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A lesson in how to engage with the outdoors through the year

  • Ideas & Inspiration
May 16, 2019
Furniture Design Tan Leather Chairs

To bridge the gap between a home and its adjacent garden, Ahmedabad-based Vastushilpa Consultants’ Sönke Hoof created an all-glass enclosure by elevating simple materials as tools for high design and layering man-made spaces with nature

A house extension that lets in the light and keeps out the heat

Summers in Ahmedabad have an almost-scorched earth quality, weaponised as they are with the sun’s rays to burn out the last vestiges of pleasant weather with a fiery vengeance. So, staying indoors with drapes drawn and ACs on full blast is a policy that everyone can get behind. Sameer and Hemangini Sinha though, stand out as an anomaly. Their home in Gujarat’s capital engages with the outdoors throughout the year—come hot, arid dryness or sheets of rain. It’s a late-in-coming attachment, a glass-fronted extension if you will, appended to their home that ensures this connection with nature—even at a baking 43 degrees.

Things weren’t always like this. “When we built the house [in 2000], where the extension now stands was the limit of our land; at the time, we did not have the garden,” explains Sameer about the plot of green now abutting the house. When, they did get the garden, “we started using this space as a verandah”. That was the good part. The downside was that it could not be used eight months of the year. It would get too hot during the summers, and in the rains, “water used to enter nearly half the way into the [old] verandah,” recalls Hemangini. That disconnection, with the garden just outside, was distressing enough that they decided to do something about it. Cannily, the Sinhas left the doing to experts—and handed over the matter to an architect capable of giving texture and form and shape to their vision, “of creating a light utilitarian space that would blend into the garden”. Sönke Hoof, a partner at the Balkrishna Doshi-founded Vastushilpa Consultants, was precisely equipped to see this nebulous brief through to its end, and achieve this unseasonable “tropical paradise”.

At one end on the upper level is a balcony that is accessible only via the master bedroom and serves as a private sit-out. When the wooden louvres are slid open, the upper level offers a bird’s-eye view of the garden spread out below. The only prominent piece of furniture is the ‘Eames’ lounge chair and ottoman designed by Charles and Ray Eames from Herman Miller. The couple begin their day here, looking out at the garden while having their morning tea.

The extension is a seamless fit into the original structure of the house. The wooden slats on the upper level can be calibrated to regulate the amount of light entering the space. On hot summer days, the enclosure can be closed even while the glass windows allow the Sinhas to enjoy the garden view in comfort.

The Light Stepper

“I like his meticulous approach to design, the almost Scandinavian simplicity he employs, and the way he was able to work with small spaces so that they don’t seem small anymore,” explains Sameer. Light, bright, glass and steel pretty much summed up the clients’ requirements. For Hoof, that was enough of a starting point, as were the trees bookending the length of the garden running parallel to the space meant for the extension. “Right next to the main house were two main trees, which we wanted to retain. The main idea was that we wanted to give the client a space where they can sit under these trees, or almost within that foliage,” says the architect of his idea for this “flexible lounging space”. “We wanted to do something that was very light, slim, almost non-existent, which you could open or close as required.” It took six months to lock in on a design that exceeded the Sinhas’ expectations, and one that Hoof himself was happy with. “We decided on a very light steel frame structure, only glass and some wood,” he explains.

A Self-contained Haven

In this two-storey extension spread across approximately 830 square feet, the appearance of the wood, apart from the flooring, is as unexpected as it is ingenious. At the ground level, the extension has a living area and a small kitchenette just off the formal living areas of the main house. The sliding glass panels allow the entire space to be opened up, when weather permits. On the top, a balcony that can be accessed only from the master bedroom is at one end. At the other end is a “kitchen garden that is accessible via a stairway from the service area behind the house”. It can all be opened up, or shut completely, thanks to the “shading- and privacy-giving wooden louvres, which can move entirely over the facade. Both the wooden louvres and glass shutters are top hung with rollers and can be moved by hand,” explains Hoof. He considered, but rejected, mechanising this process as “it would have added bulk and required maintenance”. The whole space is air-conditioned as well, so you can enjoy it even in Ahmedabad’s summers with the louvres open to enjoy the light and the glass shut to keep out the heat.

The ground-floor kitchenette has bar stools that have been custom-designed by a local carpenter. The sculpture is by a student from the Maharaja Sayajirao Univeristy of Vadodara, which the Sinhas purchased at a fine arts fair. This is the space where the family typically congregates.

The CNC-cut MDF (medium-density fibreboard) lights hanging from the ground-level ceiling were custom-made by Sönke Hoof, who typically prefers making the furniture for the spaces he designs. Here, however, the Sinhas used furniture they had accumulated over the years.

The result is a space that has been inserted seamlessly between garden and home, unobtrusive except in the conspicuous transformation it has effected on the way the Sinhas choose to spend their time at home—most of it in this extension. “The way the slats kind of overlap, the way the spaces feel inside, the quality of light—this is not something we could have imagined,” says Sameer. And in keeping with the impossible lightness of this space, the furniture has been kept minimal, sourced from the couples’ existing pieces accumulated over years of travel. Except, that is, for the hanging lights that Hoof custom-designed and a Doshi-signed serigraph of one of his sketches.

This extension undoubtedly changed the life of its inhabitants, but by lightly stepping between home and garden, it has also allowed the house some stretching room—and breathing space. If the walls could speak, they’d sigh with relief.

The Basics

Square footage : Approximately 830 square feet
Style : “In all Vastushilpa [Consultants] projects, we try to play with nature, with natural resources; location and context is very important,” says architect Sönke Hoof.
Structural changes : Adding an extension to an existing house, to connect better with the garden. “The facade of the old house had a lot of exposed lines and we added air conditioning lines on top of that. But instead of embedding everything in that load-bearing structure, we added a dry wall over the old facade. So the white wall, which looks like the exterior wall of the old house, is actually a dry wall; like a false ceiling with the services embedded in it,” says Sönke Hoof.

The custom kitchen counter has leather-finished black granite on a mild steel (MS) and plywood substructure. The suspended cabinet is made of plywood and has a teak veneer.

Primary materials : Glass, steel and wood

Homeowner’s speak : “When our friends come over, this living room [in the extension] has become the de facto living room, so this is where we end up hanging out,” says Sameer Sinha.

The artwork is a mixed media on canvas by Balkrishna Doshi, which is part of an exhibition that is currently travelling around the world.
The sculpture by Latika Kay sits atop a wooden cabinet.
Furniture Design Tan Leather Chairs
The ground-floor living area of the extension features tan leather chairs from Sidewalks of the World, Mumbai; the red leather chairs facing them are from furniture and lifestyle store Khazana in Ahmedabad. In front of the wall and facing the glass panels are chairs made by a local carpenter. The side tables are from Soto Decor, Goa and the lamp is from Atelier Lumpys, Puducherry.
Furniture Design Tan Leather Chairs
The two-storey extension is a light insertion between the home and the garden. The existing trees were retained on the property at the time of construction, so the end result is a space that makes you feel as though “you are sitting under a tree”.

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