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November 12, 2011

A Sense Of Lightness

Text by Rukhmini Punoose. Photographs by Ritam Banerjee.

Verve visits veteran designer Krishna Mehta in her Mumbai home and discovers that East meets West in incredible harmony in her abode, indeed, as it does in her sartorial creations

Dressed in a peach sleeveless Lacoste T-shirt and casual cotton pants, designer Krishna Mehta welcomes us with great élan into her beautiful, tree-facing apartment on Nepean Sea Road that she shares with her garment exporter husband. Over Swiss dark chocolate and cappuccinos, she takes us around the chic European-style apartment, as well as on a 30-year journey to various moments in her life and different parts of the world, all of which have culminated in making their home look the way it does.

She is an unabashed fan of the late artist, M F Husain’s work, which is also the focal point of the room. A magnificent Husain in flaming reds, browns, greens and terracotta presides over the living room. This swirling-twirling dynamic representation of Ganesha the artist, the scribe, the musician and the dancer, is the only dramatic element in an otherwise muted drawing room.

Just like Mehta likes her garment silhouettes to be Western but the detailing and embroidery to be Indian, her living room’s Italian sofas and coffee tables are all contemporary with straight, non-fussy lines in light pine wood but the details – cushion covers in antique brocade from Benares, coffee table legs in carved silver from Rajasthan, as well as a stunning collection of Husains, Akbar Padamsees, Yusuf Alis, B Prabhas, Laxmans and Ram Kumars – are all Indian. She has created a sense of lightness by using a lot of glass and very light furniture. It is the silk Persian and Kashmiri carpets that lend richness and texture to the room. “When I first got married and moved here, the living room looked so different. It was a house full of men. It had dark blue velvet period furniture. It was all very static. We completely redid it,” she says.

As a creative person, Mehta says both the space and its vibrations really affect and influence her when she is designing. “I like calm, simple, well-balanced use of colour and elements. For me balance and harmony is everything. My workshop in Thane is exactly the opposite of my home. It is bright and earthy, completely informal in style, with a view of the hills. My home is where I come and unwind and it needs to have a soothing effect on me,” she says. “It also has to reflect that we are a close-knit family that do things together. We don’t usually eat in our bedrooms. So we have a large dining table to accommodate everyone. This is a home rooted in Indian culture and values.”

There is a lot to be said about someone who is known for her serious approach to cut, style and embroidery, but takes herself so lightly. Mehta’s home exactly mirrors both those aspects of her personality. On first glance, the long, sun-soaked room is quiet, serious and formal but as you wander around taking in its various eclectic elements, it’s apparent that the residents of this home have a sense of humour and laugh readily at themselves.

This vein of humour runs through the home in small but distinct ways. A cartoonish Lalique car in moulded glass sits besides two long-stemmed silver roses on the bevelled glass coffee table. Formal Baccarat and Lalique crystal jostle for attention beside a huge series of clowns collected from all over the world. A glass cabinet is filled with clowns in silver and brightly coloured Murano glass, some grinning idiotically at you, while others turn acrobatic stunts. On the beautifully shaped wooden mantlepiece sits a collection of sculptures of Murano glass overcoats, particularly apt, since Mehta is famed for her wonderful embroidered jackets. Mehta points to a low glass table with small, exquisitely carved Italian-made silver dogs on it. “My daughter, Natasha, always wanted dogs. So I have these for her,” she says laughing wickedly.

Her work takes her all over India, especially to Palanpur where she has a printing workshop manned by differently-abled workers. On her many sojourns to Gujarat, she has discovered several antique treasures and brought them home. One such find, two antique Japanese-inspired embroidered silks with 100-year-old frames, she has had carefully restored and now occupy pride of place in her living room.

Mehta also spent a lot of time studying and working in Paris and says her soul is half Parisian. Besides loving the French farmers’ markets with their incredible array of fromages, vino and bread, she delights in foraging through the Parisian flea markets for knick knacks. One such excursion led to her finding her three favourite cloth dolls. Far from the conventional portrayal of a doll, the beauty of these middle-aged women dolls lie in their brightly coloured clothes and construction giving them an air of casual repose. Hand-blown glass from Venice is another favourite of Mehta’s and on her many trips there she finds it hard to resist the shape and beauty of Venetian glass.

However, Mehta insists she is not an accumulator. “I like it when the eye just flows across a room and there are no jarring objects obstructing it. I enjoy looking at beautiful things, but only like to buy something if I’m sure that I will enjoy it for a lifetime,” she says.

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