“Can you please mention Axel Vervoordt? I learned a lot from him and I really want him to take note of this house,” says Priti Rao with a big laugh as we sit sipping herbal tea, under a gazebo near the flowery lawn of her home in Shillong, Meghalaya. It’s not like Rao is an interior designer or worked with the Belgian art and design legend. Far from it, she designs public policies and works on projects related to financial inclusion and data privacy at the consulting firm Dalberg Asia. Its clients include giant NGOs such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and government agencies such as the World Bank. “It’s just that a lot of my confidence in mixing and matching comes from Vervoordt’s work,” says Rao. “’Intuition’, presented at the Venice Biennale, is one of the most profound exhibitions I have ever seen. He combined pieces from different periods and materials. Yet they just magically made sense.
And that’s pretty much what she did by transforming an almost 80-year-old Assam-style house attributed to her husband, Dr. Vijay Kumar, one of the best IAS officers in the state. She seamlessly brought together objects from diverse cultural and aesthetic sources, as well as locally created objects, to create a home that somehow documents lives lived in places as diverse as Uttarakhand, Mumbai, San Francisco and Tokyo. . But with it all, there’s still a lightness, brought by the almost all-white palette accented with touches of warm, exposed gray wood.
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As you walk through the house, you see shaggy, undyed woolen blankets from Uttarakhand Avani brand made into rugs. WomenWeave cotton curtains from Maheshwar with just that hint of an indigo border. Noren (Japanese fabric dividers) through glass doors she had a friend in Tokyo courier between bouts of the pandemic. Naga throws in, like the one on her Ligne Roset sofa, a purchase from when she worked at IDEO, San Francisco. And hand-woven indigo-dyed throw pillows by Kohima-based designer Kevisedenuo Margaret Zinyu. “I always hoarded fabric – I brought them back from my travels. But when we got here, I found fabrics like the ones Margaret makes and I felt they had the same aesthetic that you would find in Tokyo or Paris,” she says. (Box: Her findings led Rao to co-create Northeast Edit, a platform to promote the arts, crafts and textiles of this region, which she describes as “part gallery space, part cultural journal, part creative collective”.)