Family Treasure

Three generations eschew India’s quintessentially ornate aesthetic for understated luxury in a new seaside home

In a nation that celebrates embellishment and Bollywood bling, Rajiv Saini stands apart for his pursuit of clean lines in each of his residential projects. The Mumbai-based architect often attracts clients who give him free rein to realise his vision. Such was the case with Samir and Rupa Mehta and their apartment in Malabar Hill, an affluent neighbourhood on the coast in southern Mumbai. ‘All the references they had were from our previous projects, which made it easy to understand their requirements,’ says Saini. ‘They trusted us completely and we became really good friends while working on this project.’ In fact, Saini is already working on another residence for the couple in Surat, where the family business’ diamond processing factories are located.

Completing the Mehtas’s new home was no small feat: Saini was tasked with transforming 600 square metres of raw space into a five-bedroom home that the Mehtas now share with their two sons, a daughter-in-law and Samir’s parents. ‘There were only the external walls and windows to begin with. All internal layouts were customised according to the needs of the family,’ says Saini.

Each of the bedrooms has its own en suite bathroom, plus uninterrupted views of the ocean and city beyond. In addition, the multi-generational household shares an open-plan living and dining area, family room, prayer room and kitchen. All told, the work on-site took two years. ‘The family didn’t want to bring over anything from their previous residence, so everything you see was built or acquired from scratch,’ says Saini.

A grey-yellow Siena marble runs through the public areas, while nearly all bedrooms have white Thassos marble floors. Extravagant though this might seem, there is nothing obviously opulent or over-the-top. The interplay between stone, dark woods and natural fabrics impart a soothingly neutral effect, though it doesn’t preclude the occasional splash of jewel tones in the furniture. The apartment has some iconic pieces, such as Jean Prouvé armchairs, now re-issued by Vitra, and Saini’s all-time favourite Gilda chair and a Reale table, both by Carlo Mollino for Zanotta.

Saini also played a huge role in instilling a love for art in the Mehtas; the couple hadn’t really acquired any pieces until Saini worked on the apartment. Highlights include a neon light installation by Shilpa Gupta, a striking blue and gold piece by Manjunath Kamath in the dining area, and in the family room is a 16-frame piece by printmaker Tanujaa Rane. ‘For me, art is integral to every home I design,’ the architect says. ‘I started by taking the clients to shows and respected galleries to see what they responded to. Very soon, I had them hooked to collecting. I now joke with Samir that he’ll soon need to buy more properties to hang his expanding collection of art!’ Not a bad business model for Saini.

Text / Alice Chan
Images / Sebastian Zachariah