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.
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.