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Expert tips on integrating heritage crafts into your home design

  • Interior Designs for Home
Jun 20, 2024
Luxurious bedroom with elegant design – Beautiful Homes

Architect and interior designer Meena Murthy’s passion for heritage crafts cuts across types, styles and regions, and has become a foundational feature of her home design solutions

Seeing abandoned yet beautiful weavers’ homes in a Kanchipuram village had a strong impact on Meena Murthy Kakkar. The architect and interior designer, and faculty member at the School of Planning and Architecture, had taken students on a trip to villages in the little town in 2008 “to study vernacular architecture, specifically how traditional weavers’ homes are designed. In one such village, homes lay empty because the weavers had gone to cities to work construction jobs. Lack of demand for their skill left them with no other option but pursuing alternate means of livelihood,” says Kakkar, the co-founder of Gurgaon-based architecture practice Envisage which she set up along with her husband Vishal. “One of our takeaways from that visit was to consciously work with local craft as much as possible, understand the making and the science behind it and incorporate it into our construction methodologies and interiors.” 

Craft integration into interior design has now become a hallmark of her work. Most of the firm’s projects, over 100, have a traditional craft element subsumed into the design, creating rich visual narratives and infusing spaces with soul. She talks about reinventing her approach, and the serious need for bringing ethnic traditions into homes—and into the mainstream.

Patio living room – Beautiful Homes

The seating area in Kaivinai has a fan with a Tanjore painting on it, handpainted cushions by Sarita Handa, handmade wood and cane furniture and a Chettinad pillar; a vintage Jhoola is in the outdoor area.

Carved wooden pillars – Beautiful Homes

The puja room in the family area of Ramayana House in Lucknow has handmade ceramic floor tiles and a Picchwai wallpaper.

Beautiful Homes (BH): How would you define your design philosophy and how do heritage crafts fit into your overarching approach to interiors?

Meena Murthy Kakkar (MMK): Architecture is a lot about problem-solving, about working within contexts and environments. We have to be sustainable—environmentally, economically and socially—in our interior solutions. The unique thing that our firm does is not just look for answers from what is currently around us, but we also look to the past to find interior solutions.

As far as traditional crafts go, I have always valued them, be it art, handlooms or handicrafts. When I started practising architecture, though, I never thought to combine it with my love for heritage crafts. That study trip to Kanchipuram was very revealing. Since then, we have tried to work with a variety of such crafts in our projects. It could be something like opting for mud bricks, Athangudi flooring, lime plaster, or even Channapatna toys.


BH: How does this approach manifest itself in your projects?

MMK: One of our residential projects in Bengaluru, Kaivinai—Tamil for ‘handcrafted’—is a good example. The homeowners were keen on incorporating local arts and crafts into the home. So we dipped into heritage craft for interior solutions, which included an 8-foot-tall Kerala-style Ganesha mural. Another craft we adapted was using Channapatna toys in their raw form as partition design. We even used the clients’ old saris to make cushion covers and bed runners. There is a table with Warli art in the living room as well. But a highlight for me was the heirloom wall we created using the vintage pieces that the clients had. The idea of heirlooms has thrived in India for years, and it was something we wanted to celebrate in this project.

Wooden cabinet in dining area – Beautiful Homes

The heirloom wall that the firm created for Kaivinai is an endeavour to promote the concept of celebrating and reusing vintage heirlooms in interiors, which is tied to being sustainable with home design; the wall features ethnic crafts including a Tanjore painting, Panchaloha brass lamp from Tamil Nadu; the brass plates on the dining table are from Moradabad.

Wooden aesthetic bedroom – Beautiful Homes

One of the bedrooms in Kaivinai, the firm’s project in Bengaluru, has a handmade bed runner made out of vintage Kanganeri sari.

BH: How can homeowners with contemporary tastes integrate heritage Indian crafts into their homes?

MMK: We did so for one of our more recent projects. Advaita is essentially a wabi-sabi home with a lot of Scandinavian influences but it has Indian art and craft woven into the narrative seamlessly.


When it comes to something like antique art, consider customising it to suit your interiors. Don’t just pick it off the shelf if it doesn’t go with your design. For one of our projects, we wanted to integrate Gond paintings into the home, so we got in touch with a Gond artist and told him exactly what we were looking for in terms of a colour scheme. The outcome was a piece that fit seamlessly with the design. Today, technology is a huge enabler for this, in that it allows you to find artisans across the country.

BH: Do you have any favourite heritage crafts—materials or construction techniques—to which you gravitate?

MMK: We work across a spectrum of craft traditions, whether it is materials, art, styles or woodworking techniques. An absolute favourite is Athangudi tiles. Once you lay them in a space, they completely transform the narrative of the house. Apart from that, I think the heritage carpentry skills that we have across India—and it varies from state to state—catch my eye. It ranges from the techniques adopted by artisans in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh to Jaipur to Chettinad down south. We have used them in different formats over many of our projects. The possibilities that go with this skill are immense. I love murals, too, because they make your house yours.

Traditional carpentry work – Beautiful Homes

The master bedroom of the Ramayana house has a headboard hand-carved by artisans from Saharanpur, UP.

BH: What kind of craft intervention would you recommend for smaller homes or apartments?

MMK: Murals are a great option—there are a lot of artists in our country who do fantastic murals. You could either choose a traditional style or opt for something more contemporary, like botanical prints. It could even be a modern adaptation of a traditional mural. That is what we did in one of our residential projects: we depicted a temple procession in a contemporary style. We also did a huge Picchwai wall in another project.


Also, don’t overload your apartment with ethnic crafts. The one thing that I would emphasise is maximising sunlight. Also, avoid overcrowding and unnecessary clutter; the space starts looking very dark and dingy. Let it have a lot of light and then integrate your crafts very carefully and in selective places.


BH: Are there any easy tips to use ethnic crafts in the house without having to redo the design?

MMK: In one of our projects in Gurgaon, Anubhuti, the homeowners had already laid out the flooring in Italian marble, and we didn’t want to rip it off. So we just cut the stone along all four sides to add a beautiful border. That did the trick giving it just the right amount of an ethnic touch without being too overbearing.

Wall with Indian artwork – Beautiful Homes

The black-and-white mural is called Mithila art, hailing from eastern UP and Bihar; the cushions in the room are hand-embroidered, the shelves are from J&K and the brasswork is from Moradabad.

Artwork on wooden door – Beautiful Homes

The powder room at Atulya; the door reflected in the mirror is inset with a series of eight small-sized Picchwai paintings; the lotus motif dominates the wall of the powder room and the tiles are by FCML.

BH: Are there any specific ethnic crafts that work especially well within homes today?

MMK: Any kind of craft can be moulded into something contemporary. Traditional carpentry work, for instance, is easily customisable. You can collaborate with artisans in Saharanpur or Chettinad to come up with a contemporary design. Alternatively, you could take a vintage piece and drape it in upholstery that is more modern. You even contemporise traditional artworks like Gond. One of our projects in Lucknow is centred on the Ramayana epic. For that, we have predominantly used Madhubani throughout the space but we used a black-and-white version of it. Adapting heritage crafts in a modern context goes a long way in making them your own—and in mainstreaming them. 

Living room with traditional aesthetic – Beautiful Homes
The living area in Atulya has Chettinad pillars and frame in the background; the rug was handmade in Mirzapur and other decor items are from the Karaikudi junkyard.
Hallway with wooden elements – Beautiful Homes
The passageway along the heirloom wall in Kaivinai; the kota flooring is complemented by the handmade woodwork and the refurbished Chettinad pillar.
Wardrobe with wooden frames – Beautiful Homes
A bedroom in the Kaivinai residence features handloom bed linen; the wardrobe has ceramic and wood knobs and the table lamp from Fabindia is also handmade; the brassware on the bed is vintage.
Scandinavian style bedroom – Beautiful Homes
A portion of the flooring in Atulya, a Gurgaon home by Envisage, features handmade ceramic tiles and handcrafted cane and wood furniture; craftworks should be used selectively to ensure no overcrowding and natural light should be essential.
Luxurious bedroom with elegant design – Beautiful Homes
The bedroom of Atulya features a handcrafted four-poster bed made in the firm’s workshop; the ethnic, Picchwai-themed wallpaper is by Nilaya by Asian Paints.

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