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December 30, 2016

Take a Tour of Neha Hiranandani’s South Mumbai Residence

Text by Simone Louis. Photographs by Toranj Kayvon

Bespoke and cosmopolitan, the stunning home is still a warm family space

We’re in Malabar Hill, I remind myself. Because, within the quiet luxury of Neha Hiranandani’s contemporary, modish home, it’s exceptionally easy to forget you’re in Mumbai. Right from the entrance, past a warmly lit mirrored hallway with regal paintings and two larger-than-life Christopher Guy statement chairs, the living room beckons. It greets you like an unperturbed host…much like Hiranandani herself. Tear-drop chandeliers by Preciosa sparkle over the two distinct seating areas on each side of the large room and muted walls are accompanied by pops of colour in the furnishings. “I enjoy rich, earthy tones like burgundies and indigos and dark wood, but I’m also known for loving an all-white room with one bright copper colour,” she tells me. “I find it uplifting and interesting.”

Next door is her study, a room that the writer and philanthropist spends most of her time in. Here, an entire wall behind a sleek desk is covered by an expansive wood cabinet stacked with an impressive number of books. It gets even more impressive when I find out that these are all books which she has grown up reading in her childhood home in Delhi, and that they were sent by her parents — carton after carton — upon her request. “These are my most precious possessions. Very often when I’m writing, I reach for something that I had read maybe when I was 12 or 16,” she divulges. “I feel like great literature always stays with you; it gets woven into your own ego and experience in some way. As a writer, that is perhaps one of the best gifts — to have access to all that has become a part of me from the time that I was a child. It’s something that I wish to pass on to my daughter.”

It doesn’t take long to grasp how ardently devoted the articulate Mumbai-born and Delhi-raised stunner is to the cause of education. After moving to the US at the age of 17 to study English literature and international relations at Wellesley College, and working in healthcare in Boston, she decided to study education policy at Harvard. She then returned, after eight years away, to work with UNICEF, which was headquartered at Delhi in India — coincidentally winding up where she started, at a time when she didn’t think she would come back home. “It was a great opportunity, so I did. Working there for seven years, for education, sanitation, child protection, HIV and more, and spending time in the interiors of the country was very, very cool because I had come back thinking that I knew India — and I realised that I didn’t. There was so much to learn and so much to do.”

As we walk to the dining room, Hiranandani reveals that it was during this UNICEF stint that she met her husband, Darshan, son of property tycoon Niranjan Hiranandani. When they decided to get married, she was in a place where she wanted to be more hands-on and personally involved with projects, having come across a small NGO based out of Lower Parel, called Muktangan. “They were facing a shortage of teachers and I said, alright, how do we get them? They told me that no one believes in the children more than the women from the same slums, so we trained these ladies to become teachers.”

The conversation pauses as she gives me time to gawk at another stunning Terzani chandelier — with silver chains this time — sitting above a long dining table with intricate inlay work, custom-made and handcrafted by a Greek artist. The couple, evidently, is passionate about lighting. “It definitely is extremely important to us, especially to Darshan,” she agrees. “We think about lighting as an art feature.” Upstairs, on the family’s more private level, I see what she means. Her daughter Zoya’s playroom is probably my favourite in the entire house, because on the ceiling sit two lights that very realistically mimic clouds. That’s not all — the glowing, fluffy masterpieces move too! Darshan’s study, though, has what they call a ‘living’ light fixture. “It’s got these little clips which allow you to keep adding to it, so we asked Zoya to give us one drawing, one piece of art every day…and she’s been doing it every single day for the last year or so.” The first thing you notice when you step through the doorway, consequently, is a very cheerful amalgam of colours, designs and patterns. “I get to see how she has progressed from the first tentative scribblings of last year to something more evolved and mature this year,” explains the doting mother.

The lounge on this level (fondly called the Zoya lounge) embraces natural light, like many of the rooms, and is where the family spends a lot of their time. Paintings and framed vintage photographs occupy the walls and knick-knacks from around the world dot the space. The art in the house has been collected over many years and while there are quite a few notable works, it seems like the couple is very cognizant of the fact that if they like a work, it doesn’t have to be by a reputed name for them to pick it up. It’s not uncommon for a new artist to share wall space with a master.

Back downstairs, poised and graceful in front of the camera, Hiranandani adjusts an installation that features gilded birds on a branch-like structure and reveals yet another ‘Zoya connection’. “We were at a wedding in Bangkok and the hotel we were staying at had a lovely little shop filled with beautiful craft items from all over Thailand. As we passed by, it was actually my daughter who fell in love with it and wanted it! I’m happy to say that at the age of four, she is one of the decorators of the house,” she smiles. I can’t help but smile as well, while I wander off to explore the many imaginative spaces that have been highly designed and intelligently curated, yet are undeniably livable and evocative — displaying an aesthetic sensibility that cannot be denied.

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