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November 24, 2017

Interior Designer Vikram Goyal On Transforming Mundane Houses Into Beautiful Homes

Text by Sharmi Ghosh Dastidar

“I want to celebrate Made in India, especially when tastes for high-end furniture are so skewed towards what comes out of countries like Italy and Germany”

At the end of many a serpentine lane in god-fearing India you might notice an ubiquitous entity. Smeared with generous dabs of vermillion, this colour-blocked stone deity of Hanuman gets uninterrupted obeisance. The respectful salutation is a practised reflex, at times not needing even a glance in the idol’s direction.

A statue of the deity graces the lobby of Vikram Goyal’s home too. A humongous wooden frame showcasing the indigenous temple art of South India forms a stunning backdrop and decoratively ensconces the monkey god of valour. Trust Goyal to add an edge here, as he has been doing to all things quintessentially Indian.

In New Delhi’s tony Shanti Niketan, Goyal’s house is a talked-about address. Clean white walls and manicured foliage conceal the splurge of glamour and high design that lie behind. A seven-year-old labour of love, this beautifully designed home is a recognition of how the crafts of India can adorn a modern space, making it elegant and modish while keeping it seeped in history. Goyal’s friends began to take note of his acumen and the product designer was soon doing up his friend’s home in Chennai. One project led to another and he found himself dressing up a Manhattan penthouse, an assignment that earned him accolades. “Another home in New York turned out quite interesting as well,” says Goyal sitting in his well-furnished study, lambent in a warm yellow haze. The black walls form a crisp backdrop for the plethora of old antiques and artefacts strewn strategically around the room. “Black is one of my favourite colours. Its bold masculinity highlights everything it frames — paintings, busts, sculptures and accessories.”

While growing up in the capital, vacations at his maternal grandfather’s abode in Rajasthan familiarised him with the labyrinthine allure of the historic forts, havelis and palaces there. His eye for architecture and design — especially pertaining to the indigenous craftsmanship of India, was honed during those formative years. “My grandfather’s house in Jaipur was a treasure trove of artefacts, sculptures and paintings. I grew up with a deep appreciation of history in all its forms. I guess a sense of design was imbibed from childhood,” he reminisces.

Goyal started off rather conventionally, studying engineering at BITS, Pilani and then graduated in economics from Princeton University, followed by a stint in banking at Morgan Stanley in New York. But even while he was crunching numbers and analysing statistics, he de-stressed with visits to museums in the US and Europe, breathing in the rich tapestry of art, design and architecture. “It was a terrific chapter of my life. Then one fine day I decided to call it quits and return to India to do something on my own. I co-founded Kama Ayurveda and then eventually Viya Home happened,” he narrates.

Over a decade old, Viya Home started with designing products. “My aim was to work with skilled metal artisans to bring our modern Indian designs to life. Nowhere in the world will you find such mastery in workmanship as in India. The idea was to take something indigenous and reach out to a wider audience. So, we delved into design, branding and quality control to take Indian crafts to a global platform. We wanted to celebrate Made in India, especially when tastes for high-end furniture and accessories are so skewed towards what comes out of countries like Italy and Germany. We want the world to appreciate what India has to offer.” Goyal points to a malachite table inlayed with brass. Its uniqueness, he says, lies in the combination of brass, a much-favoured metal at Viya Home for its burnished and versatile character, and malachite, a semi-precious stone (they also use lapiz lazuli, tiger eye and amethyst) as against marble, which is more commonly used by most Indian product designers. “The materials are Indian but the designs and execution have international appeal. For the first few years, our design forms were modern interpretations of traditional Indian art and architectural elements — the lotus, finials, domes and herringbone patterns. As our markets grew and developed internationally, we maintained our Indianness more in terms of artisanship and material rather than in forms and patterns. We became decidedly India-agnostic and started drawing inspiration from different artistic references such as art deco, art nouveau, modernism and brutalism. Now, we work with more abstract forms.”

He points out how pieces like the Stalactite Console (a brass console beaten to look like stalactite formations) or the Persepolis Wall Sconce stand out for their global appeal. “These are bold pieces. They glamorise a space. A well-designed home should be well-lived-in. When I design a space, I use products that turn it into a jewel. That might mean pairing a Viya product with a French stool or a Japanese screen…the pieces should complement each other,” Goyal says.

We ponder the inspirations that trigger Goyal’s artistic eye. “I have always been drawn to Indian art and sculpture — the diversity and the beauty of form, expression and craftsmanship — particularly to the ancient and also some of the contemporary. Whenever possible I use them liberally. They add a sense of individuality, history and uniqueness to spaces and work wonderfully with modern or modernist furniture and accessories. Without them, spaces risk becoming clones and bland repositories of expensive furniture and lights. The physical ‘mixing’ or juxtaposition of objects and styles comes quite instinctively to me. I follow no diktat or formula. That’s why I choose my clients carefully. Someone with an art collection, an open mind, and a trust in my aesthetics is ideal,” he maintains.

Goyal’s brand spans a spectrum of Indian art and artefacts. “There are miniature (Rajasthan, Mughal and Deccan schools) and pichwai paintings (Udaipur), old textiles, sculptures in metal and stone, wooden figures of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Gujarat as well as Tanjore paintings, to name a few. But I also see what kind of art the owners have and follow my design instincts according to their tastes,” he says. “While working on the initial blueprint, I also check the source of natural light and the owner’s preferences. Then I decide on whether the space should be summery and cheerful or dark and moody.”

Known for his knack for symmetry, Goyal’s first love continues to be designing products. “I get excited developing new products. Every design should be unique. This is what inspires me. Seeing designs come to life is a high. Doing up large spaces is as challenging as dressing up a smallish apartment. The small space too can be a jewel,” elaborates Goyal.

Apart from meeting the evolved aesthetics of clients in the UK, France and the Middle East, Viya Home has also been retailing from Dedar, one of the world’s top companies selling luxury fabrics. Goyal has worked with Kelly Hoppen on a hotel project in Mauritius and the brand also has been collaborating with esteemed names such as Studio Jacques Garcia and Alberto Pinto. “The Made in India story has travelled well globally with ‘soft products’ such as textiles, fashion and rugs and, of course, jewellery. With ‘hard’ products, like furniture and decor accessories the story has been somewhat different. The tags are mostly ‘cheap and cheerful’ rather than ‘heritage and sophistication’. At Viya, we strive to alter that perception — with high-end interior products. Superior quality, exquisite craftsmanship and innovative design have been the mainstay of our brand. Our designs are not overtly Indian; we use Indian materials to create items that are innovative and global.”

In a recently completed project in Goa, Goyal has departed from his usually busy look to create a home that brings together earthiness and minimalism. Using the locally available laterite as the main raw material, he peppered the interior with products created particularly for the home. “We try not to repeat our look. Every space should be individualistic. For the Goa project, I wanted to work with textured surfaces and hence retained the exposed ceilings. There is a long hallway where we placed a dramatic, 10-foot-long, sculptural console.”

With a planner as choc-a-bloc as Goyal’s, it’s no surprise that he is simultaneously working on projects in Goa as well as a fresh range of products. However, he will opt for some me-time in Europe soon. “I’m looking forward to the trip because I will get to visit museums and monuments. There is inspiration everywhere…to observe, assimilate and use in my work,” he rounds off.

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