Elegant and inviting, interior designer Farah Ahmed Mathias’ home is the embodiment of a warm hug, swathed in pleasant pastels, awash with light, breeze and positive vibes. Once her husband Torun’s ancestral house, it’s called the ‘Tofa’ home after their names, an amalgam of all their favourite things. The old and the new, the modern and the colonial.
The 7,000 sq ft space was remodelled to accommodate three bedrooms, a family room (“It’s everything you want it to be”), a powder room, living room, kitchen- cum-dining area and a foyer — all encased within a lush, wraparound garden, further enhanced by birdsong and the greenery of the quiet neighbourhood in Central Bengaluru, off Church Street, not an unpleasant honk in the air.
“This house called for a bit of everything, even more so because I’m a designer with no particular style,” says Ahmed Mathias. “It’s fairly modern, but I retained all the lovely older European elements that offer a colonial India charm.”
Work on their apartment began in July 2017, and it took the 37-year- old the better part of two years to get the house ready in her eyes. Even though they moved in in February 2018, after the contractors added the final touches, she wasn’t ready to make big purchases “with hormones flying and a baby crying”, having just had her second child.
“We took our time with the house. We had already lived here for two years by the time the last pieces arrived, around end 2019. That being said, a house is never really done, is it?”
Ahmed Mathias and her husband needed a bigger home because they were ready to grow their family. So when she describes the place as a labour of “blood, sweat and tears”, she means it in the literal sense: the designer’s water broke while she was in the middle of a discussion with her contractors, just weeks into the remodel. Her daughter had arrived early, ready to move in with a gusto.
Ahmed Mathias wasn’t prepared for! “When I say tears, it was both her tears and mine! I’ll never forget that moment because she was one of the reasons we moved here. We always knew it would be a fast-track project, but she took it too seriously.”
A design delight
Guests are greeted by a beautiful Simran Lamba painting at the foyer. A few steps away begin the two wings of the ground-floor apartment. On the right is an anteroom, a “breathing space” that the family uses as a gallery for the art they collect — a Yuvan Bothi Sathuvar work is the current pièce de résistance here. It’s one of Ahmed Mathias’ most comforting spots, where she sits back on either one of the pink Magari chairs, a coffee in hand, with a vantage point to every other room of the house.
The kids’ rooms are just beyond the alcove leading straight from the entrance, and in the left wing lie all the common areas. Floor- to-beam windows in the living and dining rooms give the illusion of the outdoors indoors, even with begonias, bromeliads, aloe and agaves dotting various surfaces around the place. The co-founder of FADD Studio, Ahmed Mathias and her business partner Dhaval Shellugar are known to make daring statements with every project, be it luxury villas, residential properties, or hospitality spaces. And over the 10 years since they set up their practice, they adamantly eschewed being defined by a signature style.
“None of our projects look alike, so it was easy for me to design my home different from any of FADD’s,” she explains. “We don’t stick to any style. In fact, we always take direction from our clients and put in that extra effort to make each project look authentic to their personality. We never enforce a look on a client, a design philosophy which I think translates into our projects, including my home.”
A labour of love
Like all married couples, she and her husband Torun had their fair share of arguments over the various design elements in their home. But ultimately, they quarrelled and laughed their way to a home that reflects their distinct tastes. “Couples have the biggest fights when they’re designing a home!” she laughs. “We fought like crazy, but it worked out well because it challenged me as a designer, and a lot of creativity emerged from our disagreements.”
“For instance, Torun was adamant about not having false ceilings, and I detest having too many wall lights. So I had to get creative and build a lighting system that’s concealed in a 40ft metal channel suspended from the ceiling.” “As far as the furniture is concerned, my husband truly indulged my every wish. This really is a dream home for me, and I’m extremely house-proud.”
The old, new & stately
Around the Tofa home, family heirlooms are harmoniously mixed with design finds. Every corner has a story to tell, an element of nostalgia associated with their inherited keepsakes and newer purchases — be it her kids’ first outfits framed on their walls or the bed her parents crafted for her when she was 16.
Their garden tabletop was presented to them by her husband’s grandmother, refurbished from an old temple door. The Mangalore thali that Torun’s great-grandfather used to serve vast quantities of rice during community gatherings at their coffee plantation is now an elegant artefact near the deck. A century-old rosewood screen in the garden is a reminder of her great- grandfather’s furniture business. And an antique brass cannon from an old warship, which her father- in-law brought home from his navy days in Russia, is now a vintage planter in the foyer.
“Older elements add character to a house. Everything new and shiny is a bit too sterile for my taste,” says Ahmed Mathias. “It’s such things that trigger memories. They are comforting and have a certain charm that makes a home.”
Carefully curated curios
One would think that being a designer and exposed to the myriads of options in the market would make putting together her own home that much easier. But for this mother of two, it was “probably the toughest project”.
“Comfort played as big a factor as aesthetics. It was hard to make decisions and choose one thing over another because I like everything!” she exclaims. “I honestly feel that when you’re choosing art or making big purchases like a couch, you’re choosing a life partner because you are going to be with it for a long time! These are nothing like changeable cushion covers.”
From the artwork and statement decoratives to the chairs and couches, each piece in the house is thoughtfully curated and painstakingly chosen. Like the customised dining table, sculpted out of a single slab of Indian marble that “looks like a watercolour work”. Its deep pastel shades pick up the blues and pinks of the walls, the brown of the sofa and the grey of the chairs, tying the room together.
Then there are the gorgeous mixed-media works by Simran Lamba, a recently bought Yuvan Bothi Sathuvar, and a beautiful sculpture by French artist Lucas Castex. The centre table has an iridescent metallic finish, and their master bedroom wall, featuring botanical elements hand-painted by Vicky Venkatesh in muted colours over grey, is a work of art in itself.
A cursory overview of Tofa will highlight the lack of white walls in the apartment, a conscious decision the couple made to let the walls dictate all the colour. The shades at Tofa are a balance of cool and warm tones, light grey-blues offset by a dawn brown. Their daughter’s bathroom is a soothing medley of blue, green and pink, and their toy room, a mix of pista, pink and grey that blend seamlessly into each other. “We love colour but didn’t want it to be overpowering. So we picked neutral tones for our furniture because we wanted an elegant, sophisticated and timeless look.”
Refreshing greens inside & out
Indoors, their home is dotted with flora that’s one with the aesthetic. But outdoors, it’s an Amazonian story. The garden lends a welcome freshness to their pad, a result of the green thumb Ahmed Mathias inherited from her mother and grandfather, having watched him lovingly tend to his rose garden during her childhood. “I was certain I didn’t want any kind of row planting. During our landscaping, I added tropical plants that would grow and evolve organically like the Amazon. I wanted the greens to pop against a magical peachy, blushy, mustardy wall. It makes the whole house come alive because the garden is visible pretty much from every room.”
Ahmed Mathias moulded the backyard around a natural rock formation and integrated cement seating that allow for people to get comfortable during get-togethers.
Though the outdoor sofa is arguably the most soothing area of the house, shaded under the trees in their yard. “From that couch, I get a glimpse of everything inside. It’s a bonus that it’s spacious enough for me to cuddle with my kids.” We can gauge from the animated tenor of the designer’s voice how close she holds her home to her heart. And given the effort that went into every nook and corner, there’s no part of it she doesn’t love — a vibe that imparts a certain emotion to the atmosphere around Tofa.
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s March 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!