An old story about a young British explorer's mysterious disappearance comes alive in this restaurant by Mohit and Dushyant Kakkar.
In the realm of restaurant design, this might just be a first - an entire design piggybacked on a rumour. The rumour concerns a 39-year old British explorer called Alistair Kensington who vanished from New Delhi's Hauz Khas village in 1939, never to return. No one knows what happened to him. The mystery, now a folk legend in Hauz Khas village, had always fascinated the brothers Mohit and Dushyant Kakkar. When the Hauz Khas space came their way, Mohit immediately used the story as a design peg for the restaurant, aptly named Thirty-Nine.
Working in association with architect Puneet Chadha and Los Angeles-based designer Eric Maurin, the Kakkars turned the intriguing tale into a viable restaurant design. The brief was simple: to create a space that felt like one had travelled back in time to this British explorer's home. With the designer based in America, the project entailed countless hours of Skype meetings to discuss three-dimensional design graphics and raw materials that were the closest approximation to the India of the 1930s - but the team accomplished the task with aplomb. Spread across three floors and 3,600 sq ft and neatly segregated into a parlour, a library and a terrace, design of Thirty-Nine springs entirely from the designers' imagination of what Kensington's home in the 1930s would have looked like.
As you walk up the narrow green granite staircase to the second floor, you leave the streets of Delhi behind and step into a classic British home. Large windows open out to the village. On the mantelpiece, an axiom on brass declares: As I was musing, the fire burned. The leatherite sofas have an antique rustic look; the crocheted knitted throw adds a homely British charm. Old black and white prints bought from an antique shop adorn the walls. The floor has walnut planks and the walls are dressed in mellow paper.
The third-floor library is almost a continuum of the parlour. The leatherite sofas bear the same palette, the walls are dressed in paper and the windows are large. Dainty lithographs peep from bright frames - among them is one portraying the arrival of King George V to India in 1911. Our most loved British import, cricket, finds a place here in the form of ancient wooden cricket bats - one bought off e-bay, the other three from an antique store in London. Perhaps the most unusual feature here is a bridge that takes one to the book shelves laden with leather-bound, dog-eared out-of-print books.
Back to the present
Another flight of stairs up, one seems to leave behind an entire era. The terrace of Thirty Nine has a modern, edgy bar with white glass tubular lamps and Canadian butterflies framed in glass. The chairs and tables are of sheesham wood. Straight lines and a brown/grey palette reign on the terrace. A makrana marble fountain gurgles quietly in the centre and old steel lamps with a powder finish are arranged symmetrically on the walls. In a corner stands a 25-year old Thai ficus bonsai. The entire terrace is bordered with ficus plants that will soon be trimmed into a square hedge. By the time the rain lashes the terrace in monsoon, the passion flower creepers will cover the 15-ft grey terrace wall.
Looking back on the process of executing the imaginative design, architect Chadha says that procuring raw material was the toughest part of the job. "To recreate an authentic colonial look, we needed genuine antiquity in the construction materials, which was very difficult to find." Despite these challenges, Thirty-Nine opened its doors to its guests just six months after the design had first taken shape on the drawing board.
An adventurous young explorer in a foreign land, his mysterious disappearance, and rumours still afloat about it nearly a century later - it needed people as creative as the Kakkars to retell this story in the form of a restaurant so unique!
Total Area: 3,600 sq ft
Text: Preeti Verma Lal
Photos: KJO Camera
Planning Consortium, I 59, Kirti Nagar, New Delhi - 110 015. Tel: (0)98100 43450.
Eric Maurin, E-mail: email@example.com, Tel: +1 310 420 0135.
Meet the architect: Puneet Chadha
Firm: Planning Consortium, founded in 1999.
Firm specialisation: Interiors and architecture for banquets, restaurants, hotels, residences.
Design philosophy: The space should look bigger than its real size.
Philosophy towards life: To treat life, yourself, and others with great compassion and grace.
Favourite architect/Designer: Le Corbusier