Very Special Main Door

It should feel special to walk into special places. And a place that takes 24 hours to travel to is a special place indeed. Here’s what greets you when you arrive at the India pied a terre:

Here’s the story about the door: It is about 100 years old and came from a residence near Kanchipuram. Its height is low, in keeping with the tradition to bow your head as you pass through the door. On the top, in the middle, is a carving of Krishna with his cows playing a flute. In this role he is known as “Gopala,” or cow herder. The door was renovated by Muthu Handicrafts on OMR road on the outskirts of Chennai. The doorknocker is solid brass and is weighty — two pounds!

The side of the door facing the interior of our apartment looks very different. It has a country feel that fits with the design and decor that will be coming as we keep working on the place:

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Chennai Flat Construction Update

This blog was begun to document finishing the interior construction and decorating of an apartment in Chennai, India while we live in Chicago, USA. As of fall 2010, the apartment was a concrete shell with walls, but no doors and no windows:

Today, it’s still a concrete shell although it does now have floor and bathroom tile:

Plus they’ve installed an antique carved wood main door (can’t wait to see it!!), windows and French doors to the balconies. So at least the interior is protected from the elements now. Well, weather elements at least. Human elements, not so much (photo via Pink and Green Mama):

Our contractor is still seeking a locking mechanism for a 6-inch thick door. So yeah, you could just open the door and walk in. And we need to find appropriate handles for an antique door — no shiny gold please! I have nightmares of this:

Attack of the shiny brass handles!! The Fenesta windows arrived with shiny gold handles. That’s the standard finish. Not what we wanted and we asked to change them (it was too late), and our contractor must think we’re the most incredibly picky people. Poor guy, we’ve really only just begun with our pickiness! Actually I don’t think we’re unusually picky — it’s just that India is new to so many homeowners having so many options and being so actively involved in the details of the building and designing process. Choice is not always better, though. I highly recommend this book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less:

I think of this book many times when I’m confronted with entire aisles of toothpaste choices, shampoo choices, cereal choices …

But for home decor, we do enjoy exploring the choices and deciding what we want. We enjoy that more than things like cutting grass or mundane errands like buying deodorant and detergent, that’s for sure.

So for the India apartment, we’re just operating as we’d do here in the U.S., but we’ve found it’s difficult to accomplish what we want from afar. That may be an obvious statement to some readers, but we’re optimistic folks and we were optimistic last October (photo via motifake):

Now we’ve been through some minor battles and we have emotional scrapes and boo-boos. For things like, finding appropriate hardware for a 6-inch thick antique wood main door that was a major splurge in cost, and we don’t want it messed up. Yes we are helicopter parents over this main door. Finding a farmhouse sink for the kitchen (I may wind up shipping one over). And we don’t think we should have to pay 40,000 INR for old wood beams for the kitchen ceiling:

So much, in Chennai, for just old wood beams?? Or are they talking about making new beams look old? We’re not entirely sure. We’d rather recycle what’s already existing. We don’t even need many beams. Hopefully this isn’t sticker shock. I mean, old wood beams, how much should they cost?

Communicating the bathroom tile design — where the architect drawings mysteriously come back looking very different than what we originally agreed upon, and oops the tile was ordered based on this mysterious changed design, so tile must be returned and re-ordered and the design re-worked. Good thing we  communicated enough to catch that before the thinset, tile and grout were applied. Of course these things also happen during renovations where you’re present in the flesh. We’ve been there, done that with our Chicago home so now we realize what we’re up against. This is just how it is. It’s not easy.

So we’ve taken a break. On top of my husband’s growing business, my full-time job, needing time to eat and sleep, cats that demand attention and we happily oblige, keeping our house and property clean and our clothes washed and pressed, and of course blogging, there’s not much time to be vigilant about the Chennai apartment.

We plan to visit Chennai in July to make major decisions in person. Keep me in your thoughts, I’ve never been brave enough to venture to India’s climate in the summer! So until then, construction is on hiatus and I’m having fun “seeking design inspiration” which  my husband calls “surfing” however this is not idle time, it’s “important research.”

Next post, back to the fun stuff. I just had to dispense with this construction worry, lest anyone think this is all fun n’ games. At least when it is complete, I think we will value it all the more.

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Chennai Cucina

I’ve written previously of our plans for a Tuscan style kitchen in our Chennai apartment with Tuscan style hood, farmhouse sink and wood beams on the kitchen ceiling.

I’ve also written about difficulties you can run into trying to find this kitchen style from vendors and working remotely. Indeed, even the title “Chennai Cucina” looks funny, like a clash of things that aren’t usually together. Indeed!

Although our team can create the Tuscan hood with wood trim, it will be the first time doing it. So we’re seeking examples of looks that will give clear direction. I was recently flipping through design magazines from our 2002 trip to India. In the October-November 2002 issue of Indian Design & Interiors, I found an ad for Veneta Cucine — “total kitchen solutions” in traditional Tuscan styles and contemporary styles. Access to the company is available all over India, including Chennai. You design a kitchen, it’s produced overseas and imported into India. Here’s a company that’s done this Tuscan style in India thousands of times! They are high end, and their prices are not in our current budget for a second home that we’ll visit only occasionally. But we can certainly get inspiration from the photos for our kitchen.

Check out their traditional Tuscan modular kitchen designs — all images from Veneta Cucine’s U.S. website:

Where are those stairs going?

You can see these are simple cabinets (or, carcasses and shutters as they’re often called in India) and the Tuscan hood lends the distinctive style. Certainly these hoods are prefab and as we want wood trim on the hood too, I wonder if it’s possible to get just that element from this company. The kitchen doesn’t have to be dark, though — there’s plenty of light options too:

(mmmmm … green tomatoes …. )

Considering our kitchen is about 10′ by 10′, we may opt for a lighter finish. See the kitchen space to the left in the photo below (please excuse the mess, I haven’t swept or dusted in awhile, ha!) — a dark finish could make the space feel like a dark cave:

To end on a prettier note, here are close-ups of modular kitchen details from Veneta Cucine. Where hood and its wood trim meet the wall:

Little cubbies and drawers to store essential things within reach:

I really like the lattice detail. But wonder what would be involved in keeping all the edges of those little holes dust-free:

Detail showing partially-frosted glass:

All the designs by this company I’ve seen online have ranges and ovens integrated into the cabinets and counters, but I am also wondering about free-standing oven/range units:

If you bake frequently, elevating the oven is a great idea. In our Chicago kitchen, we have a microwave/oven unit that’s set into cabinets and elevated to a comfortable height, similar to the photo below, so you don’t have to bend over much. It makes it easier to insert and remove things from the oven:

My husband thinks we don’t need an oven in the Chennai kitchen. He says if you want cake or cookies, you can walk down the street. But it’s fun to bake!

Here’s a stainless steel Tuscan hood, great look for a more modern or contemporary kitchen:

We could have a blast designing a “Chennai Cucina” (or is it Cucina Chennai?) with all these choices!

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Baseboard Molding

Now that the Chennai apartment’s floor tile is installed, it’s time to choose baseboard molding. Why bother using precious time in life to ponder baseboards? What is the point? What is the purpose of baseboard molding?

It finishes off a room by covering the edge where the floor and wall meet. Baseboard molding might sound like a luxury (well, and if you think about how most people on this planet have to live, even basic quarter-round molding actually really is a huge luxury) — but imagine a room without it. Imagine the raw edges of tile, wood floorboards or carpet butting against the bottom of walls. A messy unfinished look.

Baseboards also silently convey a lot about a house and a room. Many American suburban tract homes built during the post-war years have basic flat molding with curved edge, about 3″ tall, along with a quarter-round piece of wood. Or, just the small quarter-round piece of wood to cover the floor-to-wall seam. Here’s an example, and this person wrote a helpful blog post about how to remove baseboard molding:

Our house, built in the late 60s and upscale at that time (doesn’t feel like it by today’s standards) has solid oak baseboard moldings about 4″ tall with some decorative carving, plus the quarter-round shoe, exactly like this:

Our oak moldings are so solid, in one room there’s a length of it just laying against the wall because I don’t have the strength to drive the molding nails through it, no matter how hard I try. So yes our house is full of that Midwestern orangey oak, but I’m not painting it or removing it because it’s quality stuff. We won’t be living here forever anyway, we’re just temporary stewards of the house, is how I look at it. I don’t have a right to rip out such quality materials.

Homes with larger rooms, taller ceilings and bigger mortgages need taller baseboard molding to be proportional to everything from the size of the room to, well, the size of people’s expectations. Thickness of the moldings matters too. Like this grand example:

Our India flat is not a super-big place, but it does have an open floorplan and 10-foot ceilings. So we’ll make tall baseboard molding. I just found this photo on with a mega thrifty idea to get the look of tall baseboards without the full price — use wide planks of wood topped with decorative strips:

This is similar to the look I’m going for in our India apartment — what a great idea to use two different pieces!

The material you choose depends on whether you want a natural wood look or whether you will paint the molding. MDF is being used a lot now to keep costs down, but it should be painted because there’s no woodgrain for stain. If you plan to paint, MDF or inexpensive wood might be more appropriate because you won’t see the material. Save your money for materials you will see. But if you want to stain and see the wood grain, an investment in fine hardwood is worth it.

Regarding style and design of baseboard molding, here is where there is a bewildering array of choices, such as these below, just a tiny selection of options from Burton Moldings:

My gut sense is leaning toward a mostly basic straight line with a bit of curved detail at the top, like the sample above that’s second from the right. But why I’m favoring that, I’m not consciously aware. There must be a reason. Never in my life have I given baseboard molding much thought, other than when it must be dusted, and then I think it’s a pain in the butt detail. Some style guidelines to narrow the choices are needed!

Indeed, you get a gut sense that something is “off” if the baseboard and any crown molding is wrong for the architecture. Particularly with homes that have a period style. It’s a detail that should support a building’s architectural roots. Here’s an article from Realtor magazine about baseboard molding,  architectural style and impact on home buyers. So … what are the roots of our India pied a terre’s architecture? What are visual cues that would support the look of the place? Uh, I don’t know. It’s just kind of a box right now! My sense is that we should take inspiration from the Tuscan kitchen design which is a dominant feature in the open floor plan space. If we took inspiration from the exterior architecture, the terra cotta tile roof and balcony balusters could support Tuscany style too. At least, they wouldn’t clash.

Simple unadorned baseboards are more modern and may look good with the contemporary modular kitchens many are installing in new Indian homes. Intricately carved baseboards deliver a more vintage feel. These choices don’t have to correlate with the size of a room — you can do intricate baseboards in smaller rooms. Just because a room is smaller doesn’t mean the baseboard must be very basic and simple. In fact smaller rooms could benefit from the punch of style that detailed baseboards could deliver. One factor to consider is the ceiling height and the height of the baseboard — the lower the ceiling, the lower the baseboard. One rule of thumb seems to be, don’t go taller than 6-inch baseboard for an 8-foot ceiling. (true??) And in our apartment, the tiles are 2-feet wide so the baseboard should be proportional to the tiles. Plus, baseboard molding should coordinate with existing trim like door and window frames, so it should be to scale and have a similar style.

Hmmmm … that last sentence just gave a “lightbulb moment” of style guidance — I know what the interior doors will look like, so that narrows the design choices for baseboard molding …

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