Tuesday, 27 August 2013

On Harmonious Living Spaces - Outer and Inner

A few months ago I had written a post inspired by some thought-provoking words of Rabindranath Tagore.

Today it feels right to reflect upon the last sentence of that post...that of the significance of Tagore's thought on how we may design our living spaces. But before I start, a disclaimer is necessary. All that I am about to say here is based entirely on my personal view on how to design visually appealing and comfortable living spaces. And certainly, as someone with no training, professional or otherwise, in interior design and decor, my view is very much the result of my trials and errors in creating my personal living spaces.

Recently I watched a Hindi film titled, Listen Amaya. The film is actually quite interesting and different from the usual masala and formula films dished out by the Hindi film industry; the storyline is sensitive and delicate, though at times I felt that some parts were handled in a rather “filmy” and somewhat clichéd manner. But then this post is not a critical review of the film.


What caught my particular attention was the visual backdrop of the film. Well, I knew from the credits of the film that the whole set decor of the film was done by Fabindia and therefore expected a certain kind of visual sensibility and aesthetic appeal. And in a way it had generated my curiosity about the film because the visual backdrop of the film was a key aspect of the film why a few people familiar with my taste in home decor and interior design had recommended the film. Now those of you who frequent Fabindia stores know that there is a specific visual appeal and characteristic to the whole range of their products. And I will be honest in admitting that I personally like that kind of aesthetic appeal very much – the whole hand-woven, hand-made quality and look of fabrics, furnishings, combined with somewhat bold and rustic looking old-wood furniture and earthy-feel home accessories made of natural material. Mostly, it is the Indian touch and feel of some of these products that appeals to me very much. 



(Too many things on the walls crowding up a very tiny corner. And what’s with that tall display stand in the bedroom? It not only makes the whole space stuffy and dark, it simply doesn’t make sense to display these objects in a bedroom- at least in my view)


But then sometimes too much of a good thing can also be....well, simply too much. That is at least how I felt when exposed to an overdose of all the Fabindia stuff in pretty much every shot of the film Listen Amaya. It sort of became a bit distracting and irritating to see an over-abundance of the “ethnic-chic-decorated” look. And since most of the film is shot in the interior locations (home settings such as living room, bedroom, kitchen etc, and coffee shop), there were plenty of occasions for the filmmakers to showcase the FabIndia style of home decor. And boy, did they use them all?! At times I was wondering if the filmmakers had ever heard of the word “restraint”! I mean, why zoom in so many times on the coasters and that serving tray? Perhaps it was the nature of their contract with Fabindia that compelled them to highlight everything in the set decor which was from Fabindia – from coffee mugs to serving trays to table coasters to kitchen utensils, from bookshelves to beds to chairs to sofa sets to wall decor to all other doo-dads that filled up the living spaces of the characters in the film. The result was that the spaces shown in the film felt artificial, crowded, stuffy and over done. At least for my taste they did. 

                      (That tall shelf on the wall is so redundant and unnecessarily crowds up the space, in my view.)

As much as I like the Fabindia style (though I will also admit I have perhaps only a couple of objects in my home that were purchased from Fabindia – I generally prefer more direct and local sources than a retail chain outlet) does it mean that I would want to live in a “Fabindia style” museum which doesn’t allow my eyes or mind any visual and spatial relief? Certainly NO. And after seeing this film's visual backdrop I have become a bit more aware of how I want my living spaces to look and feel. My style (if I can call it that) involves more of a mix-and-match of different looks and styles with an aim to create a somewhat cleaner, natural, balanced and minimally decorated look. But that could be the subject of some later post, I suppose!


A living space is not “decorated” by merely lining up all the products bought from your favourite store(s). A beautiful and comfortable living space is put together over a period of time in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. And a conscious and deliberate process of creating a living space (whether it is a room or a corner of the room) includes not only the process of adding objects, but also eliminating and removing those objects that don’t fit in that space. Maybe that is another word – “remove” – which the set designers of Listen Amaya could have benefited from when planning the overall visual appeal of the film’s sets. Sometimes simply by removing a bit of the “stuff and fluff” and creating a visual relief can enhance the overall appeal of the space.  

But then all this is perhaps a subjective view. And others may feel very differently about everything I have said here. No issues there. Really!

While attending a Bonsai demonstration recently in Delhi, I was reminded of the significance of the idea of removing all the 'extras' which distract from the aesthetic appeal of the main object (in this case the bonsai plant or tree) that is to be highlighted. And just this past weekend I was reminded of this principle again in a very practical and applied way when I was arranging some greens and stems in a couple of tall vases in my home. Just a few snips of the extra-looking branches and leaves from the stems I was using actually made the whole arrangement look cleaner and balanced...and in a strange way, even fuller in its visual impact.

But what is perhaps most relevant and worth remembering is that these ideas of restraint and removing the fluff are not just limited to creating harmonious living spaces on the outside. The same principles apply to the spaces inside of us, where we live when we are by ourselves. Our minds, our thoughts, our emotions, our real inner living spaces. How do we practice restraint there? How do we remove the extra “stuff and fluff” from there so that we have cleaner, more harmonious and beautifully balanced inner spaces in which we dwell? 

And perhaps it is time now to remind ourselves of those forceful words of Gurudev Tagore, which inspired the previous post as well as this one: 

“Things in which we do not take joy are either a burden upon our minds to be got rid of at any cost; or they are useful, and therefore in temporary and partial relation to us, becoming burdensome when their utility is lost; or they are like wandering vagabonds, loitering for a moment on the outskirts of our recognition, and then passing on. A thing is only completely our own when it is a thing of joy to us.”

And this, I believe, is truly the key to a true “interior decor” – both of ourselves and our living spaces, of our inner and outer homes. 


(All stills from the film Listen Amaya are courtesy of Facebook page of Fabindia)