Traditional South Indian Homes

I recently visited a more than 150 year old traditional home in Narayanavanam in Andhra Pradesh. The family has been traditionally  involved in the silk saree business for many generations and follow the joint-family system with grandparents, sons, their wives and children all living and growing together. As a recent home owner myself and all the quality concerns I continue to face, the first thing that truly struck me was, wow this building and many parts of it are more than 150 years old, built by the great great grandfather! There is extensive use of wood for the ceiling topped by tiles that are as old, walls made of mud and burma teak pillars. This house has stood through years of climate change and seen generations of the family. It was truly beautiful in my eyes.

wp_002506 wp_002507Early Morning Sunlight Streaming In Through The Central Atrium

The current generation of the family however are eager for change, they find the old home difficult to maintain and want to tear down the old structure and build a more modernised structure. When they proudly told me of the changes they had already begun to make, I could only think of how beautiful the old structure is and how one could modernise for convenience without disturbing the original style. There are some key features across South Indian traditional homes be it in a small village in Andhra or a Chettinad mansion or a traditional Tharavad home in Kerala that I would simply love to live around and wish more modern homes had these.

1. The Thinnai or Verandah at the entrance of the house. This may also be referred to as Muggapu in the Chettinad homes. This typically consists of raised platforms to sit on, spanning the breadth of the house structure, with pillars either made of wood or stone or mud supported on the outer verandah wall. During functions both good and sad, these areas of the homes were used to seat guests. The thinnai or muggapu was also used to play games and relax with neighbors and friends who came calling. The most appealing part of this structure is that while it is connected to the main structure of the house, it still is mostly in the open.

thinnai 1A traditional village home and it’s simple verandah  (Photo credit :
thinnai_photoppurtunistA more opulent traditional verandah with stone and wood pillars ( Photo credit : )

2. The central courtyard : These typically rectangular homes lead from the verandah through the main door into the living section of the home which has a central open courtyard. This is surrounded on all four sides as the living areas of the family, with kitchen, storage areas, bedrooms for each of the sons, bedroom for the head of the family and the passage around the courtyard used commonly by all as the living area. The courtyard is again surrounded by pillars in wood or stone.

Kerala_courtyard_with_planterA typical and simple central courtyad, with passage and rooms on the sides (Photo Credit : wikipedia)
courtyard2A more elaborate central courtyard with stone pillars and open areas (Photo credit :

3. The traditional flooring: Houses those days enjoyed vibrant floors in the form of  red oxide flooring with intricate drawings of Kolam (done with rice powder or paste), they are designs made by connecting dots and used to be one of the favorite activities among the women of the household. The floors may also have intricate patterns as provided by the Athangudi tiles in Chettinad homes. Bringing in geometric or floral patterns and a range of bright colours. In some Kerala homes the flooring was also done in wood while other village homes even extensively used stone in certain parts of the house.

red oxideBeautiful Red Oxide Flooring in Traditional Setting ( Photo credit : )
athangudi21 karthik vaidyanathan_prismma.Traditional Athanagudi tile flooring in Karthik Vaidyanathan’s Chettinad inspired home in Bangalore (Photo Credit :

4. The traditional roofs: The traditional roof structures were made extensively from wood and clay tiles with different levels of intricacy and shapes. While Kerala homes have more grandeur and woodwork showcased in the ceilings. Traditional homes elsewhere might just have simple wood beading and tile work, complete with sealing of tiles on the outside with Chunambu (slaked lime).

anandabeachhome roofTraditional Kerala roof with clay tiles for the exteriors, they in more opulent settings are made in intricately carved wood (Photo Credit :
 athangudi tilesA traditional Chettinad home with wood and tile roofing, central courtyard and Athanagudi tiles. (Photo credit :

5. The exquisite woodwork: Traditional craftsmen and availability of wood made old traditional homes not just sturdy but also a work of art. The woodwork across the pillars, the jannals (windows), the doors and even the roofs, could be carved out intricately to tell stories of mythological characters or emphasize local beliefs, motifs and structures. Jalli work in the wooden roof structures allowing the play of light around the courtyard or the massive doors with their painstakingly done carvings are all reminiscent of the glory days of traditional Indian architecture.

traditional doorsTraditional wooden hand carved door ( Photo credit :
woodwork in roofIntricate wood work in the roof of Puthe Maliga Palace in Trivandrum ( Photo credit : )

I sincerely hope that these ancient village homes are preserved in their traditional settings. Even if urban dwellers had the inclination and the funds to build such homes in the city today, the lack of yesteryear workmanship and lack of availability of certain type of products makes it very tough to retain this kind of architecture in our current homes. It however is some consolation to know that certain crafts like the Athanagudi tile making is still alive and available for anyone that wants to have unique and beautiful flooring in their house, against which vitrified tiles are no match. And certain traditional carpenters still available in pockets of Kerala and other regions who create exquisite wooden furniture and doors to custom orders. So that we may use some of this in our homes to retain a little of the yesteryear glory, because a certain beauty and grace only comes with age.

Add more than colour to your walls!

One of the early requirements of doing up your house is wall treatment. There are hundreds of options available in the market today to transform your walls into a piece of art by itself. There is more than just colour that you can add to your home now. The materials you can try range from simple paint to decorative wall tiles. So let us quickly take a look at some of the options available :

Paint : Gone are the days when paint only meant a range of colours, today it comprises of varying textures, styles and patterns. More exciting than the product range, is the websites and visualisation tools that these paint manufactures offer today’s customers!

While the builder will most probably paint your house with 2 coats, you can have a say in the colour/texture, as long as you are willing to buy them the material. Else you can do it through an external source, paint manufactures such as Asian Paints, Nerolac and Dulex to name a few have extensive expertise to help transform your home. These brands have products ranging in colour, texture and style for both interiors and exteriors.

Asian Paints_Image1Stunning  accent wall with stencil art (Photo credit : AsianPaints)

The paints usually have matte, gloss and metallic finishes that you can choose from. There are solid colour options when you only want colour and no texture, or you can choose from a range of textures such as crinkle effect, weave effect, dab effect and many more, with different brands offering different effects. While matt finishing gives that subtle elegance and helps hide wall imperfections and unevenness, gloss and metallic textures can bring grandeur and glamour to your walls. Then there are stencil styles, this brings together the best of paint along with patterns such as motifs and shapes available previously only on wallpapers.

The paint technology also plays a vital role in today’s consumer choice, there is high regard for paints low on VOC and environment friendly. There are paints available to fit every budget range, from water based emulsions to acrylic and synthetic resin mediums. These paints offer important features such as anti-fungal/anti-bacterial properties to help protect your walls and environment, stain resistant coating and washability. Some of these brands even offer warranty periods ranging from 1year to 5years against fungal formations, flaking and staining.

Asian Paints_Image2Vibrant yellow textured wall (Photo Credit : AsianPaints)

In my opinion however, the most exciting improvement is the websites of some of these brands. They have made it very consumer friendly, not just giving you information about their various products but also have tools to help you visualise colours in your house. They allow you to upload images of your room and try different paint options, textures, colours and styles. They also have a range of inspirational wall/room decor pictures to browse through. The adventurous can even try their hand at creating their own color shade. Even though they have consultants that can come home and help you with your choice, the website tools provide a number of  options to help you make personalised choices from the comfort of your home. And if you are worried about budget, there are cost calculators to help you with that too, just decide on the product you would like to use along with the area of the room you wish to paint and you can calculate the approximate costing. With all these features painting your walls can bring life to your interiors without killing your pocket!

Asian Paints_Image3Solid colours combined with stencil art for kid’s room (Photo Credit : AsianPaints)

Wallpaper : Quite popular and prominently used abroad, in India, wallpaper is now becoming a popular trend. The variety of options again is vast with thousands of prints and patterns to choose from. There are different finishes available such as matte, gloss and metallic, as well as 3D effect. They come in different sizes and shapes to help achieve customised looks.

Like paint, wallpaper also offers benefits such as stain-resistance, washability, durability, anti-fungal resistance and great cover up for uneven walls/cracks.  Added to these, there are a few benefits exclusive to wallpaper such as the vast range of options in texture and pattern that is difficult to achieve with paint and the ease of application. The wall paper comes ready to be applied on the wall and can save time unlike painting which requires multiple coats of primer and paint.

wallpaper1Metallic  motif wallpaper for accent wall (Photo credit :

Wallpaper comes with vinyl or woven material backing options that increases the durability,  and in case you were thinking about safety standards, many of these brands have been tested to be fire-resistant as well!  There is really no reason to not go for wallpaper, provided you choose the right brand and company to execute the task with excellent finishing. This can provide a seamless look for the walls and transport you into another world entirely with a range of stunning visuals.

wallpaper_image2Pixel inspired wallpaper theme for kid’s room (Photo credit :

The patterns and prints range from nature inspired stone walls and wood panels to classic motif inspired themes and even highly modern and abstract  themes. You can also go for a bold wallpaper pattern for your accent wall, supported by more subtle texture for the companion walls. It can provide a stunning backdrop in your living area and bedrooms with no need for any further art hanging!

However, it is important to keep in mind that wallpaper though washable is not water-proof, which means too much dampness or exposure to constant moisture can damage them! The areas such as kitchen can be avoided, while areas less subject to water exposure such as living areas can be done up with this option, and with good maintenance is expected to last between 10-15 years.

wallpaper3Nature inspired wood panel theme wallpaper for accent wall (Photo credit :

Tiles : Wall tiles are not just meant for your kitchens and bath areas. In fact decorative tile options available in the market today can add zing to your exteriors and interiors. Wall tiles especially for an accent wall helps you make a bold statement in your decor. They come in a range of materials such as metal, PVC, wood, stone,  ceramic, porcelain, marble and even vinyl. They are available in different shapes and sizes along with options in textures. There are expensive options such as stacked pebble tiles and even 3D tiles to transform your space.

wall tile2Living area, wall tiles that are stone inspired (Photo credit :

Many such tile options in PVC, wood, ceramic and Vinyl are making their way into the country in easy to apply, ready to paste options. These provide quick solutions to a small area that can afford some unique treatment. There are also a range of specialist stores in stone and wood wall tiles to help you execute the same for larger areas such as a bedroom backdrop wall or the living room wall or even your foyer area and balcony!

walltile3Wood block tiles (Photo credit :

These tiles, are stain resistant, have high durability and in most cases are either water-resistant or washable. They come in options such as glazed for the high gloss look and unglazed for the rough matte finish. Depending on the material and finish they can provide high durability for areas prone to water exposure and traffic. While until recently more popular in commercial areas, the increase in variety and budget option, is helping more and more home owners adopt this style for their signature walls.

wall tileEasy to install 3D PVC panel wall tiles (Photo credit :