India pied-à-terre Indonesian Farmhouse Dining Table

We had two weeks in September in India to:

  • Finish two bathrooms
  • Get the water running
  • Hook up kitchen appliances and plumbing
  • Install some lighting
  • Install A/C units
  • Add skirting on the walls
  • Install interior doors
  • Paint the walls and ceilings of an entire 1500 sq ft apartment

That would be a lot anywhere. This was the itinerary of our two-week vacation in India!

Yes, a lot of people said “that doesn’t sound like a vacation.” But I say, if a vacation takes your mind away from the every day, then it did its job. Never mind that my body felt like I was at a prison labor camp and I dropped a dress size within two weeks despite eating mountains of South Indian food.

Our goals were simple: Cook a meal before we left. Be able to stay overnight. Be able to use a shower. That is all. Actually those were my husband’s goals. I had the additional goal of doing creative painting and stenciling on walls. The apartment wasn’t ready for that until the last day and we had to catch a flight home to Chicago. I painted the base coat for a master bedroom stenciling project, then washed my brushes and packed stencils in a suitcase. Wah!! Next time …

India pied-a-terre Kitchen

Kitchen in India pied-a-terre

We also didn’t quite cook a meal. On that last day, we had foods left over in the fridge to eat … a weird hod podge of pomegranates from Kabul, figs, apples, sharp cheddar, yogurt. So I assembled them into a healthy light meal. It was the first time prepping food in the India pied-à-terre’s kitchen.

First Meal in the India pied-a-terre

I think I got tears. You know, this blog was launched 5 years ago! Five years ago in October 2010 I started yammering on and on about what I wanted to do with the apartment, how I’d decorate it, how I’d paint it. And hopefully inspire a person or two along the way.

One post back in 2010 was about farmhouse tables. I loved the rustic farmhouse tables with trestles. Tables with personality.

Farmhouse Tables

Another post back in January 2011 was about chairs with farmhouse tables. I Photoshopped chairs that perhaps don’t quite go with farmhouse tables.

Chairs with Farmhouse Tables

But I didn’t care whether these chairs were supposed to go with a farmhouse table or not. I wanted quirkiness. I wanted contrast. Mis-matching was good.

Some things haven’t changed. And all the years of yammering weren’t for nothing.

Because one day last month, we were on our way to Good Earth in Chennai, driving through Nungambakkam and its upscale Rutland Gate shopping streets. My husband spotted a sign — Timber Teak. With an empty apartment, we needed furniture. “Furniture! Turn right!” he told our driver.

Turns out, Timber imports teak furniture from Indonesia. They have traditional styles and contemporary styles. Anything wooden you could need for your home is there. We first fell hard for some curvy chairs. They hugged your back and your bum and felt comfortable enough for a hard wood dining chair.

Indonesian Teak Dining Chair

Then while we squeezed through the warehouse’s skinny aisles piled high with furniture, we spied a really rustic and rough table surface. And of course I bent over to see the legs. Because the legs make all the difference! And I saw … a trestle. And farmhouse detail on the ends.

Indonesian Teak Farmhouse Table

The size was right too — about 3′ x 5′, a good size for the small-ish space we have for a dining table.

We usually don’t make such fast decisions. But this was the right decision. The table had all shades of wood from light to dark in it. It was super thick and substantial looking. And we loved the idea of contrasting the curvy chairs with the blocky table. I think we broke some rules because we switched chairs from a matched dining set, but the shop was okay with doing that. We love our one-of-a-kind unique dining table.

Here it is in our apartment, just a few fast unstyled photos snapped in the last hour before we had to pack and run to the airport. That was all the time we had.

Teak Farmhouse Table

Check out this rough grain:

Teak Farmhouse Table Grain

Here are a few more things from Timber Teak. You can find new pieces on their Facebook. If you’re in Chennai or nearby, give them a look:

Timber Teak in Chennai

Love these Chinese chairs:

Chinese Chairs at Timber Teak in Chennai

They even have the trendy raw edge look:

Raw Edge Table at Timber Teak in Chennai

I really love their strong chunky modern pieces like this bench:

Bench at Timber Teak in Chennai

I still have my mind on this cute chair spotted in their warehouse:

Contemporary Teak Chair at Timber Teak in Chennai

At least the next time we visit the India pied-à-terre, it’s ready for a meal right away!





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A Door That Took Seven Men to Carry

Watch your head — which you must if you are taller than 4 1/2 feet — when you step into the India pied-à-terre, our apartment in Chennai, India, for the height of the door is low. It’s tradition to bow your head as you pass through the door. The door is over 100 years old and so heavy it took seven men to carry it up four flights of stairs! It’s ornately carved, at least ornate for my taste. But choosing it wasn’t so much about what we like, it was more about preserving a piece of history. It came from an old home in Kanchipuram, a South Indian village where traditional saris are hand-spun with threads of real gold. Here are some door details:

India pied-a-terre Main Entrance

It is Krishna here, a Hindu god, playing a flute at the top of the door:

Krisha on Antique South Indian Wood Door

And, um, apologies for the dust and cobwebs there. We should clean up better for visitors! Please forgive us, we are at the apartment only once a year or so.

The massive doorknocker. You don’t have scale here, but it is bigger than my  hand!

Doorknocker on Antique South Indian Door

I leave the natural verdigris patina alone for now.

There are lotuses and Annapakshi birds — mythical and wise Indian birds that descend from the heavens and bring prosperity. The Annapakshi bird motif is often woven into saris made in Kanchipuram.

Everything is a symbol and everything has meaning:

Carved Antique South Indian Door

Someone, or a few someones, labored hard to carve a story into this door.

There’s a skeleton key lock that you can see through, for real.

Skeleton Key Lock

And what lies beyond?

Well, this is the first time I stepped into the apartment, four years ago:

It looks much the same today! Pretty much empty. That will change in September, when we’ll visit the apartment to do some work on it. I’m looking at old pictures of the apartment now, planning for some projects.

Here’s the back side of the main door, the very rustic side that’s inside the apartment:

Antique South Indian Door

Those shiny silver bolts need to be antiqued and sawed off flush — no detail left forgotten. As you can see in this next pic, this door is a prominent feature in the entry area. And because of the apartment’s open floor plan, the door is visible from everywhere. So it kind of dictates some rustic Indian countryside decor.

India pied-a-terre Foyer

I’m shooting for Rustic + Elegant. My moodboard to decorate this space is this:

And yes the door is to scale there — it looks weird but it is a short door!

We have a lot of work to do but there will always be this to fall back on … my curvy teak and rattan chair:

Teak Indian Lounge Chair

We found it in 2013 in Cochin and it was delivered minutes before we had to leave for a flight, so I had maybe 60 seconds to sit on it! Really looking forward to spending more time on this chair …





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An Epic Battle for a Creative India pied-à-terre Bathroom

It’s been a looooong time since I’ve shared ideas for the India pied-à-terre here. If you are new here and wonder “What is that?” here’s an explanation. You know all the DIY blogs where bloggers are installing kitchens, building bathrooms, adding architectural trim and pining over perfect doors? Well we tried to do that on the other side of the planet, from Chicago to Chennai! No, we don’t have super long stretchy arms and legs to reach from here to there. We tried to get things done through other people. It didn’t work out so well. I try to be positive here, so you haven’t heard even 10% of why we quit and let the place sit empty.

After a two (three?) year break, maybe memories get fuzzy, maybe we are crazy, but I think we’re gonna get back on it in 2015. We’re gonna find a good team and we’re gonna get this thing done!

Current Bathroom Status

First up … for the apartment to be habitable, we need one bathroom finished. The kitchen is “thisclose” – we just need to install the faucet, hook up gas, run the water, plug in the fridge and then whip up some masala dosa, vada and idlis! Yay! (Actually more likely we’ll order Domino’s pizza after all that work. Yes they have that there. And they do deliver! With packets of ketchup! ???) Here’s the kitchen nearly done, with a real live owl sitting in it:

Owl in the India pied-a-terre Kitchen

You can see the serendipitous, superstitious story of the owl here. And now that skinny strip of copper tile trim bugs me, but oh well. The line will be broken up by things we put on the counters.

The Great Bathroom Debate

Now, we are debating what to do about a bathroom.

This whole pied-à-terre-finishing business could probably become a “He Said But She Wants” reality show.

Watch the husband say: Let’s not get into what you want them to do. Let’s just stick a sink in there.

Watch her dismay: Just stick a sink in there? But what about my ideas, it was supposed to be awesome! Creative! Unusual! You can’t just stick a sink in there!

Bathroom Inspiration

See the husband steady his two feet on the floor: Yeah I know you have that wood thing you want to use. But we have to get it done.

Carved Wood Door Frame from India

Stubborn wife volleys back: We can get it done. I can show them what to do. I’ll haul a table saw myself in my suitcase. We can check it in, it’s under 50 pounds. I’ll do it myself!!! Girls can saw! RAWRRRRR. 

Bathroom Vanity Inspiration Photos

Husband isn’t having it: Let’s keep it simple. Like a pedestal sink.

Pedestal Sink

Wife absorbs the crushing blow: Pedestal sink?!?!?!?!?!!!!!  … (wife is processing how to deal with this crushing blow to creativity … she’s a fast thinker) … Okay. You’re right. We just need to get a bathroom done. We can do a pedestal sink.

Husband looks grateful, willing to compromise: You can do something creative in the other bathroom.

Wife stands up, heads for laptop, muttering under her breath: You want a pedestal sink, I’ll show you a pedestal sink …

Wife finds this … how about THIS pedestal sink?!?

Hammered Copper Pedestal  Sink from Signature Hardware

From Signature Hardware. It’s only about $1,000. LOL. Plus getting the thing to India. I am accepting donations. Let’s say it’s for the Cause for Creativity!

Don’t make me bring out the Armored Indian War Elephant for this battle. I know where to get one!

Indian War Elephant Armor

Yes elephant suit of armor does exist, as if they need it!

Elephant Suit of Armor

EDITED to add: Over glasses of wine, goat cheese and eggplant appetizer, she raised the idea of the copper pedestal sink. Surely the wine would ease the idea? But he is not goin’ for it … not yet … main objection:

He said: How are we going to ship that to India?

She said: Oh but we know someone in Delhi who can make this pedestal sink happen!

Yesssss … we had the India apartment’s kitchen copper farmhouse sink made in Delhi and shipped to the apartment within India. That was a whole saga of a story though … actually getting the guy to make the sink (his mom got sick, there were holidays, there were festivals, so many excuses despite him being a manufacturer supplying U.S. retailers) … getting the sink shipped and received (postal service shipped it back, no one was there to sign for it even though signature was not requested or required) … the sink finally arrived 1 hour before my husband had to leave for the airport and return to the U.S. We left the sink in the care of our contractor, with YouTube videos to learn how to install it! That was dangerous.

Do we want to go through that again?

 





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Spa-aaah Style

My husband just returned from India with video of the India pied-à-terre. That is our “second home” apartment in Chennai that’s currently half-finished, but that may change in 2015!

What struck me while watching the video was the cool calmness of the white walls. If done right, white doesn’t have to be boring or clinical. What I like about it is, it feels both bright and happy and as calm and soothing as a spa. When I walk in the door of the India pied-à-terre, I want to go “ahhhhh” and shut the door and leave the over-stimulating world of India’s urban streets outside. It’s invigorating when you’re in it but it wears on you.

Here’s some spa style as inspiration …

Pattern can help a white space be interesting not boring, like at the Royal Mansour white spa:

Royal Mansour Spa

Spa at the Royal Mansour

Indeed on the Royal Mansour’s website, they say:

“A door opens, the outside world slides away. What is left is pure calm.”

I didn’t know that was there when I wrote the words above! So they created this space with the same vision. We visited the Royal Mansour just a few months ago and I honestly can’t remember now if we got to see the spa. After awhile I was overwhelmed with all the pattern there!

Nook in Royal Mansour Spa

You can see they used a dark beige to add pattern while keeping the overall effect  white. The patterned screens are called mashrabiya in Morocco. They are like jali in India. So I’m keeping that in mind for our India apartment.

Texture and warm wood also help to make a neutral space interesting. The India apartment already has teak windows and some teak furniture, and textured tile.

Teak and Texture in Neutral Spa-Like Space

Again there’s texture in this bathroom featured at Lonny, but what’s also interesting is the inset shelf or niche is not the usual small shape. Details like this make a difference when the space is otherwise so unadorned:

Neutral Bathroom via Lonny

This next space has some similarities to those above: warm wood that is a prominent detail in a different shape. And the figurine – an apsara or rice goddess, I can’t quite tell. I’m not sure about a Buddha in a bathroom, so I’d hope it’s more like an apsara. It’s a little global touch I love:

Calm Spa Space

Here is another white, light and mostly unadorned space but the pattern and the shapes keep it interesting:

Moroccan Spa-Like Space

If you study what’s NOT here in these photos, there isn’t a lot of stuff and clutter. Clutter is the killer of calm. I’ve written before about the importance of restraint if you want a calm feeling.





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