Architect Anshul Chodha infuses this Punjabi restaurant with slice-of-life décor to create an endearingly kitschy space.
Text : Anupama Bijur
Sanctuary, founded by Anshul Chodha in 2003, is a young, contemporary architecture and interior design firm that works to crate spaces that are meaningful, sensitive, intelligent, and timeless. The team believes in working around physical and spatial challenges and turning them into aesthetic and functional elements in the space. Simple concepts thought through and integrated into multi-tiers developed with exhaustive detailing define the subtle, minimalistic style. Besides natural light and ventilation, practicality, cost consciousness, and employing the latest techniques, technologies and material play important roles in their work. Sanctuary’s young, talented, professional team extends its minimal philosophy to its often contemporary, sometimes bohemian, and always fun style
It was meant to be a restaurant, but Legacy of Punjab (LOP) in Bangalore could just be a museum of functional art from rural North India. Choc-a-bloc with domestic visual elements, LOP is a sumptuous and authentic recreation of all that makes a village hovel endearingly kitschy.
In giving LOP a home-spun look, architect Anshul Chodha has understood the decorative philosophy employed by an average village housewife. For her, an old trunk covered with a bed sheet and topped with glossy gift-wrapping paper becomes a display surface for functional implements in the absence of imported china or crystal figurines. And in a similar vein, LOP’s veranda has the ubiquitous decorated trunk, milk cans hung carelessly on a wooden log matrix, a decorated trunk, milk cans hung carelessly on a wooden log matrix, a decorated winnow stuck between logs and a large water wheel pulley system that faces the door. A comfy charpoy in the veranda allows one to sit down and observe the myriad rustic elements that Chodha had infused in the décor.
Colourful balloons, phirkis made with glossy paper and the tub-thumping bhangra music, all lend on air of infectious gaiety to the ambience. A heavy plough nailed to the wall, milk cans, wiry egg baskets and a scarecrow in suspended animation all reinforce the pastoral theme. Says Chodha, “What you see here cannot be pegged as typical of Punjab or Uttar Pradesh. It’s generically rural North India. We’ve borrowed elements from Kutch, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, etc. to give the restaurant a predominantly rustic flavour.
In terms of the physical space, Chodha had a very restricted linear space to work in. The long corridor–like space was optimized by diving it into five sections on both sides of narrow passage. Guests at LOP are offered either sofa or chair seating, both of which are available in each of the five compartments. The sofa seaters are cast in cement and covered with soft cushions in vibrant hues of earthy maroon, mustard yellow, sunset amber and stark black with thread work embellishments.
Every compartment is treated differently with each section having a different decorative element to distinguish it from others. In the first compartment, the wall becomes a display surface for colourful paper kites, while the ceiling in the corridor opposite this area is suspended with strings of marigold flowers.
The walls of the second compartment are covered with galvanized iron sheets, unpolished and naked, resembling a dhaba. The ceiling of the corridor here displays a mass of suspended spindle reels with string used to fly kites. A scarecrow and a knife-sharpening machine, common sites in rural India, become objects of décor in this section.
The third compartment is a bar counter with glasses and decanters and bar essentials stacked I hand plastered wall niches. It’s lit, like all other compartments, with a naked bulb hanging from an electric wire. “We deliberately made no attempt to cove the wires or use light fixtures over the bulb. This is how it is in the villages,” Chodha reveals. The wall opposite the bar is innovatively decorated with glass bangles strung together to form a colourful wall display. The rounded bottoms of earthen pots hanging from cords decorate the ceiling of the corridor in this section.
In the fourth compartment, panels made of crate wood line the walls while colourful upholstery offsets the earthy brown shade of the wood. The exposed bricks in the walls opposite this compartment reiterate the rustic setting. The ceiling in this ssection is interesting with upturned can baskets hanging from cords. Large phulkari rugs adorn the walls, with their characteristic colourful threadwork.
The last compartment has naked, unfinished logs no the ceiling while the wall has unevenly carved niches to hold everyday implements like an iron box, a kadai, an earthen pot, terracotta aroma oil dispensers, even a line of green golisoda bottles. Each of the niches is fixed with a spotlight to highlight the objects they hold. Interestingly, they’re roughly hewn and do not show clean geometric straight lines. Jut as you find in a hand-plastered rural home.
All the seating areas on the left side of the corridor have large windows encased in banana fibre blinds. Says Chodha of his preference for natural fibres and material, “All the elements in this space are speaking of the self sustaining lifestyle employed by the rural folk. And in that, we’ve stayed true to the real spirit of rural India.”
LOP could have become a humdrum Punjabi-dhaba clone with garish pop-art cinema posters and sarson ka saag, but Chodha has made it a visual spectacle by giving it the right amount of class and kitsch. In treating the ceiling as an important element of décor, Chodha has shifted focus from walls as backdrops for run-of-the-mill ornamentation. Ordinary walls become animated surfaces with unusual décor elements, the sue of cane baskets, covered with cloth to hide light bulbs inside, and create a diffused lighting effect is very interesting; as are the many other decorative aspects that can engage your attention, for many visits. And if all this is not enough of slice-of-life décor for you, listen to the singing Sikhs who will break into song and dance even as you eat.