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Can the real luxury please stand up?

The luxury home marketed today is nothing short of a fantasy world,making us alien to our own way of life. Then why aren’t we questioning it?

Written by Shiny Varghese |
May 19, 2012 2:45:38 am

What do you look for when you buy a home? Budget,most definitely,but you’re also thinking of living in a home where the family can meet,eat and yet retain privacy through all this connectedness. Ample light and air,may be a kitchen garden or balcony to savour your morning tea,and the rest,simple fuss-free maintenance.

Now think luxury and what comes to your mind? Do elaborate driveways and Swarovski chandeliers qualify? Imported marble flooring? Which makes one wonder what happened to Indian marble,but then anything imported in our minds,is luxury.

The intent of this story is not to take you on an austerity drive,but only to question — do you know what you are buying into? What your builder has imported is not just a box of tiles,he has imported a way of living. His elaborate design diktats tell you that you have to be surrounded by a golf course to be in sync with the rest of your tribe,that without water walls and horse riding,you haven’t arrived yet,that you deserve golf living or a polo way of life.

“People follow each other,like sheep. As a country that takes pride in pluralism and diversity,we fail when it comes to making choices. We all want to live the American dream and the culture of consumption is what drives us,” says architect Ashish Ganju,who designed the Press Enclave apartments in Saket,New Delhi. It was the first cooperative initiative where the residents and the architect worked together. That is luxury,where you can request for a window for the kitchen that faces a park,even if it is not in the elevation,simply because it is your house in the end.

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THE NEW COMMODITY

Our Indian way of living has primarily revolved around street ecosystems. Galli cricket,the kulfi-man on his cycle,the flower seller bringing flowers for your morning puja,watching your children play,all this doesn’t exist in a gated,multi-storey premium apartment. “It is bound to happen,” says architect Hafeez Contractor. “You are financially a different person,you are in a different place in life. An executive exposed to a global way of life wants to live such a life back home too.” Little wonder then that a flat in Chennai looks no different from a flat in Gurgaon.

Speaking to architects who build for premium developers,there was a consensus on what is termed as luxury. This includes views (so what if it is artificially placed),elaborate driveways and lobbies,common gardens,besides,the house layout and location. The ‘By Invitation’ tag only increases the uber quotient. Isn’t it true then that majority builders appeal to the baser instincts,so a lap pool (even if you can’t swim) and butler service may add to the oomph to a basic plot?

Globally,a house with a view,is one that faces the hills or a river. In fact,good design doesn’t blow it’s own trumpet,it arrives quite silently and you never know it’s there,but you will most definitely feel it. It’s never forced.

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“These days,one is no longer buying into a community,but a commodity,” says architect Gautam Bhatia. “It’s easier for builders to make a luxury apartment than research on materials,find ways to cut cost,make homes that will reorganise spaces in a new way… Homes today,can be built at twice the cost of an MIG (middle-income group) house and sold at 10 times the price.”

Little wonder then there is a ‘Scottish Garden’ and ‘California Heights’ amidst barren wastelands. So what would you say to a builder who imports elephant statues from Bali to embellish the manor-like entrance to your apartment? It’s certainly not coming to you free of cost. Then there is the preoccupation with glazing,glass bathrooms,glass walls. Where can your eye rest?

Surfeit of information leads to frayed nerves,not to mention the efforts to maintain these accoutrements.

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The market meaning of luxury borders on a hypnotic illusion of what life can be. But strip the fancy lights and the corniced ceilings,what would you want in your home?

LOOK WITHIN

McKinsey & Company answers this question in their report on India’s urbanisation. It says,a city that is designed around the dimensions of the human body and its need for clean air,water and healthy food will also improve the lives of its citizens. Well-designed cities of the future could be net contributors to soil building and biodiversity,making them beneficial to people and nature.

The challenge facing our cities is the absence of a clear direction of how our cities should evolve,how they can be sustainably built. Builders today,are the master planners,and those of us who need a roof above our head and a place to call “home” have to rely on their judgment. But there is good news in all this.

“There are the younger crop of builders who seem to be sensitive to issues of sustainability and energy renewal,and are thinking of alternative ways of living,” says Ganju. Such discerning builders are making a difference in the country,who are making the process of “building”,a participatory one and giving back more than taking,from the environment.

So while the zeitgeist may lean towards frills and trivialities,we might just be moving away from the landmine of a tactile-less world.

Factor these when buying a builder apartment

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Light & Ventilation: Ensure there is ample natural light in rooms,kitchen and bathrooms.

Plumbing & Electricals: Quite often the builders are equally clueless,so ask for detailed plans of these as well. At a later stage,it would help your maintenance guy to know how the wiring and pipes are done so there is minimal breaking of walls.

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Parking & Common Areas: Is there individual and guest parking? Check on electricity back up,water supply and waste disposal.

FSI: Floor Space Index is the built area on the site. The “covered area” does not include balconies and the “super area” includes common areas such as stairs and lifts within the flat.

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Balconies: Since these are not included in the floor space ratio,these come cheaper than a covered area,so invest in homes with large balconies.

Spaces: Look for optimal use of space,those that can multi-task. What use is a separate dining room if you are there only for two hours in a day?

Flooring & Walls: Opt for floors that need minimal maintenance and non-slippery ones for bathrooms and kitchen with a gradient to allow for water run-off. For walls,avoid horizontal lines,grooves and louvres if you’re obsessed about dust. Avoid false ceiling in kitchens and bathrooms that can pick up moisture and look patchy over time.

Lighting: Opt for spot lighting rather than tube lights,these are energy efficient and provide good quality,ambient light.

Fittings and fixtures: If you’re getting a jacuzzi or pressure-intensive gadgets in your bathroom,ensure you have a powerful pump to carry the water up for the right pressure.

— Inputs by Suparna Bhalla,Abaxial Architects

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First published on: 19-05-2012 at 02:45:38 am

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