Converting a ‘dump’ into a cosy home
Smart planning and self-help deliver the goods.
Breathing new life: The 40-year-old flat in Chennai sports as new look.
To be able to afford a home that you can be proud of in the heart of Chennai may seem a distant reality, or even an impossibility, in the inflated economy of today.
Asha Panicker has, however, discovered that all it takes is partly smart spending and partly serendipity. Refurbishment of an older apartment offers a more economical and personalised alternative to a new development of comparable size and quality. Wi
th minimal consultation of professionals, if you know your plans and amount needed to be judiciously spent, an interior to suit your taste is quite manageable within the budget.
When she moved to Chennai from Kerala a year ago, Ms. Panicker, who would be living alone, had only two criteria while hunting for an apartment: it must be centrally located — so that she will be able to reach both friends and facilities with ease — and moderately priced. At first, she had to face sceptics who dissuaded her from looking for apartments in the city’s bustling commercial hubs. Aided by an agent from an online brokerage service, she came upon a 40-year-old apartment on Casa Major Road in Egmore that was up for sale.
Asha’s first reaction was to turn around and take to her heels — for the apartment, which also housed a few commercial establishments, was dilapidated and at best, an eyesore with its exposed pipelines and wiring, paan-stained stairwells and an interior whose long-term residents included pigeons. But after the initial revulsion had settled down, she realised that the Rs.23 lakh quoted for the 1200 sq.ft apartment was a steal given its location. She reasoned that in an old apartment, all of the area accounted for was the actual residential space that was being offered as opposed to the areas for add-ons such as swimming pools and gymnasiums that one normally ended up paying for as part of the area owned in newer apartment complexes irrespective of whether one actually uses these facilities or not.
As the idea grew more on her, Asha had made her decision: she would settle for the apartment and then renovate the interiors to suit her needs.
After ascertaining with an expert about the structural soundness of the building and completing the formalities and paperwork involved in the purchase, she embarked on the uphill journey of converting the ‘dump’ as she referred to it, into an aesthetic interior and a cosy home.
The first task was to identify and appoint a contractor before which Asha had a talk with an architect in the family for recommendations and possible areas where her ignorance might be exploited. Next on the agenda was to assess which spaces she would actually need to use as existing and which would need to be reconfigured without disturbing structural elements.
The house had five balconies of which she decided to keep three and creatively use two — one was opened out to ensure direct lighting in the now extended living-cum-dining room and the other balcony was partly accrued to a bathroom and the remaining half was used to create a pleasing bay window of sorts with a small storage unit that not only brought in light to the master bedroom but also created a cosy nook. A small part of one of the bedrooms was sacrificed to create a common private entrance niche for the bedrooms which one could enter earlier from the living room. The exposed wiring had to be concealed and the rusted window grills and the termite-infested door frames had to be replaced.
With elements such as a red textured wall that defines the foyer and motifs painted all along the walls by an artistic friend, the judicious use of colour brings cheer into the spaces. Most of the furniture, about 25 years old, is recycled and renewed by a bit of polishing and adding contemporary touches with glass and suitable upholstery. “When I look back at it, I feel that it was really easy and things somehow fell in place in spite of my worst fears. The important thing is to know where one can spend and where it is prudent to save. For instance, I walked up to the roadside fabric market on Pantheon Road nicknamed ‘Cotton Street’ and picked all my upholstery in bright cotton fabrics from there. It is much more vibrant and economical as compared to a leather living room set. However I knew that I couldn’t compromise on concealing the wiring or the frames and shutters of the doors and windows which are all in teakwood,” says Asha, who had the drive to push the contractors to finish the renovation in a mere two months. With the civil work amounting to Rs.70,000, flooring and sanitary fittings to Rs.1,30,000, plumbing to Rs.50,000, complete electrical re-wiring to Rs.90,000, woodwork to about Rs.2,00,000, painting to Rs.75,000 and soft furnishings to Rs,50,000, the entire remodelling cost her a modest figure of Rs.7 lakh.
Things which were initially daunting soon fell into place and today Asha is the proud owner of an apartment delightfully out of place in its run-down setting.
As long as she manages to turn a blind eye to the disrepair of the exterior, once she is inside her home, she revels in the haven she has created for herself. At a modest figure of Rs.7 lakhs for the complete remodelling, Asha feels that she has successfully demonstrated that with a little acumen, a good house does not necessarily mean astronomical figures.
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