The bucket list
The most mundane of everyday objects can double up as design elements in interior decor
Very rarely do hotel bathrooms surprise me (if you discount the increasingly complicated shower attachments that take hours to figure out). The way they are designed epitomizes the term ‘cookie-cutter’. There’s a bathtub on one side, a sink on the other. If the hotel is particularly posh, there will be a bidet beside the loo. And if there is space enough, the designer will try and squeeze in a shower stall. So far, so regular.
Which is why I was surprised into a smile at the Royal Monceau, Paris. Designed by Philippe Starck, this had all the quirky eccentricities that he is famous for. But what took my fancy was the trashcan below the bathroom sink. This was not your standard dustbin with a pop-up cover that all hotels buy in bulk. No, this one was a gleaming stainless steel bucket, an Indian-style balti that is a regular fixture in our homes (and our bathrooms).
Yes, that’s right. The humble steel balti that we use for bucket-baths and washing clothes back in India had been converted into a design element in a hotel in Paris. And I have to say that it looked very fetching and just a touch exotic as it glistened beneath the sink.
Two thoughts struck me. First, why was it that no interior designer at an Indian hotel had thought of doing something like this? It would be easiest thing in the world to buy a few hundred baltis, paint them with interesting patterns perhaps, and place them in the loo or even in the rooms as a waste receptacle. It sounds like a low-cost, minimal-effort way of jazzing up an interior. And yet, as far as I know, nobody in the Indian hotel business had done anything like that. (If you have seen something like this in India, do write in and let me know.)
And then, a moment later, I wondered if this balti would have looked quite so quirky, even cute, if I had seen it in a bog-standard (pardon the pun) Indian hotel rather than at a fancy Paris one? Was it because it was outside its usual milieu that the bucket looked like a design element rather than an everyday object? I’m still not sure what the answer to that one is.
I do believe, however, that we couldn’t do better than incorporate some of our everyday objects into our design schemes at home. And as it turns out, I’m already doing that, purely by accident.
A couple of years ago, some friends sent me a birthday hamper in an old-style steel trunk – the kind that we would pack clothes in or travel on trains with as kids – painted a vibrant red with bright and cheerful yellow flowers stenciled on it. Ever since, it has lived in my living room, storing everything from old magazines, DVDs, newspaper clippings, books, pens, and other assorted bric-a-brac that tends to clutter up any space I am inhabiting for any length of time.
But storage is not the only use an old trunk could be put to. You could spruce it up whichever way you fancy, stick a glass-top on it, and use it as an occasional table or even a coffee-table. If it nice and long, push it against the wall, pile some cushions on, and it could double up as a seating option. Or you could just use it to create some installation art of your own, a conversation piece for when guests drop in.
Old saris are another element that can be incorporated into your interior design scheme with minimal effort. You can turn them into interesting curtains, use the borders to embellish cushions, drape them around your four-poster bed to create a dreamy bower to sleep in. The possibilities are endless.
My favourite way with old chanderis or muls is to use them as transparent drapes. White and cream are always safe choices but sometimes a golden yellow or a bright orange or even a lime green work very well, allowing the sunlight through and imbuing it with their own colours. Old brocade borders can be stitched together to make cushion covers; embroidered garas can be used to make lampshades; and filmy chiffons can be used to frame doorways.
Winters are the time to play around with shawls. I love to keep a nice, snuggly pashmina at the bottom of the couch so that I can warm my feet as I watch TV. And it looks rather nice too, the deep blue of the shawl contrasted beautifully with the taupe upholstery. In fact, a good way to give your old, battered sofa a new lease of life is to drape a paisley shawl over it. This serves as not just embellishment but a practical nod to the season, when it’s good to have a leg-warmer within arms reach.
And that’s just for starters. You could hang your costume jewellery off tiny ceramic hooks on the wall to jazz up a dull corner of the room; you could frame an interesting piece of embroidery to liven up the entrance to your house; or better still, create a collage of memorable family moments and devote an entire wall to that.
When it comes to converting everyday objects to design elements in your interior décor, the only limit is the one set by your own imagination.