Unrestrained Decadence

As design is trending more towards bold and colorful and away from minimal and neutral, I think it’s time to examine one of the most interesting places in the world: India. It’s a country that is filled with extremes, and it’s many woes should not be overlooked. But today I want to examine the palaces of India. Before the country became an independent republic, it had numerous royal families throughout, and these families made their mark by building some of the most distinctive architecture in the world that remains objects of fascination.



The two above are from Architectural Digest India‘s profile of the Lukshmi Villas Palace in Gujarat, which is still owned by the family that built it back in 1890. The palace is the largest privately owned home in India. Click through for a more in-depth profile. It’s stunning.

What strikes me is the gloriously decadent styling not just of the design, but of the details as well. These palaces were not a place where restraint was part of life, and the design of the the palaces and the styling reflects that. I love the rampant use of color, not just in the furniture, but in the building materials themselves. Many of these palaces are red or yellow or pink because they were built with a distinctive type of stone, which begs to be noticed.


Next is the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Rajasthan. Much of it is now one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, but the hereditary royal family still lives in the palace. It was built as recently as 1943.

These palaces also are great insights into a culture that was westernizing. Many of India’s palaces take inspiration from Italianate style or Tudor style or even Beaux Arts. India was adopting new ideas of beauty and sophistication, many of which were based in the west, and that’s reflected in these structures. Yet, the palaces were built to perpetuate a lifestyle that is decidedly old fashioned, and they went right on building them well into the 20th century.


Stitched Panorama

Jai Vilas Palace was built in 1874 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, and is also still occupied by the hereditary maharaja, although much of the building is now a museum.

Like the UK, which has numerous noble estates that are aging, owners of India’s palaces have had to figure out ways to use the building to their advantage since people don’t have the kind of Downton Abbey level household staff and way of life that they had when the buildings were built. Many have been turned into hotels, museums, and tourist attractions, but buildings as decadent as these are expensive and cumbersome to maintain.


Above are images of the Bangalore Palace (via Digital Kaleidoscope), built from 1862 to 1944, and owned my the Mysore royal family. The palace is still occupied by the Mysore family, and hosts events and weddings throughout the year. The grounds also contain an amusement park called Fun World, a popular family attraction in the city.

The decadence of the palaces is so fascinating to me not just from a design perspective, but from a cultural perspective as well, in part because unlike in much of the world, the families who built the palaces often still own them. The vestiges of a bygone era are still very much present.

Design is never in a vacuum. It always represents culture in one way or another.


In Praise of the New Volvo Style

Volvo is in the midst of a styling revolution, and it’s delightful to see. I’ve been obsessing about Volvo’s new style for the last few months, and I wanted to highlight the changes they’ve been making.

Since Ford sold the brand in 2008, the company has been one of the most innovative in the industry, pulling the brand from the brink of demise. It’s delightful to see. Not only are the vehicles beautiful, they’re laden with safety features and modern amenities that make them great vehicles.


Above is the Volvo V90 Cross Country, a vehicle that takes the concept of a station wagon and turns it into an incredible crossover vehicle that is built for the modern lifestyle. Yes, it does still resemble a station wagon, but is that a bad thing? It’s utilitarian, and far easier to drive than most SUVs. I love the aggressive styling of it, but it’s not as aggressive as say, a BMW 5 series, which feels to me like a vehicle people buy partly because it’s flashy. I much prefer the refined style of Volvo.


The XC90 was Volvo’s first foray into a new style since being part of Ford, and suffice it to say, it’s been a huge hit. Volvo has created an SUV that is big, bold, and utilitarian, but still refined and elegant. That’s a tough line to toe, and many companies get it wrong. Volvo gets it, and has come out with a vehicle that feels far more luxurious than their offerings from the last few years.


The last example of Volvo’s new style is the brand new XC60, their smaller SUV (I tried to find a better picture, but it’s so new that this will have to do). It’s scaled down in size from the XC60, but still so refined and elegant, and I think it will contend with other luxury SUVs and crossovers in ways that the previous XC60 didn’t.

Volvo is one of my favorite brands right now in terms of style, and I think they’re going to see a lot of success. They’re one of the first companies to realize that people want utility and style, and that some people with money don’t need everything to be flashy, which tends to read tacky and ostentatious. Volvo is a great brand, and I hope to see them come out with loads of new options in the years to come.

Big River!

My first post! Instead of trying to come up with some overview of who I am or some emotional retrospective of something that is far too broad for one post, I’m just going to get right to it and post about my experience seeing Big River at New York City Center last night.


“Big River” is a Tony Award winning musical based on Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” It has a score infused with country, bluegrass, and gospel, and was originally produced on Broadway in 1985, where it ran for over 1000 performances and won seven Tonys (ref). City Center has an annual series of Encores, where they stage concert performances of shows that have been overlooked or off the radar for a little while, and some of these Encores have led to Broadway revivals and/or increased awareness of a show. The current “Chicago” revival started as an Encores performance, and so did the upcoming “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Big River tells a story that has always been controversial. It’s a story that turns race and dignity and class on it’s head. That’s the point. Huck, who is 13 in the novel and was played by the charming 18 year old Nicholas Barasch, is so winningly naive that he sees through the veneer of what people have been telling him is right and wrong, and the story is about him assisting a runaway slave named Jim, played by Kyle Scatliff. Both had stunning vocals and brought a spirit to the show that was quite special.

Big River is a story that tells of an adventure. It’s an adventure story that captures the excitement of the unknown, and the unknowable. It captures the conflict between excitement and consequences. Big River frames the story through Huck’s eyes, that of wonder and adventure. As the show progresses, Huck, and the audience, realize that besides just being an adventure, the mission of getting Jim to freedom has serious consequences. Their lives are in danger as they float down the Mighty Mississippi. Anybody who discovers what’s really going on can turn the tables in an instant, which happens in the show when they encounter two con men who join and in some ways usurp the journey and hog the attention of the show. Big River’s standout songs are “Muddy Water,” “River in the Rain,” and “How Blessed We Are,” and the score shines because it infuses Americana and country rhythms into the score, which is not normally seen on Broadway.

Big River is an important show because it tells a quintessentially American story. The only truly pure and virtuous character in the story is Jim, the runaway slave, who is always honest. The story itself is exciting and funny, but the underlying current of danger is palpable. Big River doesn’t quite infuse the danger and depth of the story quite as much as the book, but it’s a great experience, and a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking one.