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Simple, yet elegant

A house that is not imposing is what Dr. Vijayaraghavan and his wife, Nalini, had in mind.

WHEN DR. Vijayaraghavan and his wife, Nalini, decided to build a house in the late Eighties, they had one stipulation - the house should not look imposing at all.

This decision influenced the choice of the architect who was to be entrusted with the job, and Laurie Baker it was to be.

For all their travel abroad and their association with the elite, `Govindam', the house of the Vijayaraghavans, is simplicity itself. At first glance, it would not seem very different from any single-storied structure built by Baker. However, there's more to it than meets the eye. "The rear portion of the house has two floors, but it's not very obvious. Many people, including my cousins, thought for a while that our house did not have any bedrooms," chuckles Dr. Vijayaraghavan, leading cardiologist and vice-chairman of the Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS).

The house has two parts. The first part was completed by Baker in 1989-90. It has the typical Baker flourishes - the arches, the skylights, and the pantry leading up to the drawing room without connecting doors. "Those were the days when Baker, though not in good health, had his hands full. Our house was built at much the same time as Abu Abraham's," he recalls.

"The other part, which includes the library, the guest room and the dining hall, was built by the architects, Thomas Panicker and Reji Panicker, a year ago, to gel with the rest of the house," says Dr. Vijayaraghavan.

But why the Panickers? "The Panickers are good not just at conventional construction but also the whole spectrum of designing. They are the men who built the KIMS. They are also admirers of Baker. The extensions in our house have been done without any modification to the Baker home," he says.

So, do they share criticism regarding the lack of light and ventilation in Baker's constructions? "On the contrary, Nalini used to feel that the house was too bright, until we put a canopy on the top. The air movement is also excellent. The bedrooms are built in a way that they ensure absolute privacy. They are almost completely soundproof."

But there were two things where they compromised on the Baker style. One was the plastering of the walls and the other, the tiling of the floor. "High-quality terracotta tiles were not available in the city then. Without plastering, the bricks too would turn deciduous and keeping the house tidy would be difficult. We didn't want to spend money on the house some years down the line, and so, got the walls plastered and the floor tiled at the outset."

The credit for the beautiful interiors goes to Nalini Vijayaraghavan, a painter herself. Her works are framed and hung all over the house.

To the left of the living room is Dr. Vijayaraghavan's consulting room. Books on medicine dating back to 100 years and the Hippocratic Oath from the Island of Cos in Greece provide the ideal setting. Curios such as a framed picture of Mt. Fuji decorated with stones, a porcelain elephant used for storing tea, and a pair of miniature Dutch wooden shoes provide a relief from the sombre mood. A huge photograph of the Taj Mahal with flowers in the foreground, taken by photographer Harsh Chaddha from the Jamuna side of the monument, is yet another highlight.

To the right of the living room is the large library that the Vijayraghavans got built a year ago. A virtual museum, it houses all kinds of awards, mementos, and curious collected on their innumerable trips abroad. A large Pakistani wooden jhoola, inlaid with brass, catches the eye. The sofas and carpets give the room a cosy look. Large wooden shelves line two of the walls. Hundreds of books, on subjects raging from medicine and history to fiction, occupy the shelves. Two computer workstations, complete with lighting, are built into the shelf.

It is the curios that lend the room a touch of class, be it the frog that croaks when a stick is rubbed against its back, the wooden model of a large ship, the camel with leather seats on its back, the Lebanese vases with beautiful patterns made of sand. Decanters of all kinds occupy a cabinet. A large Scottish decanter, used in pubs, finds pride of place in their dining room. Wall plates and wooden spoons heighten the ambience of the room. A collection of crystalware is arranged inside a Pakistani wooden cabinet, also inlaid with brass work. The table and chairs form part of the same set.

It is not just the four walls of their house, but also the knick-knacks they have collected during their travels that make the Vijayaraghavans proud.


Photos: S. Gopakumar

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