Tucked away in the verdant suburb of Verla Canca in Bardez, North Goa, is a nondescript wooden gate with a black border. The long driveway beyond it will take you to Felicidade, a 176-year-old Portuguese home that’s been taken over and painstakingly restored by Sanjiv Shanmugam.
A third-generation industrialist based in Bengaluru, Shanmugam is the Managing Partner at MLC Estates LLP and also an angel investor. Though away from the bustling business life, he firmly believes in the ‘susegad’ way of living that’s intrinsic to the Goan way of life. Also, to maintain the sanctity of the interiors, he adopted the Japanesewabi-sabi style of design, embracing its imperfections in their artistic glory. This five-bedroom bungalow is bursting with nostalgia, even as new- age pieces are carefully juxtaposed within the fabric of the house. There’s a sense of serenity in the environ, where we meet the charming man, as he prepares for a photoshoot with HELLO!, staff, a stylist and a photographer milling around. On the sidelines of the shoot, as we scout the area for the perfect shot, and over a post-shoot hearty meal, we catch up with the passionate homeowner.
HELLO!: When did you decide to buy a home in Goa?
SS: I’ve always enjoyed the ‘susegad’ approach to life and decided to get a base in Goa four years ago. I wanted to invest myself in Goa culturally, too. So when I saw this old Portuguese house listed, I decided to buy it, restore it, and in a sense, participate in Goan culture and help preserve a slice of it. That gives me a sense of pride — that I’m not just another outsider gravitating to a popular spot, but someone who wants to truly immerse himself in the land and its history.
HELLO!: You restored a home that’s over a 100 years old. Were you aware how daunting a task this could be?
SS: (Laughs). Yes! In getting that ‘slice of history’, almost 176 years old, I went in with great energy. I knew it’d be work, but it was on the job that I learned that energy and good intentions alone don’t make the cut; you need to be patient, pay attention to detail and care for it almost like you would for your child. I’mglad—andinaway,proud—I wasabletodoit.Ilearntalotinthe process and was able to get the right people on board.
HELLO!: How did you go about the process? Identifying the right architect, interior designer...
SS: Naturally, I was keen on an architect who knew the nuances of restoration in general and of Goan houses in particular. This was a sheer case of serendipity when I was reading an article that mentioned the wabi-sabi form of design and that directed me to Studio Momo, headed by Meetu Akali. They had just done a home that a broker had shown me. I quite liked parts of it and was excited to find the architect behind it. So I got in touch with them at once, and Meetu and her colleague Dinika Thomas and I developed a great working relationship during the process.
HELLO!: What must one keep in mind while restoring homes in Goa?
SS: The charm of old Portuguese homes in Goa is the volume of space within. High ceilings with exposed wooden rafters and Mangalore tiles give the space a dramatic feel that retains its old-world charm. Typical Portuguese houses have rooms with small floor areas and high ceilings. Combining such rooms to create a larger living or dining area or even master bedroom can make these spaces feel more spacious, in line with present-day needs without affecting the aesthetic. Ultimately, one has to live in it and treat it as a home, not a museum. So the right balance was needed.
To allow for more light, converting existing windows to French doors opening to the garden or backyard, or Juliets opening out to the view, allows for more interaction with the outside. After all, to be in Goa is to also celebrate its natural beauty. We added and demolished nonstructural walls to make space for ensuite bathrooms. Most old Portuguese houses do not have these in every bedroom; I was sure I wanted this change to make the house fit for contemporary needs.
HELLO!: How different is Felicidade now from its previous avatar? Any elements you retained?
SS: A bed and breakfast was run out of this house when I bought it, and a lot of the living spaces had been chopped up. We managed to get the original drawings of the property and ended up resurrecting its original avatar. It’s now a five-bedroom villa. We retained most of the original flooring, roofing and the general layout.
HELLO!: Did you opt for any specific themes for the house?
SS: My true passion is interior design, and much of my inspiration comes from travel. I’m an ardent traveller and have visited places in the farthest corners of the world. I always return full of ideas, thousands of photos and objets d’art. My friends often joke that I’m like a gypsy, with the amount of stuff I bring back! But to me, each and every piece has a story. So I didn’t really follow a specific theme. All I did was maintain the Portuguese aesthetic.
HELLO!: What did you envision for the place when you bought it?
SS: I wanted this villa to make you leave your worries at the front door. Circling back to the term ‘susegad’ and a yearning for peace, we named it ‘Felicidade’, which means happiness in Portuguese. That was the clear blueprint I had in mind.
HELLO!: Are there any special elements that you can share with us?
SS: Many of the colours, patterns and details for this home are inspired by things I saw in one of my favourite countries, Mexico. I love the towns of San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca the most. My courtyard, fountains and metal doors are all a direct reflection of this inspiration, while also being in consonance with the larger feel of the property and its history. We took great care to make sure that even the smallest innovations didn’t appear jarring or out of place.
HELLO!: From where did you source all your furniture and accessories?
SS: I got most of my furniture and pots custom-made in Bali. All my paintings were collected over time from around the world. I found the wooden staircase in the yard of an antique store on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. It was restored to fit the area, and we got the carpenters to replicate the design for the banisters in the landing. I also worked with four talented designers from Bengaluru to source the rest of the décor elements.
HELLO!: How long did this restoration process take, and did it live up to your expectations?
SS: We did the restoration work in two phases. The original home was done first, which took us around eight months. The pool and pool house took almost a year to complete. And yes, it absolutely lived up to my expectations and more! A lot of sweat, tears and love was poured into this home. But it was well worth it in the end.
HELLO!: Which is your favourite part of the house? And where do you tend to entertain the most?
SS: This is a tough one. But it has to be a tie between the courtyard/patio outside the living and dining room and the pool house. I tend to entertain most around the pool. My guests are often encouraged to take a dip and cool off while sipping their Aperol Spritz!
HELLO!: Did your son Vir share any inputs on the design?
SS: My son has a keen eye for interiors (by osmosis I guess!). He designed the loft in his bedroom using his own ideas and by reading up. I want to give a big shout out to my friend Rodrigo Perez, who was extremely helpful with his inputs during the restoration.
HELLO!: How often do you visit your home in Goa?
SS: I visit every two weeks when I’m in the country. I just can’t stay away, especially because I’m now looking for another home here! I believe I’ve found my calling in restoring old houses in this beautiful state. So watch out for my next passion project!
Photography: Abhinav Sah Of Magicweavers; Styling: Ranji Kelekar; Hair: Jason B, Makeup; Sandhya Naik
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This has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s July 2022 issue.
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