Definitive Guide to Designing Your Second Home…
…And The Many Layers To It
Even when you move into a fully furnished home, you wish to give it a personal touch. And so, prayer flags double up as study table buntings, you create a quiet book corner, and you place your favourite piece of art at a point from where you can look at it no matter what.
Moving into a new place isn’t easy, so one can only imagine building a new one — one heck of a task, no? In my previous article, we spoke about 6 things one must consider before acquiring a vacation home.
Now, it’s time to take it to the next level — building and designing it.
The first step is to acquire land.
This acquisition can happen in two ways: you either acquire the land yourself or inherit it from your family. Many like it this way since you're your boss.
Alternatively, you can acquire land with your friends and decide to build homes together.
- There are several advantages to this, one of the first being camaraderie.
If my home is being rented out at that time, I can use my friend’s home for a staycation or a party I may be hosting.
- Another advantage is that you all can retire together and take turns to ensure the other houses are okay.
- Next, the costs come down drastically. If you all hire the same architect, the home’s design will be similar. There’s an example I like to give.
It’s not that one poetry is in German, the other is in Portuguese, and another one in Hindi. All the poems are in Hindi, but the poetries are different. The language is the same; the poetry is different.
If you have Greek-themed homes, all will have the same themes, but the accents, structure, views, pool, bedrooms, decor, layout, etc., will all be different.
On the other hand, a developer/builder could build a small gated complex for you to purchase a villa from. But if you opt for a second home in a gated complex, it’s an absolute no-no to go for a large gated complex. As founder of SaffronStays, and having worked in this industry for the last 7 years, I’d say it’s an absolute no-no. Too many stakeholders, inventories, chatter, and utterly avoidable noise. Whether it is friends coming together or a builder developing it for you, there must be 4–5 homes at the max.
But for all of this to happen, your friends need to be in a similar wealth bracket, have identical aesthetics and design sensibilities; it is hard to have all of this together.
No matter how you acquire the land, designing the home will be the next most important thing. There are 5 key players we need to appoint.
First and foremost, an architect.
Many people try doing things on their own. They have a picture and design in mind but eventually make all the mistakes that could be avoided if there was an architect. Not only has the architect studied the art and science of building space, but also they are regularly in touch with vendors. They understand materials, go to exhibitions and update their knowledge on the latest trends, palettes, and new building techniques.
How do you choose your architect?
- The most important thing is to research and figure out the design you like. Go through publications like Architectural Digest, look at the top 50/100 homes and villas, and shortlist the ones that vibe with you before zeroing in on the top 5–7 architects.
- Follow their work and social media accounts for a while before you meet with them to know whether or not the two of you vibe. Please understand that the architect will only voice your thoughts and ideas. So imposing their views on you isn’t going to work. If you want a contemporary luxury villa and the architect specialises in earthy rustic villas, that’s not your person and vice versa. All of this will make you realise whether your stead and their stead resonates.
- Once you've more or less decided on your architect, opt for local materials, palettes and listen to the architect's words and the way they use them. Are they using words like 'local, sustainable, maintenance-free' or 'glamorous, luxury', and understand what resonates with your personality. E.g., if you are buying a home as a family, do you believe in sustainability? In that case, your house can't be burning air-conditioners and power day in and day out. Your spending on electricity cannot be obnoxiously high.
Whether we like it or not, we all realise that building a house adds to your carbon footprint, but we can minimise it as far as possible.
Here are a few things you need to consider when constructing your home
> Use the material palettes available in the region so you don’t build a house that sticks out like an eyesore or a monstrosity.
> Its aesthetics should add to the landscape and not take away from it; you owe it to the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, in India, we do not have building or aesthetic rules. You can build without any aesthetics and get it approved by the local authorities. So, as a responsible citizen, it is on you to ensure that you create a home that does not jut out from the landscape but blends in it beautifully.
> Next is asking yourself, ‘What’s your family size?’ ‘How many guests do you want to entertain?’ For instance, if yours is a small family of 3 people, what is the point of having a 6 bedroom home? Build a home that suits your needs along with 1–2 additional bedrooms. Figure out accommodation for your househelps, nannies and drivers on a need-basis.
> Do you like cooking or do you have a househelp who cooks for you and serves you? Now, these are design questions. If you’re the former, you must have an integrated kitchen with the living room, whereas if you’re the latter, you must have a separate wet and dry kitchen to plate the food, heat it, and serve it. The wet kitchen’s only requirement is efficiency and cleanliness without necessarily having an aesthetic sense.
> Simultaneously, you also want to decide what amenities you want in the house. For instance, air-conditioning today is a must. You want to keep the creepy crawlies out as far as you can, and for that, you need very clever architect work. How do you hide the AC ducts without jeopardising the house’s look? How about an entertainment zone, pool, and its size relative to the house. What about open areas? The deck, verandahs, patio.
You can’t do all this on your own. It would help if you had experts and people who think like this or know the mistakes that could occur. For instance, some may say that Italian marble is the best, but the reality is in the harsh terrain of our country, something like that will be entirely out of place and high maintenance; it’s better to have Kota tiles — easier to maintain, clean, and beautiful.
In a vacation home, the size of the bedroom is immaterial because you’re going to sleep there only for 8 hours. Most of the time you’re going to spend is in the common areas. You’re going there because you need the outdoors, not because you want to stay indoors.
Some people love having a double-height ceiling. It would be best if you had a brilliant architect for this who will make it so that you receive enough sunlight and ensure that the cost of air-conditioning doesn’t hit through the roof (or ceiling). It automatically gives one a feeling of living in a huge house — something you won’t get in the city.
You need an architect who will walk you through all these decisions, sit down and plan your home’s look and feel, do all the demos, renditions, mock-ups with you, and eventually, your civil work will be ready.
I’d been to a house that was built on a 5,000 sq ft plot. It may sound like a tiny home, but the architect created drama. One had to take 40 steps to get into the house, which led to an illusion of space. Just by changing the entrance and taking those 40 steps, any visitor is bound to feel that it is a large home.
Another intelligent thing one often sees architects doing is placing a marker at one corner of the house — a gazebo, a play area… Why do they do that? If you look at the Taj Mahal, there are 4 minarets. Would the monument look as beautiful without them? Maybe. The purpose of the minarets is to add to the Taj Mahal’s beauty and create corners that define the house.
Clever architects design a home and a small sit out in another corner to give an illusion of space, of marking the end of one’s territory.
The next step is getting a landscape designer
Landscape designers usually have a similar strategy: import grass and place them on your lawns, replace the existing trees with ones bought from a botanical nursery, but that’s the worst way to work. It may look beautiful, but you’ve to realise that India’s weather isn’t suitable for it. We’re a tropical country with intense heat, monsoon, and winters. We don’t have a temperate climate where the grass can be left to itself; it will either outgrow or die. This would require tremendous maintenance, tremendous watering, which means soon you’ll be dependent on tankers.
You need landscape designers who work with the soil, the environment, the terroir, and those who work in the local conditions and bring in the indigenous trees and even grass.
There’s this concept called mulch, which adds moisture to the soil. How do you reach that level where you don’t have to water the plants? Zero watering, 100% moisture-retaining soil. All this is an art and science, so one needs to know the local environs. What plants will survive, what plants will require minerals, and what are indigenous to the land?
For example, if I were to build my house, I would have a beautiful butterfly corner, and I will need certain types of flowers and vegetables growing there. It would also have a kitchen garden with various veggies I consume. A portion where I could walk in, pick up parsley leaves and add them to my soup and salads.
Another important thing one needs to decide is where the fruiting and flowering trees need to be. You may realise that these trees have overshadowed the view you would’ve otherwise enjoyed from your deck. You may think you can do it all by yourself or that you’ve got a steal deal by hiring a cheap landscape artist who can only beautify the space. When you’re old, these things will start pinching you not because of the cost but because you will physically not be able to go around and tend to your garden or land.
Ask yourself: ‘Do I need those 6 acres?’ ‘Am I okay with half an acre or 1 acre of land?’ ‘What’s the space I will be able to manage when I am 75 or 80?’
Everyone misses this point and then retrofits it with lawns, which suck water and attract the wrong type of birds and bees. Don’t mess with the environment. Anyway, you’ve added to your carbon footprint by building that house. By growing this landscape, try and minimise it.
Third, you need an interior designer
The interior designer is the one who works on the home’s design, tiling, fittings, faucets, and so on. The architect usually has a team of designers, but if they don’t, get a separate one. Get someone who vibes with the feel of your home.
Designers help you make the most of your space, and that’s true of big and small spaces alike. For instance, many people have beautiful huge bedrooms and double beds. However, always have a poster bed when you have a large bedroom. The reason is that it mimics the cave that you and I were sleeping in 10,000 years ago. It gives a frame to your house, makes you feel safe and secure, and that’s why you sleep better. A human mind is always geared to look at frames. When you look at a framed photograph, your view is framed. If your picture is framed, you like the image, but if it is freehand, you don’t know what to look at or focus your eyes on.
They also help you customise your interiors as per the theme of your home and harmonise all the elements accordingly. Your interiors speak volumes about your personality. Make sure you’re saying the right thing.
This needs to be followed by a stylist for, well, styling the home
The stylist does the job of putting frames, upholstery, curtains to make the house and decor pop.
A common mistake most people commit is taking their furniture from their city home and dumping it in their brand new second home!
The furniture in your vacation home should be twice as new and expensive as the one you have in your actual house. Bring in all those fancy collections of doors, windows, the heritage items you’ve collected over the years, and chandeliers, among other things, to your new home.
Lastly, get a project manager to do all of the above
It’s a boon to get a high-quality project manager who understands all this and can coordinate the work mentioned above for you. Sometimes, the architect plays the role of a project manager because they also bring the civil guy along, the contractor who will lay the bricks, the engineering guys for ducting and piping, etc.
You’ll realise is that it’s not easy to build a house. A million considerations and countless visits are required to go to the house because even if you outsource the task of building the home and keeping an eye on it, it’s yours. You may want the window in a particular direction. No matter how much you think it through, certain decisions can only be taken last minute and on the spot.
(If you finished reading this article, trust me, you have the patience to build a home. Go ahead!)