Friday, November 18, 2011

Interior stories from Goa

Posting today, a  feature about the Goan residential architecture and interiors appeared in the Nov 28, 2011 issue of India Today Homes.  For the original article go to:

A typical Goan single-storeyed home in Margao

For the smallest state of India-merely a tiny strip of land on its western coast, Goa has inherited history incommensurate to size. Shaped by long years of Portuguese colonialism and the Konkan coastal experience, the old homes of the state are keepers of its chequered past.

A quest for the quintessential Goan home brings me to the sleepy old village of Chandor. The erstwhile capital of the state reached the heights of its glory in the 11th and 13th centuries under the Kadamba rulers of Karnataka. The torpid monsoon afternoon is uncomfortably hot. I am looking forward to my appointment with 80-year-old Sara Fernandez, resident and owner of Casa Grande or Vodelem Ghor in Konkani.

I have been told much about the old homes of the village, however nothing has prepared me for what I encounter. 

Casa Grande is a two-storeyed structure seemingly Portuguese in style; a long facade divided by interminable file of windows laid with mother of pearl. Only once inside does the existence of a courtyard, in resonance with Hindu-style homes, become apparent. 

Casa Grande
It is an old house, predating the Portuguese, built in the Kadamba era.  Time drips from every wall and shell-lined window of the house. Mrs. Fernandez mutters, ``disorder, disorder’’ as she walks me through fading corridors which have seen much in years.
Only for one who has just been offered a glimpse into the innards of a 400-year-old house, living and breathing with supreme grace- I am too transfixed, to notice. The decay, crumble and chaos spills silent stories, and history seems to have settled in coils and layers around the house. Walking around dimly lit hallways attics and sooty secret passages, I keep looking for a portal, a way into the fabric of one of the oldest homes of Chandor. 

Goa has a rich tapestry of old homes and mansions with long eventful lives.  These are spaces where the traditions of the east and west coalesce resulting in delightfully syncretic architecture and aesthetics.

Casa Grande houses a veritable museum of sorts at the ground level. Artifacts-some dating back centuries, connected with the house- Shiva lingams and old agricultural implements are displayed aside precious vestments worn to church by the priests from the house including one particular garment with fine Chinese embroidery dated 1664. 

A planters chair resting in the hindu-style quadrangle of the  Fernandez home

The house has an armoury of swords and sheathed daggers, trap doors that lead to secret hideouts and escape routes, their walls perforated with gun holes to shoot at unsuspecting invaders.The past intertwines with the present as the later Christian, Portuguese elements become apparent sitting aside contemporary paraphernalia with grace and indifference; plastic toys are strewn on a 200-year-old love seat, a black and white television set sits propped against a powder blue lime wall. 
Of particular note is an old cabinet made of gleaming rosewood. Choked with vintage China from Macau and plastic tableware, its glass panels are interestingly laid with old fading prints of art. "We keep changing the pictures inside as they fade'' explains Fernandez. The result is a quirky pastiche of renaissance art, old advertisements and bazaar prints. An apt testimony to the years of evolution the house itself has seen.

The rosewood picture cabinet at the Fernandez home
Old houses like Casa Grande are expensive to maintain. Homeowners complain about a growing shortage of craftsmen who retain quality skills to help maintain the structures. Many among the younger generation find it challenging to carry forward the demanding legacy of the past.  `` I am tired,’’ says Mrs. Fernandez bracing her body against a white washed pillar, her laboured, asthmatic breathing filling up  the silence of the house. ``I have tried to keep this place the best I could, I don’t know if my children will be interested’’,  she says heavily. The  fact makes the efforts of those committed to their histories and personal stories remarkable.

Living room of the Pereira Braganza's 
Not very far from Casa Grande, is a painstakingly renovated home. The stately Braganza house owned by two sides of the same family: Pereira Braganza and Menezes Braganza. In the interest of preserving the space, the homeowners have segregated the living areas from those rarely in use.It is impossible to miss the elaborate 28-window tripartite facade of this Portuguese style mansion sprawled over 10,000 sq m of space. 

The dance hall ( Perieira Braganza)
More sumptuous interiors, one will not see. The homes are divided into massive rooms with soaring ceilings laid out in intersecting sections. At the far end of the Pereira Braganza house sits the family's private chapel, an ornately carved and vaulted affair.The centrepiece of the mansion is a large ballroom. Its flooring made of Italian marble, Belgian crystal and Venetian glass chandeliers and mirrors encased in gold and silver, lends a priceless sparkle and patina to the room. 

Chinoiserie love at the Menezes Braganza home
In the adjoining wing of the Menezes Braganza, it takes a retinue of six full time caretakers to ensure day-to-day upkeep. Gleaming silver, oriental vases and hand crocheted lace mix with the Portuguese love for Chinoiserie.

A sun filled bay at the Menezes Braganza home

Gleaming silverware at the Menezes Braganza home

In Margao, Ninette Pinto and Charles Rodrigues have just moved into a new, smaller home. They are still unpacking as I knock at their door. The interiors here are scaled down versions of what I have seen in Chandor, yet typically Goan. Intricately carved chairs in dark woods are arranged in circular arrangements on brightly patterned tiles and there is still more china and silver lovingly displayed.

Ninette and Charles Rodrigues home in Margao

Ninette's China
The Figueiredo home, also in Margao, has striking Chinoiserie inspired exteriors. Jade coloured window shutters contrast strikingly with bright yellow exteriors. 

Red blue and buff at the Figueiredo home in Margao

"We keep changing the colours of the structure both inside and outside," says Figueiredo. "It helps us maintain the façade from the elements, besides changing things around a bit routinely,'' he adds. The tropical nature of Goan weather accelerates weathering of structures.  

Yet another family in Cansaulim, the Carvalhos have set aside a few well-preserved rooms. A newly painted bedroom with richly carved four poster bed covered in hand crocheted lace and a rosewood wash stand displaying an old Chinese basin and jug serves as a serene link to the family's faded past.

The restored bedroom at the Carvahlo residence, Cansaulim
The efforts to preserve and conserve are driven mostly by individual homeowners, efforts that are not only heartfelt and challenging, but will decide what the Goan legacy is going to mean in times to come.


vineeta said...

My god. This is mindblowing stuff!! I love the new picture size and its completely doing justice to your phenomenal pics - what places, such charachter and such colour!!

pRiyA said...

So glad you posted these pictures. This is a revelation. I'm blown.

Anonymous said...

OMG! I have been to this place!!!! It was so amazing :) Lovely pics dear!

sudha said...

character oozing from every corner and inch of the space...very lovely images and a wonderful post..colonial living and homes from influenced by that era/built in thatera have always been a major source of inspiration for me...thanks for sharing

Kala said...

Incredible, love the writeup and photos. What a treat this was for me:):) Thank you!

Nayana said...

Chandan, This is super gorgeous...what attract me more are the colors and interiors. and thanks for the bigger pictures.


Chandan said...

Thanks guys! Am thrilled with the new blogger.. its fun working with it :)

Deepa Krishnan said...

Gorgeous. What a treat this post is!!

Miss Frangipani said...

Beautiful images! When you're in Panjim next, you're welcome to drop in to our little heritage home. It used to be the Mint of Goa in the 1830s and has been the family residence since 1904. This weekend, we host a 3-day festival at the house; one of the few times of the year that the house is open to the public in this manner. (

Sahana Singh said...

A beautiful piece and absolutely stunning photography!

Esha Gupta said...

Love the vintage revival.
Old is most definitely gold. My school had Portuguese architecture!

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Prasad Desai said...

Incredible indeed.This is going to be an experience of the life-time.The whole picture,the design of the house,the furniture,the arte-facts all form a collage which is so fine as it re-creates the by-gone gracious era.Been to Goa many a times on a pilgrimage but seldom on a Portuguese houses hunting mission.......Need to visit not as fun-loving person but as serious student of Portuguese way of life. Can you please provide more details about exact location Shall be highly indebted
Prasad Desai

Prasad Desai said...

Incredible indeed.This is going to be an experience of the life-time.The whole picture,the design of the house,the furniture,the arte-facts all form a collage which is so fine as it re-creates the by-gone gracious era.Been to Goa many a times on a pilgrimage but seldom on a Portuguese houses hunting mission.......Need to visit not as fun-loving person but as serious student of Portuguese way of life. Can you please provide more details about exact location Shall be highly indebted
Prasad Desai

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