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How To Add A Traditional South Indian Touch To Your Home

We are often tempted to make our spaces look contemporary and in-line with global trends. But embracing our heritage and showcasing it effortlessly in one’s home decor is an art that is not easy for everyone to master.

In recent years, traditional South Indian houses have become rare rather than commonplace with high-rise apartments taking over the cityscape in most of India’s urban areas. However, the charm of South Indian tradition is something that homeowners in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu cannot forget so easily.

The typical sloping terracotta tiled roofs, airy inner courtyards, beautifully carved doors and pillars, shiny brass statues and lamps — these are some of the elements of South Indian home décor. Each state has its unique tradition, but many of the décor elements or items are inspired by the interiors of ancient temples, whether it’s carved stone pillars or brass lamps. In many South Indian homes, even today, one finds a lot of these elements thanks to treasures passed down over the generations.

Homes in the south are often rooted in traditional sensibilities and the architecture is immediately recognisable and incredibly beautiful. While it’s impossible to limit the very diverse South Indian culture and design to one broad category given that each region has its own exceptional features, we’ve attempted to list out some of the most popular ones for design inspiration. These beautiful elements can be reimagined and replicated in your own homes, whether it’s a sprawling bungalow or a cosy apartment, to add layers of South Indian style to your dwellings.

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If you have a modern apartment or house and want to bring a few traditional elements into it, we present simple interior design ideas for South Indian homes.

Verandahs and central courtyards

South Indian home designs vary from region to region, however, an airy courtyard or a verandah with a sloping, tiled roof and columns is a fairly common architectural feature across the board. Known as a thinnai, this is a shaded verandah or sit-out with built-in seating at the entrance of the home. Sometimes this verandah would envelope the entire exterior façade of the home. In certain cases a covered walkway leading up to the main entrance of the house, featuring a tiled, sloping roof with pillars for support is also observed.

Many traditional South Indian homes also feature a central courtyard, usually open to the sky. Sitting exactly in the centre, this courtyard divides the house into four sides. Modern versions include a small internal courtyard filled with greenery, usually next to the staircase, with natural light flooding in through a skylight.

Red oxide floors or patterned tiles

Red Oxide flooring is actually seeing a resurgence in popularity in today’s south Indian house design. It used to be a very popular choice of interior decorators in Bangalore for hundreds of years in many parts of Kerala, Chettinad, coastal Karnataka and Goa. An eco-friendly option, red oxide flooring is made from a non-toxic oxide of iron mixed with cement, giving it a distinctive red hue. Different shades can be achieved with different ratios of red oxide in the cement.

Another south Indian trademark is tiled floors with intricate patterns as provided by the Athangudi tiles in Chettinad homes. Athangudi tiles are manufactured from locally available materials such as river sand, cement and naturally occurring oxides, hence very sustainable. Originally, lime was used for making these tiles.

Carved wooden doors and decor

Now considered antiques, a typical main door for South Indian homes is made from wood featuring intricate carvings and metal detailing. Burma teak was usually used by interior decorators in Bangalore to create these opulent and striking pieces. Often embellished with historic images, mythical scenes or images of deities, these ornamental doors can enhance the look of your space instantaneously.

Another feature common to traditional South Indian interior design is metal idols placed at the front entrance, and often a statue of Lord Ganesha would be placed near the entrance of the house. This idea can be used to create a stunning feature wall in the entrance lobby of your apartment or house.

Carved wooden furniture

Just like the entrance door and pillars, furniture in traditional South Indian homes was usually heavy pieces in rosewood, teakwood or jackfruit tree wood featuring intricate details and carvings. Rather than upholstered seating, traditional South Indian home décor items included seating made from wood with rattan, cane or jute detailing.

When you come across South Indian interior design photos, you will notice that furniture has low seating. These include diwans, wooden chairs with woven cane seats and stools. Often, they are not upholstered, but instead decorated with colourful tiles or brass elements. It’s easy to find similar pieces in antique stores or thrift markets.

While talking about furniture, let’s not forget the wooden swing i.e the oonjal or an Attukattil jhula, which is a classic piece in South Indian home décor featuring brass detailing. Even the most modern homes can incorporate a beautiful hint of tradition with this type of playful and functional seating. It’s an excellent idea for partitioning spaces such as the living room and the dining room. For the balcony, a swing seat is practical as it saves floor space and makes it easier to clean the area without moving the furniture.

Traditional patterned flooring

Richly patterned and hued Athan gudi tiles are a flooring staple in South Indian home design. These stunning masterpieces can be used as a periphery border to neutral or solid floor tiles or even across the entire expanse of the room. You can also replicate the look with cement tiles. In old traditional houses in Tamil Nadu, hand painted tiles were used for the flooring to introduce an exquisite feature to the interiors. Even if the overall aesthetic of your apartment is modern, you can replicate this idea by changing the flooring in a small area for starters, whether it’s the entrance lobby, a balcony or the terrace.

Traditional fabrics

South Indian fabrics, especially silks and fine muslin, are extremely sought after. Mix the old with the new with these exquisitely woven fabrics reimagined as drapes, throws, cushion covers or even wall art.

An earthy colour palette

Typically, South Indian style homes are synonymous with an earthy, almost rustic colour palette. Rather than splashes of bright colours, soothing shades of terracotta, brown, tan, beige, creams and yellows are seen in Chennai homes. Drawn from their natural surroundings, these colours work very well with natural elements, ethnic fabrics and wooden and brass details.

Carved columns

Another architectural feature typical to houses in Bangalore is intricately carved pillars, usually made of wood, stone, cement or granite. A modern south Indian house sees metal being used in a similar fashion. These carved pillars line the entrance walkway, verandahs and central courtyards but one can also use these in modern homes for terraces, balconies or even in apartments as a visual room separator.

Even the starkest minimalist home can transform into a charming space by adding a beautiful pillar. A carved stone pillar, like those seen in ancient temples can be placed in the centre of an open-plan hall to create a visual partition between spaces. Wooden pillars, which once were a common feature in traditional South Indian houses, can replace the brick or cement pillars in a courtyard or veranda, where they not only provide support to the roof structure but also infuse old world charm to the space.

Traditional festive table settings

A great way to add traditional South Indian flavour into your home décor is a table setting. Whether it’s a festive family gathering or an evening of entertaining, a well-designed tablescape can serve as a striking centrepiece. Add elements like ethnic fabrics, table runners, mats, stoneware serving bowls with brass details and, of course, lots of banana leaves.

Ethnic motifs

During festivities, homes across South India are decked up with traditional rangolis in kolam patterns. A kolam or muggu is a symmetrical, geometric line drawing composed of straight lines, curves and/or loops which are drawn around a grid pattern of dots. This feature can also be painted on the walls of your home for that southern touch.

RPSG Group and HELLO! India are delighted to announce the first-ever South Edition of the HELLO! Hall Of Fame Awards on the 24th of January. Stay tuned and keep following us on Instagram for more behind the scenes action, exclusive celebrity interviews, and much more!