The people we love, the journeys we make and the homes we build are essentially means to find our way back inside the silver-framed memories of our childhood. For interior designer, columnist and former actor Twinkle Khanna, that road to the past is paved with a mango tree. The home she lived in till she was 12, the iconic ‘Aashirwad’ on Mumbai’s Carter Road, had a mango tree growing through the dining area. “The tree sort of burst through the glass ceiling. My sister and I would go to the terrace and pluck mangoes,” she recalls. In every home that she’s lived in since, there’s been a mango tree. The sea-facing duplex apartment she now shares with her movie star husband Akshay Kumar, 12-year-old son Aarav, two-year-old daughter Nitara and a mild-mannered German Shepherd Cleo, has one too.
The entire house, done by Khanna right from drafting the architectural plans to picking the Paola Navone ceramic stools, is brimming with family photographs and mementos—artefacts collected on trips (such as a Mother Mary and Baby Jesus sculpture that Kumar spotted at a store window while holidaying in Spain) or gifts to each other (Khanna gifted Kumar a painting titled Indian James Bond for his 40th birthday). Art by her mother and son also feature throughout the home; Aarav has given the guest room door the Jackson Pollock treatment.
Khanna is a big advocate of filling homes with objects that tell a story. Kumar agrees: “It’s not about going to a store in Italy and saying ‘I’ll have one of everything.’”
Until recently, the family lived only on the ground floor. The second child ushered the need for more space, and the first floor was acquired. Now, the living and dining space, the kitchen, a home theatre and a room that functions as Kumar’s walk-in closet takes up the ground floor while the first floor houses the bedrooms, a pantry, Khanna’s home office and a balcony with a daybed where the family plays Ludo and Backgammon.
Clean, with clutter
While the ground floor is spectacle oriented with a 13-part pendant light installation by Klove Studio, an indoor pond, antique silver candelabras and a brass-and-glass Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla centre table, the first floor is considerably muted—closer to the aesthetic of Khanna’s own design brand, The White Window. Here, grey dominates on Italian-style sofas and a floating Dedon daybed hangs invitingly beside her writing desk. Khanna describes her home as “a modern, clean-cut space with eclectic cultural references.” Monstrances from European churches and silver cow sculptures from south India are perfectly at ease beside each other, while powerful feminist art by the likes of Rekha Rodwittiya and Shipra Bhattacharya take up precious real estate. “Clutter isn’t a bad thing. But you must organise your clutter so it looks neat: line it up according to a theme or colour, or intersperse it in your bookshelf,” she suggests, admitting that she developed her personal aesthetic from years of “looking at things.” Coming from an artistic family certainly helped—her mother, actor Dimple Kapadia, pioneered the designer candle wave in the country. After Khanna quit movies, she worked as a site supervisor for architect Hafeez Contractor, learning AutoCAD on the job. The hands-on experience with leaking pipes and woodwork has held her in good stead while designing her own home.
The innovation she’s most proud of is a bookshelf under the staircase. “It’s a tricky space for everyone, usually wasted or reserved for shoes… but I needed a space for my crates of books,” she says. Harbouring a particular dislike for metallic railings (and chrome and plastic in general), she crafted a unique railing with rope.
The alfresco life
Why an apartment in Juhu over the glamour of a free-standing home in Bandra like his peers, I ask Kumar. The sprawl and location, he reasons. Having grown up in a Delhi flat with an extended family of 14 packed in two rooms, he cherishes the ideas of space and privacy. Their building has a generous strip of green in the front, then comes the beach and then the sea; there’s no traffic, no road cutting between the sea and the home like it does in other parts of the city. “I love the layers of green and blue when I look out,” he says. It is this depth to the landscape that drew him to the plot when he’d first visited it a decade ago. For Khanna too, the best feature of the home is the glass-walled bathroom in the master bedroom. When the screens are up, the vantage from her shower allows her to look right through the one-way glass and out at the landscape.
A factor that adds to the energy of the place is that the plot originally belonged to freedom fighter Sumati Morarjee, Gandhi’s close associate and friend. On his visits, he sat on a raised stone in the front garden to meditate; it lies untouched to this day. For a family that thrives on space and light, au naturel is the way to go. Kumar is a dedicated martial arts exponent; Khanna performs shoulder stands in her garden daily (it’s the secret to her good hair). They take their meals on a Kansa dinner set and usually lounge in the alfresco area in a corner of their front garden, marked with swaying frangipanis and a small water fountain. In fact, as a homemaker and designer, Khanna considers bringing the outside in, her biggest strength. “It’s not about floor-to-ceiling windows; it’s about understanding light, playing with elevation, using the right textures,” she explains.
Khanna’s best friend (and business partner) and Kumar’s mother and sister live in the same building; while Kapadia’s house and Kumar’s office and gym are right around the corner. Living enveloped by friends and family is important to the couple. “Often, when we want to go out for dinner, we just walk on the beach to the Marriott. Nobody bothers us,” says Kumar. That’s the silver-framed memory for this household—just a family, holding hands, walking on the beach.