this roll of Osborne & Little wallpaper, recently discovered in my stash from a project from almost 20 years ago. Trellis and quatrefoils – two of my favorite things still – on a soft blue-green background.

Osborne & Little wallpaper trellis quatrefoil

Sorry for the general quietness these last weeks. Between the launch of the new blog format, the Great.ly launch – don’t forget to check over there regularly as I am adding to my boutique all the time – and this whirlwind trip to the USA, I have been utterly exhausted. Next week I’ll be giving you an update on my settling in here in Doha, including some of the decorating challenges we expats face. But I am super pumped to be headed to the beach in just 10 days!

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Trifore…Magical Triple Windows in Lebanese Houses

“In English the trifore is a triple arch, and is also known by the name “Lebanese window” and is identified with the typology of the central hall house that was common in Lebanon…This is a decorated wooden window characterized by three arched openings supported on the sides by engaged stone columns in the wall and in the center by separate columns that are mainly made of marble. The column consists of three components: a base, column and capital. The carpentry details include a wooden lattice that adorns the upper part of the window and a folding double-wing window element on its bottom part. The trifore also occurs next to the balcony – in these instances the middle unit in the trifore is constructed as a door. “



One of the joys of change is how it can alter our vision. Moving to Qatar has turned my eye towards parts of the world I didn’t think about much while I was living in Japan. I have written effusively about designer May Daouk’s Beirut home featured in Architectural Digest before, in particular the amazing arched windows in her great room. What I hadn’t quite realized was that this layout and design is not unusual and is in fact a classic style Lebanese house, with roots that stretch back through the Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans, Venetians and others. I’m not going to show the other photos of May’s house again, so be sure to visit them in the post or the magazine. They are truly that good!

may-daouk-beirut-home-AD

In addition to May Daouk’s home in Lebanon, I have stumbled across a few others and been amazed at the architectural consistency among them. Trifore, triple arch windows, or mandalouns as I have also seen them called, are the integral centerpiece to a great room with doors opening directly and symmetrically off to smaller chambers. Having just toured Pompeii and ancient Rome a few weeks ago, I can clearly see the links between the open courtyard centered homes there with these. The windowed axis provides cross ventilation in the summer months and copious sun for the colder months as well as views across the water or over the valleys, as traditionally they face outwards and often have a balcony. The triple window is almost always on the second floor, as we would call it, much like the Italian piano nobile that is so common to Venice. It seems very practical that the principal rooms for entertaining and living should be upstairs where the light and views are better.

trifore lebanese window via because i love sand

The vacation home of Kamal Mouzawak and Rabih Kayrouz, a Lebanese fashion designer, that was featured in The New York Times a few years ago has the same exact setup – a grand salon with a trifore window and doors opening off to the other rooms. This home was stripped to its bones and fully renovated after having been shuttered since Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s. It was very sensitively done – about 70% of the original stone floors were taken up, restored and replaced. The decorating here is the antithesis of that in May Daouk’s home, being as spare as hers was richly layered. But both versions work. My eye can’t help but be drawn to the oval tulip table in front of the windows, proof again that that table works anywhere. I am excited as mine is on the boat from Malaysia as I type.

lebanese salon NYTimes

From this angle you can see more clearly how the other rooms open directly off the great room. Inset transom panels were painted in the early 20th century by Lebanese painter Youssef Howayek.

Lebanese house central hall

It isn’t only in the central salon that the light is outstanding. This view of the dining room with the kitchen beyond shows the high ceilings and tall windows throughout the house. I love the colors and simplicity of this space.

dining room lebanon house NYT

Shoe storage for them seems to be just as much of an issue as it is in Japan. This antique console has been well repurposed as a shoe cupboard.

shoe cupboard antique console

On yet a third design note is fashion designer Elie Saab’s Beirut home, designed by Chakib Richani, also featured in Architectural Digest.  Saab’s house is unusual in that the central hall and main living rooms are on the ground floor, not the second floor, with an enclosed garden. The doors in the central arch open directly to the lushly planted space, rather than the more expected balcony.

Elie Saab AD trifore Lebanon house

The simple palette and minimalist upholstery is designed to set off the carefully placed antiques. The space is also broken into three sections with internal trifore, again similar to May Daouk’s home.

Elie Saab Chakib Richani Architects AD Lebanon LR

The arch motif and gothic tracery continues into the master bedroom.

Elie Saab Bedroom Beirut AD

I can’t resist this photo and its detail of what looks to be an amazing inlaid chest. More on inlay coming soon!

Elie Saab Beirut Lebanon inlay dresser

Are you as entranced by this extraordinary architecture as I am? I know it influenced me tremendously in the choosing of our Doha house, but I can feel it affecting me well beyond that choice.

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Image credits: 1. Architectural Digest, photo credit: Simon Watson, 2. via Because I Love Sand, 3-6. The New York Times, photo credit: Bryan Denton, 7-10. Architectural Digest, photo credit: Marina Faust.

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