The House of Gaekwads
Situated in the heart of Baroda, Madhav Bagh is a 120-year-old property built around 1888 by Madhav Rao Gaekwad, grandfather of the present owner Shivraj Gaekwad. Madhav Bagh is a splendid example of Indo-Saracenic architecture with an eclectic assortment of motifs from Persian and Indian and British influences. The mansion is an architect’s fantasy. Gothic turrets compete with Rajput Jharoka balconies. The wooden staircase leading to the upstairs wing is impressive in its proportions and scale. Red brick arches form the façade. A grand porch beckons you inside to discover the mansion’s secrets. A specially commissioned majestic fountain at the entrance, incidentally still in working condition, with two dancing cherubs on top of entwined dolphins welcomes you to Madhav Bagh.
Over a period of time most of the old Indian joint families have since become nuclear and their succeeding generations have found it difficult to maintain their big home estates single-handedly. So too Shivraj and Indrayani, who have wisely decided to share their beautiful home with a few discerning guests. When Shivraj and his wife asked me to help convert their family home into a homestay, I was under the impression they would need a few smidgeons of professional advice on effecting minor modifications to the mansion to make it more inhabitable. However, minor changes were definitely not on their minds or on the cards. The mansion was in dire need of major architectural and structural repairs. The lower section which was to be converted into a homestay was previously rented to the Archeological Department. Thereafter it remained unoccupied for several years and the rooms were in a very bad shape. Despite the many challenges the mansion demanded that it be given due respect and attention. It was going to be a stupendous task to restore this old building with its crumbling lime plaster walls. It called for intricate detailing and care for reinstating the building to its former glory
The brief given to me by Shivraj was to let the restoration of the mansion remain true to the original architectural plan while refurbishing the home with refined, comfortable and easy to maintain interiors. If walls could talk, what stories would this house tell? These walls did talk. They had their own story and the architectural nuances dictated the terms on which I would design and refurbish this show piece. The Gaekwads put their heart and soul into restoring the grandeur of their home. We, as a team, left no stone unturned to make their dream come true.
The building plan is a typical Hindu home built around a central open courtyard, with the rooms opening into the verandah and one common toilet and bath. We sought help from a structural engineer and rebuilt and restored all the old rooms. The rooms were dark and gloomy as was the fashion in the olden days to keep the heat out. We opened all the arches above the doors and introduced colored glass to let in light without compromising on the privacy of the rooms. We added new en suite bathrooms to each room. After numerous trips to Morbi, the famous center for tiles, we finally got tiles that would match the décor. The bathrooms are all done in local handmade tiles meticulously color coordinated to make each panel a piece of art.
Wherever possible we used local artisans and printers. Most of the furniture was made on site and sourced in Gujarat. We painstakingly restored and refurbished some of the existing furniture and artifacts. The most interesting part for us was to scout around for some more furniture and artifacts to go with the existing stuff. It was a veritable treasure hunt. We drove in and around Vadodara and to the interiors of Gujarat to get authentic pieces at affordable prices. Some of the best pieces were in shambles but eventually with a little attention turned out to be collector’s items. The family had a lot of old teak wood from an old house that we made good use of. We sent hundreds of drawings to help the artisans to use the old wood to make four poster beds, towel racks, tables and side tables. The old chhatri beds, chairs, tables, consoles and all other architectural salvage was creatively recycled and restored. That for us was a painstaking but satisfying achievement to keep wastage to a bare minimum. The old doors when scraped, unveiled layers and layers of paint that had to be carefully peeled off before the doors could be restored to their former stateliness. With the expertise of the Gujarat block printers, we designed unique curtains to match each room. Beautiful turquoises, greys, blue interiors vie with dramatic red brick arched doorways
Madhav Bagh now has meticulously restored rooms, bathrooms, lounges, courtyards and gardens interspersed with old antiques restored furniture and photographs. There is however no compromise on modern comforts with fabulous bathrooms, comfortable mattresses, air conditioned and well-ventilated rooms. The living room has an access to the gardens and a powder room. The passageway outside the main living area is covered with glass windows that look out onto the gardens and the grand fountain. We had the genial idea of converting this into a small cozy breakfast area. The door at the other end leads out into garden. The colors in the living room are a muted olive green with beautiful Italian style floors. Here one can enjoy masala tea with samosas or an English tea with cakes and cucumber sandwiches …like the mansion, the food here is eclectic too- authentic Maratha cuisine and old English recipes. Lunches, dinners are served al fresco under old silk cotton trees lit with magical lights. The central courtyard with the soft sound of the gentle water fountain is a good place to become nostalgic of times gone by. The entrance foyer leads to the landing of a classic English wooden stairway leading to the family’s private residence.
All the bedrooms open into a beautiful courtyard with its tiny pink marble fountain. Lit by filigreed brass lanterns, the flickering iron and glass lanterns work up a beautiful play of light. The colors in the rooms are vibrant and rich. All rooms have a unique layout and period details, stone floors, colored glassed arched doorways and antique furniture, made to order hand blocked silk curtains, lofty ceilings and hand-crafted stenciled walls. There is an interesting story behind the reason to stencil the walls. As a designer it’s always a challenge to fill up big 14 feet high expanses of walls. Stencils seemed the answer and to our surprise while scraping the old walls, we discovered stenciled patterns on them. So went the distance with the original stenciled walls idea. We also colored the old beams and wooden ceilings so that they now add visual interest when you look at them lying in your beds.
As a designer, I love experimenting with vibrant colors. Shivraj was initially a bit apprehensive and wanted to play safe with beige and white interiors. However, I chose to override Shivraj and used the beautiful turquoises, blues, yellows and reds, taking my cue from the architecture which itself showcases the best of the Indian, Islamic and British elements. This worked well as I think; the magnificent old house needed a splash of fresh color. After seven months of intensive work we hope the interiors are richly finished and consummately decorated and will pass muster with the mansion’s previous heirs.
The Blue and Yellow room
This beautiful bedroom with arches has blue and white stenciled walls. It overlooks the courtyard with a fountain. It has an en suite large bathroom with handmade cobalt blue tiles with hand painted inserts. The basin counters are handcrafted from old architecture salvage. The old towel stands suit the old Raj styled bathrooms. The beds are from the owner’s personal collection. The side tables were bought at an antique dealer’s. The chairs are upholstered in navy blue and yellow Ikat fabric. The arch is stenciled to add interest. The dressing table and chair are also from the owner’s old collection.
The Peach Paisley room
The Peach Room and its bathroom have a view of old silk cotton trees and a lot of greenery. The small private sit-out has access to the garden where you can sit with your favorite book and a hot cup of tea. The room is stenciled in a beautiful peach paisley border design. This is Shivraj’s mother, Harshala raje‘s favorite room. The beds and the furniture belong to the family. As the lime plaster here was in terrible condition, we decided to keep the brick wall exposed. It’s a beautiful example of the superb workmanship of the days gone by.
A small dressing with an old round mirror makes way for the bathroom. A small cupboard fashioned out of old doors is in place. Here we chose fish scale tiles in stunning turquoise and cobalt blue and green. The shower panel is designed to perfection in the same pattern with a hand painted Spanish tile. A large mirror handcrafted with old carvings adds light and space to the otherwise small bathroom. The filigreed hanging lanterns add to the mood. The chairs are upholstered in local hand woven kantha cotton. The peach silk curtains are handblocked to match the room.
The Turquoise suite
The grand two-room turquoise suite with a 21 feet long bathroom is all set to create an old-world charm. This bedroom has two oversized single antique Chhatri beds redesigned. The side tables are sourced from the local antique dealer. The rich turquoise wall has been meticulously stenciled in by Indrayani and Riddhi. The turquoise block printed silk curtains add richness to this beautiful room. Copies of old Ravi Varma paintings adorn the walls along with a few old black and white photographs. A small private bookshelf, an old desk and kantha upholstered chairs add to the comforts. A private sit out overlooking the garden provides a private place to enjoy your morning coffee.
The special dressing area has a small Diwan bed to lounge around on a lazy morning. The three-mirror dressing table and an antique mirrored wardrobe complete the décor. The 21- feet long bathroom is a masterpiece in handcrafted inlaid tiles. The signature handcrafted mirror and counter with antique inlaid tiles creates some serious lux. The hanging Moroccan lamps add romance to the bathroom with a special alcove shower.
The Silver Grey and Red room.
This room had to have a new ceiling as the old one had caved in. A cozy room with a huge four poster bed crafted on site from the old Burma teak wood, .an antique wardrobe, desk, fridge and tea maker cabinet. We added a new bathroom in the smaller courtyard
The bathroom is decorated with red and grey arabesque handmade tiles beautifully inlaid to perfection. The curtains match the room with their rich silver grey and red hand block prints. The old photographs and paintings add to the charm of the room. An antique Gujarat jhoola or swing- a charming and integral part of old Gujarat homes is placed in the verandah overlooking the courtyard. Equal in importance to the unique furnishing are the objects displayed which trace the history of the Gaekwads.
The gardens are large with the most beautiful and rare fountains in the center. Here under these grand old trees one can enjoy a quiet time reading a book, or relax in a hammock and simply do nothing. The compound has some huge old shaded mango and silk cotton trees. The ambience is surreal and it’s like stepping back in time. It’s hard to believe that this jewel of an estate is in the midst of bustling modern Baroda, Madhav Bagh offers old world romance, and a chance to live in this grand Maratha home.
This luxurious home doesn’t
skimp on style and affords the discerning travellers some serious Lux!