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How Kolkata’s heritage crafts enhance contemporary homes

  • Contemporary Designs
Jun 26, 2024
Grey toned living room design – Beautiful Homes

Interior designer Ajay Arya unravels how traditional crafts, particularly from Bengal, add a layer of mindful luxury to colourful opulent homes

More on more might be a design philosophy that appeals to the risqué, especially when paring back and scaling down is the idea du jour. Especially when it is a thoughtful celebration of heritage and tradition, vividly rendered on a bold, contemporary canvas. In 25 years of practice, Ajay Arya has become adept at making ethnic, maximalist luxury something of a calling card. The founder of Kolkata-based agency A Square Designs, Arya is known to “blend diverse materials and unique techniques to craft plush interiors”. The interior designer talks about how traditional craft, particularly mined from the ever-flowing treasure trove of culture that is Kolkata, can enhance bold, colourful spaces.

Beautiful Homes (BH): While every home is different, is there an overarching approach to designing homes that you tend towards?

Ajay Arya (AA): We prioritise functionality above all else, as a space must serve its intended purpose effectively. I specialise in fusion design, blending classic architectural elements with modern art, carpets and furniture to create harmonious interiors. This fusion not only resonates with clients but also defines our signature style—striking a balance between tradition and innovation.

Chic & elegant living room design – Beautiful Homes

The Ospira Home residence in Alipore, Kolkata, has opulent interiors and soaring ceilings, this space exudes a sense of grandeur, seen in the curated artwork and bespoke furnishings; the artwork on the living room wall is by Vinita Karim. Styling, Samir Wadekar; Image courtesy, Ishita Sitwala

Minimal & simple dining room design – Beautiful Homes

The dining table in the Ospira Home residence boasts intricate geometric details inspired by the flooring and embellished with semi-precious stones. Styling, Samir Wadekar; Image courtesy, Ishita Sitwala

BH: Do you think it’s possible, or advisable, to incorporate traditional elements into a home design that already has a vivid aesthetic?

AA: Of course. Incorporating traditional elements into a bold home design adds depth and contrast. They infuse the home with character and warmth while maintaining its vibrant energy. This ultimately creates a dynamic and eclectic space. However, it is necessary to carefully curate the pieces you integrate amid bold décor to craft a visually stimulating environment. One must also strive to achieve balance and harmony while doing so.


BH: Where does Kolkata fall in the spectrum of opulence in terms of the overarching design sensibilities?

AA: As a city, if one has to define the overarching aesthetic that pervades Kolkata, then I’d say it is a fusion of new age and classic elements. People here prefer to use classic materials—wood and marble are top favourites. Most homeowners tend to prefer understated luxury. The result is always timeless elegance. They sit somewhere between minimalism and maximalism. Kolkatans are not in your face but make a simple design statement. Today, they are also embracing their traditional roots. Many families have extensive collections of art, heirloom pieces, and antiques accumulated over decades, from shawls and carpets to other cherished items. This juxtaposition of the past and the present contributes to Kolkata’s enduring allure.

Minimalistic bedroom design for your space – Beautiful Homes

This bedroom in a Kolkata apartment has a classic colonial aesthetic with statement wood-carved furniture offset by the floral wall covering and bed linen that adds quaint charm. Image courtesy, Atul Pratap Chauhan

Wooden furniture design for your space – Beautiful Homes

A bedroom in the Footprints condo has a console that doubles as a writing desk furnished in open-pore walnut veneer. The neutral tones of beige on the wall and the panelling complement the Italian marble flooring. Styling, Kunal Pratap Das; Image courtesy, Ishita Sitwala

BH: How much of an influence do these ethnic elements have in designing homes?

AA: Kolkata’s rich cultural heritage and illustrious history are deeply ingrained in its identity, shaping the city’s vibrant present. The Bengal School of Art continues to influence the city’s creative landscape, providing a wealth of talent to draw upon for our projects. Kantha-work textiles especially hold a special place in our projects. This easy access to an abundance of artistic expertise in Bengal allows us to seamlessly integrate local arts and crafts into our designs.


A request we often get is to catalogue and integrate these well-loved treasures into the interiors. This seamless blend of bold modern aesthetics with local traditional elements—mythological art and Kantha work—can create timeless spaces.

BH: Leading from that, then, how can you ensure this balance of traditional elements and opulent design?

AA: Kantha work looks exquisite as wall panels or tapestries, and also serves to showcase the mastery of local artisans. Similarly, the intricate Shola craft—local to West Bengal—is great as ornamental wall panelling, or as part of the decorations if you’re dressing up the house for Durga Puja. You can also closely collaborate with skilled brass metalworkers local to Bengal and really play up their skill with cast brass works; they work wonderfully as bespoke furniture pieces, or even as intricate knobs and handles.

Grey toned living room design – Beautiful Homes

A contemporary living room in Footprints, a luxury condo in Kolkata is a mix of classical and modern furniture. The artwork is painted by Thota Vaikuntam. Styling, Samir Wadekar, Jasmine Jhaveri; Image courtesy, Ishita Sitwala

BH: How can you retain such an aesthetic for smaller homes without making them seem overcrowded?

AA: In designing smaller spaces, you need to strike a delicate balance between maximalism and minimalism. I prioritise selecting the right number of pieces to ensure each element receives ample focus without overcrowding the space. I want every décor piece and interior feature to have sufficient breathing space. For me, that’s key to creating a harmonious and visually appealing environment. 

Black and gold accent cabinet design – Beautiful Homes
This corner of a dining room in a Kolkata apartment incorporates eclecticism into the space, with statement furniture pieces from different genres and periods. The cabinet is a family heirloom refurbished by Arya and his team. Image courtesy, Atul Pratap Chauhan
Black themed bedroom design – Beautiful Homes
Another bedroom in the Ospira Home residence combines modern elements with a warm colour palette and a variety of textures. Image courtesy, Ishita Sitwala
Stylish & aesthetic bedroom design – Beautiful Homes
This contemporary bedroom in the Ospira Home residence showcases an interesting interplay of materials, enhanced by richly composed furnishings and fine details. The artwork on the bedroom wall is by Jagannath Paul. Image courtesy, Ishita Sitwala

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