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Ritu’s Domain – From a Poignant Ramshackle to An Elegant Casa

Charming balcao, as you enter the home
Charming balcao, as you enter the home

The quiet village – Saligao lies in the northern part of Goa, along the Arabian Sea coast of India. A leisurely drive from Panjim to Calangute reveals the past and present, harmoniously in existence here. The paddy fields enhance the picturesque green and synchronize well with the old Portuguese villas painted in vibrant mix of colours. The picture-frame is complete with flowered gardens of each home, area chapels and shady coconut trees.

In the middle of these beautiful surroundings lies the 125 years old, parish church of Mae de Deus, regally standing in its spiky Gothic-revival architecture. Built in 1873, the shrine of the Nossa Senhora Mai de deus was brought over from the ruins of the convent of Mae de Deus at Old Goa. Its dome and the tower with 2 lofty bells are visible from any vantage point along the drive in the village, and the villagers can often exchange a greeting across the green stretch. The place exudes an intimate, unpolluted world where the traditions are revered and buildings with its colours are maintained, preserving the architecture and the integrity of the landscape.

Mid-2006 Ritu Prasad and little daughter Astha moved into Salmona in Saligao village, into her sister’s 18th century property, with consummate devotion of restoring the place, preserving the old and making it functional for today. The place is affectionately called, Villa de Saduade, meaning, ‘a place where you are peace and in content’ in Portuguese. The first impression of what stands today is a welcome Casa at the opening of a forest filled with bamboo, teak and fruit trees. A tour through the home convinces the visitor of a space for de-tox and de-stress; a writer’s and reader’s paradise… an appreciation to solace much wanted by any city dweller. Living amidst nature, there are visitors to this home and do their own thing and leave – snake sheds skin, foxes visit the gate, leeches and frogs make their visits leaving their traces….. all part of life!

Born in Delhi and much traveled, Ritu Prasad is an architect from CEPT (Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology), Ahmedabad and has worked in Sartu Almeida, Goa as a Research Asst with Cho Padamsee, Arch; associated with Dean on projects and teaching part-time in Goa college of Arch. Today she practices and also in social activism in Goa. She stays with her 8-year old Astha who schools in the neighborhood. “This is the purest for me and my daughter. It is all calm here and we are at home here in the world of my making!’ according to Ritu. Of the neighborhood, the villa is poised at the base of a hill. Between the home and the home of the well-known architect Dean D’Cruz to the other side, is the local Salmona chapel. The well-known Salmona springs are leisure is a leisure stroll behind the property.

“The renovation had one guiding principle – the design concept had to revolve around s-p-a-c-e. This property belongs to my sister. She wanted space and wanted to be connected with nature,” Ritu explains:” While renovating the place, I didn’t replicate the old vocabulary, rather worked with my own architectural vocabulary” to continue with the original old techniques, colours, finishes, details, as faithfully as possible. We began with basic layouts and sketches for some details. Rest of the decisions was taken on site as the structure rose. We got different openings. For instance there are no walls that hit the ceiling to demarcate rooms. The walls are left open up and the roofline continues throughout the living space. There are as many open spaces as possible. The ceiling had to be re-done as the entire roof was damaged due to the termites. The furniture is minimal. Obvious elements are added for functional reasons to modern living like the modern plumbing, wiring, insulation etc. We salvaged and recycled everything that could be done, like stones, tiles, windows, wood, etc., so nothing is replicated, but incorporated. My design is a simple expression of respect for those who live in the village and walk past my home to and from the village.”

The home stands in a plot of 1,075 sq. m, within which was a shelter measuring 230 sq. m. surrounded by trees. Today the L-shaped villa stands within a space of 460 sq m, with the trees as a part of the design. A large space was parceled into smaller utility spaces with the family courtyard side back on the East; a spill-out to where the bedrooms open up; a living-dining are on the West, which is also a good Breakfast helm; and a front walkway into the home’s balcao. They open up like portals to – magnificent views of the forest, sky and the top of the trees.

As you drive up to the house, at first it seems hidden among the foliage, but unfolds and changes dramatically as the small iron gate opens into the sloping patched walkway. “The house is painted with yellow-oxide to give it the ochre look, as with the old Goan Portuguese homes,” says Ritu. The entrance to the home is through the perfectly charming balcao (covered walkway); where the yellow oxide cement seats recline in an inviting restful splendor. The step into the home has the year 1901 inset in blue mosaic, “just the way it was,” says Ritu. Two large ornamental doors with moldings open into the porch. “They were windows and have been re-designed with little spaces and railings. The wooden shutters have the design of the18th century retained. From inside they can be flung open to let the light inside.” Here begins the story with colour and design.

The spacious courtyard leads into the living area, called the sala – the main hall for entertaining guests. From the sala, one could directly enter the rest of the home – two other rooms, the kitchen and the outhouse. Ritu incorporated this into a single hall with an exposed beam ceiling. “The roof in this place had been damaged with wear and is replaced. Whatever could be salvaged has been used in other parts of the home, like the flooring of the master bedroom,” she says.

“The original kitchen and dining areas were the axis of the home. Our renovation principle was – Space- as a guiding principle, so we surrendered all this, as it was damaged, for one large central courtyard that opens to the sky. It is from here that you can enter the rest of the home – master bedroom, kitchen, two guestrooms,” according to Ritu. Explains Ritu, “Typically, the homes in this period had the bedrooms flank the courtyard, and the kitchens and service areas at the rear of the house. According to my sister’s one other appeal a'” to locate the kitchen as the hub – we worked the kitchen and the bedrooms around the courtyard.” The design is carefully approached with copies of the old home – the eaves in the newly added space match the older unit.

The kitchen and dining is a large proportioned room, floored in yellow oxide, low-silled shell and wood paneled windows to minimize the light and drafts and wooden roof to play with light, as the mood calls. The work counter is a blue concrete-top blended with wall tiles that have reproductions of sketches by Mario Miranda. Wooden cabinets are added for storage spaces at the end of the room around the walls. Trellised spaces on the walls just below the roof add to the light, visibility of nature and ventilation in here.

The master bedroom is beyond the kitchen-dining area. A four-poster bed draws all the attention in this room. A fitted elegance in this space is a modern walk-in wardrobe. A wooden loft is added above for Astha, as her play area that can be accessed by the wooden staircase. The obvious charm of this place is the enchanting array of playthings neatly stacked.

The bath-and-toilet area is beyond the bedroom – an exposed beam ceiling, repeated in all the attached bath facilities,.” . built to capture views and celebrate nature with a wash of light…,” says Ritu. Another guest bathroom in the other part of the home is distinctive creative fitting. The shower fitting is set in a grille space. The outside foliage and the colour green used in the decor couples for a perfect finishing touch.

An outhouse is built outside for accommodation of staff or any visitors to Goa during the season looking for accommodation.

Furnishings are minimal and there is no upholstery used. Attention is paid to details as in the switches which are of porcelain, hinges and locks of the fitting style. Windows worth a mention, are elements of style in this home. The Oyster shelled windows have shells fitted in grooves and can be moved as a wooden paneled window. They let in diffused light. The older part of the home has old pivoted wooden doors re-done, while the newer area has movable louvered doors. Some are Dutch doors to allow the feel of either window or door.

Use of colour is dramatic and startling. The recent addition to the home has white plastered walls with red-oxide floors. The floors of the old and new spaces are of yellow oxide and the bathrooms are blue-oxide with green cement floors. The bathrooms also have terracotta tiles with hand-painted glazed inlays. And the kitchen counter is finished with Portuguese blue insitu. Here art in architecture has performed a social function!

The architectural style of the home allows you to feel you are inside and outside at the same time. Ritu and Astha use their home year-round and the rest of the extended family gathers in the year for holidays and Goan ‘chill’. The love for Saligao is there for keeps! Nothing changes – those crawlies or the rain… ‘There is enough space for all – so harmoniously go with the flow in time!’ says Ritu.

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