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All you need to know before building a home in Goa

  • Ideas & Inspiration
May 31, 2024
Simple and minimal living room design – Beautiful Homes

Homeowners and architects from Goa offer insiders’ perspectives on building a home that sits lightly in its surroundings, maximises access to the outdoors and ensures minimum disturbance to nature

When Kavita Nair was building her home in Goa, her neighbours were slightly apprehensive. She was, after all, originally a city dweller. There was no saying what the structure would look like and what changes would be coming to their surroundings. But their fears were assuaged when it was clear that no trees were cut to build the Nair home. There were no alien architectural interventions or ‘citifying’ the local flavour. Designed by architect Shonan Purie Trehan of Labwerk, this home assimilated smoothly into the texture and context of Goa. That encapsulates the principle for building homes in this state. Here, nature is almost always at your doorstep and slow living is a way of life.

Making the Right Moves

Priyanka Rustagi, architect and founder of Goa-based design studio Para Projects, has been fortunate enough to encounter and work with just such clients who desire to live as close to nature as possible. “They have an appreciation of the time it takes to do things. I have been practising for three years and worked on different types of houses with specific requirements. However, the core is always the same: good light, good ventilation and a combination of indoor-outdoor spaces.” This easy access to nature is typically why people leave packed cities—for reprieve, respite and rejuvenation of the spirit.

Minimal hall interior design – Beautiful Homes

The Amura house in Goa by architect Priyanka Rustagi; warm wooden flooring and local materials add to the warmth. Image courtesy, Nikhil Paliwal

“Most of us come here because we love nature, the trees and the relaxed culture,” says product designer and citizen activist Reboni Saha, who arrived in the 1990s, bought a slim plot of land in the mid-2000s and began building a home around 2014. She co-founded the design studio Mozaic, along with one of Goa’s best known architects Dean D’Cruz. A deft hand at creating spaces that work within the local context, he is a well-regarded name in the eco-conscious building milieu and helped Saha design her home. D’Cruz knew just how much to build and how much to leave untouched on her 600-square-metre plot. They even managed to retain all the pre-existing seven trees that inhabited the space. 

Keeping it Simple, and Old School

While homes are, first and foremost, personal, they shouldn’t come at the cost of the land and the neighbourhood. For local architect Golda Pereira who set up her practice in 2017, the key is “connecting the inside to the outside through courtyards, verandas, trees piercing through roofs and even through material. Roofs are important as they break down the volume of a house. They create a hierarchy in spaces along with courtyards.” As a thumb rule, she says, “Build small, build to blend with nature, create courtyards, use eco-friendly materials and appreciate age-old building practices.” 

White walls for exterior with wood finish – Beautiful Homes

The verandah of the Guirim house has stone flooring and an adjacent lily pond. Photography by Fabian Franco

Brick wall for exteriors - Beautiful Homes

The house in Guirim where Pereira preserved the existing trees on the plot and ensured the landscape merged with the house. Photography by Fabian Franco

Staying natural and reusing as far as possible was the principle that Rabia Tewari and her husband Indranil Sengupta undertook for the refurbishment of their store Ethico. The couple moved to Goa in 2020 from Mumbai and were looking for a physical space for their online eco-conscious homeware brand. Their store design was an extension of the sustainable philosophy that guides their lifestyle. “Those of us who make a life here must put thought, time and effort to try to leave a smaller carbon footprint.”

 

The space they found, two unused dilapidated garages with a 2BHK, involved minimal refurbishment that was all about retaining, recycling and reusing. They broke the common wall, added a window for more light and retained and extended the original kota flooring. (Such materials—natural stone and wood—Pereira says, make the space feel very grounded.) “The essentials are in the front, and the 2BHK converted into a showroom has the home decor products. It’s designed to allow for seamless movement between spaces,” says Sengupta. There is also an onsite recycling station for neighbours to dump their waste.

Minimal white wall design with brown furniture – Beautiful Homes

For the house in Assagao, Pereira opted for an insitu terrazzo flooring. Photography by Fabian Franco

Seamless Spaces

Functionality and fluid movement are critical in homes here, to make the most of the weather and the space available. For Pereira, there is a lot to learn from the functional aspects of heritage homes. “They also add to the experience and comfort like our sopos, courtyards and verandas that bring in light and ventilation. I like simple structures that create an experience when you walk through it.”

Rustagi, too, finds the fluid flow of spaces an imperative. “Gradation of spaces has always been part of traditional building practices in India. There is the completely outdoors space, the transition space and the indoor space. In Goa, there are a few different kinds of in-between spaces: a completely open balcao for outdoor seating. Or cover your space in mesh; that still allows for air circulation. These in-between spaces give the home character and work well in Goa’s weather because they help the house breathe.” Even traditional building materials used in the state, like porous lime for the walls, she says, are necessary to minimise chances of mould forming and to balance the air within and without when it comes to temperature and humidity. They also lessen the load on the AC.

Homes for All Seasons

Climate-appropriate homes also means building them to weather the most challenging of seasons. Contrary to popular belief, that season is not the blazing summers but the punishing monsoons. Building in a great style that might not suit the location, like forgoing the necessary pillars and creating “glass sheets that meet in an open corner” could be problematic in the long run—or wrong season. In the monsoon, for example, it could cause your walls to leak. The solution to this again circles back to old-school techniques: “Generous overhangs facing south/southwest can guide the water run-off from the roof and capture it on the property,” advises Saha.

White chairs to enhance your exteriors – Beautiful Homes

Reboni Saha’s home was built by architect Dean D’Cruz; while building, they retained all the trees onsite and used old doors and windows where possible; the grass planted around the property is tough grass that needs minimal tending and grows in the shade.

Rustagi seconds this need to build homes hardy enough to survive Goan rains. “The flow of spaces needs to be such that you can enter your house and go about your work without getting wet and stay in shaded spaces. If they can handle the rain, they will be fine in the other seasons.”

 

In the summers, cross-ventilation is key, as is, Rustagi stresses, well-planned in-between spaces that allow for airflow and interaction with nature. This, too, plays its role in mitigating heat. Large, fixed glass windows, while an easy and popular way to ensure uninterrupted views, can raise the indoor temperature. This, in turn, leads to a heavier load on the ACs. Then there is the problem of such plate-glass windows being hazardous to the birds who fly right into them. “They cannot perceive the depth and come crashing into windows. It happened a few times in our office,” says Saha. Their solution was adding frosted patterns or stickers of little squares to the glass. “It stopped the birds crashing and falling.”

 

Rustagi suggests an alternative: make the most of in-between spaces and build smaller windows for places such as bedrooms. “You will get the nice view. You can then step out and sit outside on a balcony or veranda to interact with and be among the elements.” Another conscious choice should be to use local materials—lime, highly versatile local laterite, and matti, the local wood used for structural elements. “Be open to what this place has to offer and observant of what is around. Building and living here is a very special opportunity,” she says. So build thoughtfully and build to last. If one had to encapsulate the building principles to follow, then Nair sums it up in a sentence: “Enjoy Goa for what it is; don’t bring the city with you.”

Brown wall design for your space – Beautiful Homes

Rustagi believes interior spaces in Goan homes work better with smaller openings and narrower doorways to look at the view outside; transition or in-between spaces allow great spots to enjoy the outdoors. Image courtesy, Nikhil Paliwal

Brown chairs for your exteriors – Beautiful Homes

Homeowner Kavita Nair’s house in Goa, Parijaat, which was built about a decade ago. Photography by Fabian Franco

Tips to Build Smart

  • Do your due diligence when buying land. To build, the land should be marked as ‘Settlement’ in the Regional Plan 2021. Visit the Town and Country Planning (TCP) department for details.

  • A well-versed local architect will have the necessary knowledge of the bylaws, rules and regulations for building.

  • Get your area surveyed properly; it is often not correctly done.

  • Appoint a good local lawyer to sort out the paperwork. Goa has ‘communidade’ (community) land that cannot be sold, and a Common Civil Code that grants equal rights to parents and children, with shares diminishing downstream. Any sibling or relative that is hidden can later claim rights.

  • Don’t keep your house unused and locked up for long durations. If you are not here year-round, consider renting out the space through Airbnb or other rental services.

  • Plan enough parking space. Goa has narrow roads and weak parking ratios for houses (a one-car bay per 75 square metres is too small as people have at least two cars).

  • Try and build around the trees on your plot. If you are on a hill slope, avoid cutting down the surrounding ‘junglee’ trees; their root system holds the soil and helps with water security. Use wood from matti, the local widely available tree, for structural elements. Remember that tree cutting beyond a certain girth needs permission.

  • If you have to cut trees, you need permission from the tree officer and share the following details: attested copies of the required documents, information about number and type of trees, their girth, which is to be measured 1.85 metres above ground level, the reasons for cutting them, and a sketch of the plot. The tree officer will also direct you to plant some of the same style and the same number.

  • The exception to this is if there is immediate risk to life or limb from the tree. Even then, remember to inform the tree officer within 24 hours of felling.

  • Private pools are not necessary, high maintenance and rarely used except in the summers; many villages are passing resolutions against pools because of water shortages.

  • To capture excess rainwater run-off from roofs, use pavers with pockets of grass to slow it down and allow absorption into the ground. It is essential for recharging groundwater. It’s also important because while constructing, you can channel water into forceful routes that undermine your neighbours’ property.

  • Appropriate waterproofing is essential for low-lying areas at the base of the hills or on retaining walls of homes on hill slopes.
Priyanka Rustagi of para project – Beautiful Homes
Priyanka Rustagi, architect and founder of Goa-based design studio Para Projects. Image courtesy, Nikhil Paliwal
Golda Pereira – Beautiful Homes
Architect Golda Pereira began her practice in 2017; she has completed two residential homes and is working on three more. Photography by Fabian Franco
Indranil and Rabia at Ethico - Beautiful Homes
Rabia Tewari and Indranil Sengupta in their store.
Reboni Saha - Beautiful Homes
Product designer and citizen activist Reboni Saha, co-founder of design studio Mozaic along with architect Dean D’Cruz.
Kavita, the homeowner in her pottery studio – Beautiful Homes
Homeowner Kavita Nair. Photography by Fabian Franco
Simple living room sofa design – Beautiful Homes
Designed by architect Shonan Purie Trehan, the high ceilings and warm colours offset the greenery outside. Photography by Fabian Franco
Grey house exterior design - Beautiful Homes
Trehan kept the material palette local and used different roof heights to break down the volume of the house. Photography by Fabian Franco
Simple exterior building design – Beautiful Homes
A minimal renovation of two dilapidated garages and a 2BHK attached to it are the site of conscious homeware brand Ethico; founders Rabia Tewari and Indranil Sengupta refurbished the place in keeping with eco-friendly practices, using local, natural materials and maximizing natural light and air; they also run a co-working space on the first floor.
Simple and minimal living room design – Beautiful Homes
Pereira believes in creating spaces that offer an experience when one walks through them and in keeping things simple when it comes to design. Photography by Fabian Franco

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