A Classic Vibe | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
November 21, 2014

A Classic Vibe

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Shamanth Patil J.

Interior designer Vinita Chaitanya loves empty spaces so that she can create the interiors that she wants. Her own home has grown unplanned but beautiful. Verve visits the fashionable entrepreneur in her Bengaluru row house

Braving the Bengaluru traffic, my vehicle wends its way into the lane where interior designer Vinita Chaitanya lives. As I walk into the curved compound that hosts a series of row houses that are numbered in succession, it is easy to find her home – and I quickly walk into its interiors. Moving past the welcoming alcove near the entrance and the flight of stairs that takes one to the upper rooms, I step into the living-cum-dining area – and instantly notice the black and white ambience and statuettes of several angels that stand in different corners. Phillipe Starck chairs complement floral wallpaper. The décor seems to have been inspired by vintage and heritage art. Beyond the right angled space is a somewhat large verandah where the interior designer awaits my arrival.

A woman of style and a popular figure on the Bengaluru social circuit, Chaitanya is attractively outfitted – first in a DKNY creation and then in a BCBG garment; her manicured feet are encased in a pair of Jimmy Choos. Her tryst with spaces started when, after a diploma in interior design, Chaitanya apprenticed with the Oberoi Group in the design department for three years. In 1988, Prism took shape, creating exquisite living spaces for the créme de la créme. Chaitanya points out, “My clients range from top corporates, to sports atheletes, to a wide range of professionals. I love creating individual, customised interiors to suit each individual’s needs.”

I ask her why she picked the name Prism. She admits that it was a child of serendipity. “One evening we had friends over, everyone was drinking. Many beers later I told my guests that I had to print my letterheads the next day and we began to bandy names around. One of them was Prism and I zoomed in on it. I cannot even pretend that there was any great thought behind it – luckily, a prism is all about colours and the name worked.”

As we sit down in the hall, I turn my attention to the many angels in her space. Speaking about her fascination for them, she states, “The first time I saw the angels was at a flea market in Paris – they instantly grabbed my attention. The first one I picked was the one with the crown. I am not overtly religious – it is just a feel good thing. I think they bring some calmness with them. All my spaces are very serene.”

Her home reflects the woman she is even though Chaitanya emphasises, “My personal space is not pre-determined or pre-styled. Every time I see something that I love, I pick it up. Every object comes with a lot of memories. I have never thought that I have got to pick this up because it goes with the style of my living room. I may get something and it may just lie in my cupboard for a few days till I figure out where to put it – but I just buy stuff that I love and then put it together.”

She credits her innate sense of style and design to her initial upbringing – her father was in the India Tobacco Company and when she was young; her family lived in bungalows, in Bihar. “They were very British,” she remembers, “as ITC was a British tobacco company. We acquired the bungalow not as a bare shell, but with its crockery, butlers and an entire lifestyle. My interest in lifestyle was probably sparked there – much later I moved to Calcutta, did a design course and worked with the Oberoi where they were looking for interns. The Grand is historical and so old-world that it deepened my interest and after that I did not look back.”

Marriage and a sabbatical from work later and a chance visit by Vijay Mallya at her home had her designing his office in Bengaluru – which proved to be her first project. Chaitanya states, “It was incredible, I worked with some of the best architects and I just took off. I’m very motivated and passionate. I actually love what I do and I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world to be doing what I enjoy. I don’t think I can say that somebody else has motivated me or inspired me to do this.”

Living in a row house and doing it up to her satisfaction was a challenge of a different sort – as it comes with its own structural restrictions. Chaitanya admits that it is very different from working on a bungalow. “It is very difficult because of the issue of light. But luckily I saw the project when the construction was starting and at that time, it was surrounded by trees. When I saw the place,” she recalls, “I liked it and paid the token amount. But I insisted that I would be a part of the planning. That proved to be a give and take process – as my ideas went into many of the other structures as well. It did hit me that I was not getting light from the sides of the row house, but only from the front and back – but somehow because of the way our bedrooms are located, we get a lot of natural light in them. The only really dark places are the ones that I need to artificially light up. I ensured that my reading room is outside and it gets a lot of natural light as it is a conservatory. The best part of the home is the quiet – we are in the middle of the busiest street in the CBD; there are three schools around. And, in my home, I do not hear a squeak. You walk into the compound and it is like walking into a place that could be outside Bengaluru.”

Considering the heavy play of light and dark, the choice of black and white for her flooring and tiles seems an unusual one – even though it has its own impact. As we walk across to the dining area, Chaitanya explains, “I love black and white. I am a very classic sort of person. I wanted to do something on the floor that will never age. I love it and I do not think I will ever tire of it. And since the floor is classic, I can do anything with the walls and ceiling – I can make them white or paint them red!”

Her sense of style and fashion is seen in – and drives – not just her persona but her work too. She is able to carry off her clothes well, a fact that creates an impression on people around her. Chaitanya points out, “A lot of my clients have told me that they’ve actually chosen me because of what I wear. Everyone has a different sense of style; your way of dressing best shows it.”

Chaitanya is happy with the way her home has shaped up – even though she is by her own confession rather obsessive about where and how things are placed. Pointing to the many artefacts that dot the area, she says, “I’m not an exacting person when it comes to creating my own home – I put in 10 times more effort in my client’s homes – but I am crazy about keeping a home the way I plan it. If I have decided that a vase stays in a particular position or the angel has to be angled in a certain way, then nobody can change it. So, if I have guests, people can do what they want – things can turn upside down – but the next morning everything will be exactly the way it was.”

It is no wonder then that she agonises every time she has to hand over a completed home to a client. That is because she is fully aware that the next time she sees it, some things may be different. Chaitanya sighs, “I die every time that happens. It’s like giving a baby away and the person is not taking care of the baby that way you wanted him to. So, in commercial spaces, if I return and find things are not the same, I change them. I do not have an OCD about it, but it upsets me. But, let me tell you that most of my clients when they pick up something new on their travels, return and call me up to ask me where they should place it. I have a very open and close relationship with all of them.”

Chaitanya is an intrepid globe-trotter and the destinations she has travelled to have influenced her design sensibility. Most inspired by Paris, she states, “The architecture of Paris is incredible. I’ve been to Paris over six times in the last year and a half. Every time I stay in a different location as I want to see more and more of it. I just walk around and I’m in a completely different world over there. I love the energy in New York and enjoy going to London because it has the latest trends in design. As far as India is concerned, I am crazy about Rajasthan. And of course, the Taj Mahal is my all-time inspiration.”  Interestingly, as is evident in her home and in her work, though she loves contemporary design, her whole design sense is embedded in India. So, though her sofa may have a cover that has an Indian paisley print, the background colours are more pop art.

Over the years, she has created several homes. I ask her which one she found the most challenging and Chaitanya speaks about a farmhouse on the outskirts of Bengaluru. “Last year, in January, I was given a project which was for me one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever done. The client was completely open-minded – the only thing he said was that he wanted the space to be contemporary. It had been constructed by a Singapore architect and when I saw it, I was inspired. I brought in contemporary furniture but created a sense of style and culture with the art and antiques that I put in there. There is stuff from all over the world, but there is still the sense of being Indian.”

Yet another home that she is known for is that of actor Deepika Padukone. “Deepika was already a star when I started working with her; she was filming Cocktail at that time. I remember at the house-warming party when her home was finished, every A-list actor was there. Working with her was actually quite an amazing experience because she has a certain maturity,” she rewinds. “I designed her home just as I would any client’s home – she was very clear about what she wanted. She would connect with me from wherever, often sending texts in the middle of the night, to exchange ideas about what had to be done next. It was quite challenging because I had to prove a point – I had never seen a star home before – and I kept on wondering if I was doing the right thing.”

For Chaitanya, at the end of it all – or more aptly, the beginning – it is an empty space that inspires her the most. “When I walk into a place which is a bare shell, I know how to put it together for there is nothing cluttering my mind. And the inviting emptiness of any space throws open a vast world of possibilities.”

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