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March 24, 2012

Arabian Nights

Text by Nasrin Modak.

A deep-toned whirling dervish from Istanbul stands alongside a rosewood African statue. Next to it is a Japanese inspired bronze figurine. What links the three is the shade. In the quiet neighbourhood of downtown Kuwait, stands fashion designer Pria Kataria Puri’s mansion. This is where she places different artifacts together in a colour story where they blend to form a narrative, discovers Verve

As the mild afternoon breeze wafts silently in the desert, somewhere close by, the sound of countless chimes fill the air. At first glance, the imposing beige walls of an old-fashioned bungalow against a lush green setting look striking. The canopies and cabanas in the front garden make a perfect arena for al fresco summer lunches and winter soirees. Walking through the porch, a huge chandelier draws you into the formal drawing room, dotted with interesting artifacts and paintings from across the world. A Husain planted next to an Anjolie Ela Menon, next to an unknown artist, creates a riot of colour. Some canvases are from an art gallery in New York, others from Mumbai and still others picked up in a street in Paris or Mussoorie, by artists who remain untraceable. “These are beautiful works that probably didn’t find the correct platform. Unlike a Souza or a Raza whose canvases are easier to find, these works aren’t everywhere. I pick art for its aesthetics and for what touches me about it. Then I decide where to put it,” says fashion designer Pria Kataria Puri, who confesses that there is a storeroom overflowing with paintings by Bipin Jena, Ajay Kaushik, Chandan Sengupta, Swaraj Das and Bipin Martha, all awaiting their turn to go up on a wall.

Kuwait is where Pria lives with her husband, entrepreneur Sumit Puri and their two kids, 17-year-old Reaa and 14-year-old Nosher. It’s special – because this is her first home away from India. A decision the couple took nine years ago when Sumit had to move there for work. It made perfect sense for the family – the standard of living and education being high here. “From the golf course to the riding club with world-class coaches, everything’s just 15 minutes away. Kuwait is a small but wealthy country. People here know how to live the good life,” says Pria.

The Delhi-bred couple is accustomed to living in large houses where accessibility to space means being able to pick up a lot of art, furniture and paintings and constantly being able to update the collection. The Kuwait pad has a variety of imported furniture from Italy, France, Malaysia and India, each a carefully chosen investment. Pria has personally planned and done up her home as she didn’t want “a five-star lobby designed by an interior decorator”.  There is a balance of yin and yang in every corner. When Pria tends to overdo the feminine bit, Sumit overlays it with a masculine tone, creating an equilibrium. So, brocade and velvet upholstery are offset by bronze metallic paint, leather sofa and wooden flooring.

When looking for a residence, what the couple wanted the most was enough space to allow them to entertain and to let their then seven-year-old son play football. So, a garden, though rare in Kuwait, was a must. Also, the house had to be facing east. A swimming pool would only be an added bonus but wasn’t a necessity. After six months of round-the-bend house-hunting, Pria fell in love with this three-storied mansion at first sight. Sturdy pillars, large windows, Italian marble, large guestrooms and bathrooms, indoor and outdoor pools and a garden – just what the doctor ordered.

The drawing room on the ground level is reserved for formal meetings. Another one in the basement has a private kitchen and a lounge bar that opens onto a foliage-covered patio with a stairway that connects to the main gate. Inside, the décor is cosy and the lighting sets the mood. The bar is everyone’s favourite spot – it’s glam and relaxed. With the screen pulled down, this space converts into a family theatre, PlayStation area and music room where both the kids play instruments and compose tunes. The indoor pool is right next door. On some nights, the Puris invite their friends for a night of food and fun. “Game nights are fun. It’s better than just chit-chatting,” says Pria.

The first floor is where the family spends most of its time. With the TV room in the centre and sofas for each one, they sit together to watch an episode of Family Guy. “It’s our thing,” says Pria. The master bedroom forbids laptops and TV. It overlooks the main garden and carries a minimalist look with Pria’s favourite eight-foot walnut wood Italian bed and espresso machine. “Both of us are complete coffee addicts. The first thing I do is draw the curtains and make coffee.” Pria’s walk-in closet is a room with white décor, carpets, full-length mirrors, chandelier and sofa with cupboards all around.
As for the children, while Nosher wanted only a bed, a sofa, some paintings and a table in his room, Reaa’s room has large leather chairs, paintings, a dining area and a drop chandelier.

Pria’s fashion philosophy transcends into her home. “When I make a collection, the most important thing is colour. The design and structure come later. In interiors too, colour is important. I prefer classic shades like burgundy, gold or off-whites, like in a by-gone era, colours that I usually wear. You’ll see these on the sofas or the carpets. Like my clothes, the furniture too has clean lines but some are curvy because I like prints and embroidery.” For her upcoming shows, Pria designs in the Kuwait home. In winter when the weather is pleasant, she plugs in her laptop in her garden cabana to create the Lakme Fashion Week Fall-Winter collection. During summer, she’s either working at a beachside spa or in her relaxing home office.

When she first moved to Kuwait, Pria had no idea how large the Middle East market was in terms of fashion. Even then, she took the plunge and set up her factory and business there. Recently, she won the International Designer of the Year award in Dubai. “It took me time to figure things out but it turned out to be fantastic. We have broadened our horizons and expanded our circle.” Pria carefully divides her time between two countries and ends up feeling more connected because she makes an effort to meet family and friends. And somewhere in the middle of all this, she finds time to place the Zambian tribal dancers next to the Egyptian artifacts next to the Grecian statue, this time, in a different colour story.

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