Chennai Here We Come

[Edited 6/17/11: OK, I’m not going at this time, perhaps later in year. Next time I say “I really mean it” won’t blame readers for not believing!]

Yes! This time I say we’re going, I really mean it. We’ll hopefully be running around Chennai in late June and early July, making purchases and decisions about the bathrooms, kitchen, furniture. Can you tell I always arrive in India with expectations of how much we’ll do, but within a few days I give in to the slower pace. That’s the charm of India. Plus how fast do you really want to move in the summer months of Southern India, anyway.

We’ll make a short trip to Kochi to wander through the wonderful antiques warehouses there, as I blogged about previously.

The thing is, our “pied a terre” is not the ultimate vision of a getaway place yet — it’s only “very barely there.” We’ll have working toilets and shower (with glass walls and doors!) by the time we arrive, but I refuse to settle on sink vanities now. So, no sinks yet. That’s OK, we would use bottled water for toothbrushes and not having faucets is a foolproof way to prevent a foolish mistake I made on a previous trip to India. In Sikkim, I totally forgot where I was. The place felt like home. So I drank from the faucet. Yeah. That’s really all you want to know. That’s really all I want to remember. We’ll just skip  memories to the good parts of that trip, after the, um, “recovery” which followed the “oh God just kill me now please” phase.


If we do need a sink, we can just run a few flights down the stairs to the in-laws place. That should be enough to remind me that I’m not drinking from my Chicago home’s well water tapped right into a crystal clear aquifer.

So. Our first order of business in Chennai will be to get a mattress to sleep on, sheets, pillows, towels, etc. Staying in a hotel doesn’t make sense when we have our own place there, unfinished as it is. Plus, that leaves more to spend on furniture and other critical things, like saris and fabrics at Nalli. Truly, it’s super critical. We need curtains.

So for the time being, we’ll have a super classy set-up: the ol’ mattress on the floor. Yeah. Nice, huh? Here’s how others have done this austere style …

Mattress on the floor, via ohdeedoh:

Mattress on the floor, via Popgadget:

Mattress on the floor, via Apartment Therapy  (Eames chair and nice floor detail does make the low-living look more palatable):

Mattress on the floor, again via Apartment Therapy (actually pretty stylish):

Mattress on the floor, another from Apartment Therapy:

This isn’t looking so bad here. I’m feeling a bit better about the situation. But  enough of the pics of mattresses on the floor. Makes me feel like I’m in college again and that’s half a lifetime away now!

It’s all a very temporary situation and part of the process of building your own place. There are some really funny pics of my parents eating dinner at a card table in their basement in front of their washing machine when they entirely gutted their kitchen to renovate it. They definitely weren’t laughing in the pics, but maybe now they would look back and find it funny. Somehow I think that’s what a few weeks in Chennai will be like for us soon.

And always remember, I know in my mind’s eye what this place will look like when it’s done and it’s going to be fabulous.

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Antiques in Kochi

I am bursting with anticipation for our next trip to India, as we’ll revisit the antiques warehouses in Kochi that we first saw a decade ago. On our shopping list:

  • Small cabinets to repurpose as bathroom vanities
  • Old windows or other “frames” to use for bathroom mirrors
  • Lazy lounging chairs
  • Tables (side, coffee, possible dining)
  • A few old tall columns
  • Bookcases
  • Blue chippy painted wardrobe to achieve my guest room vision

We did not take any warehouse photos on our previous Kochi trip, but here’s photos from others who visited and shared their photos online …

Visit this link to see a photo very similar to the warehouse we visited from Flickr user eenar_6, a photo of an enormous urn and a photo of a “chair hospital.” There’s a place in Chennai with hundreds of chairs hanging like this. We’ll revisit there too, possibly for dining chairs.

Check this out from Flickr user thovie333 — piles and piles of stuff to wade through:


From Sri Lankan Airlines website:

From Wikimedia, Old Kochi:

From Virtual Tourist:

Most of the antique warehouses and shops are in Jew Town. Wandering through them is a real trip. Sometimes you see the most fantastic visual feasts, like this is a whole boat on display, photo via Travelpod:

From Metro Spiritual blog:

From Elizabeth in India blog:

From the away we go blog, more travelers to India:

These photos give you a sense of what it feels like to be there. Shopping success depends on not getting visually overwhelmed by all the stuff, and being able to zero in on a few special things. Survival of the visual fittest?

While in Kochi, we stayed at Bolgatty Palace.

Lovely place, quiet with beautiful gardens and expansive grounds to make you feel like you really got away. It’s on it’s own island and you take the boat jetty to get to it. However with all the time required to get to Old Town via the boat jetty, taxi, walking to Old Town ferry, taking the Old Town ferry … if you plan to spend most time in Old Town, it might be best to stay in Old Town.

We did not ship any purchases home from this trip. We purchased only what we could carry on the flight home. In Cochin, I got an urli with Lakshmi on one side and a gecko on the other side. Love it! But what I was really seeking was a lounging chair like this found at The Lockhart Collection:

And I found one, for US$100. We lived in Minneapolis at the time, and when the warehouse owner heard that, he mentioned a buyer for a shop in the Minneapolis area (which of course we were familiar with as it carried India goods) had visited the previous day, looking at the same chair. We did not purchase the chair immediately, but returned a few days later. By then, the Minneapolis shop had already purchased the chair. I found it on their website a few months later, of course at US retail price, and it was painful to see. We’ve had several businesses so we fully understand the need to cover costs and make a profit, absolutely no problem with that, it was just knowing it could have been mine for much less including the shipping. This time, I will get my lounging chair …

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Home Decor Shopping in Chennai: Where? Your Ideas Please!

We’ll head to Chennai in April to work on our apartment. Yay, a visit to India!! Where should we shop? It’s mostly window-shopping for the future as the place will be uninhabitable in April. It needs essential things like bathrooms & kitchen, and we’ll make decisions in person then.

Please post great Chennai shops in comments! You can share websites in/around Chennai, and please share address or general location and phone number if the store doesn’t have a website. Feel free to share a review of what the shop offers. This will help spread to the word about Chennai shopping to anyone reading here. For foreigners, unfortunately travel advisers like Frommer’s and Lonely Planet don’t have much to say about Chennai shopping, and we know there are some jewels there!

Our apartment is in T Nagar near Panagal Park (Wiki links for readers not familiar with Chennai). While anywhere in the city is certainly possible, locations closer to this area are more likely to be visited. Traffic and all, y’know.

Right now the apartment is full of only dust ‘n crumble, so everything will be needed. So I’m open to stores with any and all products — love to visit and look and plan and scheme!

I’ve already “experienced” Saravana Stores (whew!!) and love Nalli Chinnasamy Chetti — I return with silk goodies from there every trip. We also usually visit Spencer Plaza — I love the bookstore there and am leaving room in luggage for home decor magazines and books — and were all agog at the delights of the new City Centre.

I do not need to shop only in malls, though. I’m game for absolutely anything and have been through the smallest and dustiest and most crowded places in this planet where we uncovered gems with great stories!

Oh — I will certainly be in the market for architectural salvage and antique/vintage furniture. This planet already has enough stuff on it. Why make everything new? There’s so much beautiful furniture from previous generations to make new again.

Looking forward to seeing your suggestions! Thank you!!

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