“Can you please mention Axel Vervoordt? I’ve learnt a lot from him and I really want him to take note of this house,” says Priti Rao with a big laugh as we sit sipping herbal tea, under a gazebo by the flowering lawn of her home in Shillong, Meghalaya. It’s not like Rao is an interior designer or that she’s actually worked with the Belgian art and design legend. Far from it—she designs public policy and works on projects related to financial inclusion and data privacy at consulting firm Dalberg Asia. Her clients have included NGO behemoths like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and governmental agencies, such as the World Bank. “It’s just that a lot of my confidence in mixing and matching comes from Vervoordt’s work,” explains Rao. “ ‘Intuition’, shown at the Venice Biennale, is one of the most profound exhibits I’ve ever seen. It combined pieces from different eras and materials. Yet, they just magically made sense.”
And that’s pretty much what she did while transforming a nearly 80-year-old, Assam-type home assigned to her husband Dr. Vijay Kumar, one of the state’s top IAS officers. She seamlessly brought together objects from diverse cultural and aesthetic sources, along with items locally created, to make a home that in a way documents lives lived in places as diverse as Uttarakhand, Mumbai, San Francisco, and Tokyo. But with all that there’s still a lightness to it, brought on by the nearly all-white palette accentuated by strokes of warm grey and exposed timber.
As you walk around the house you see shaggy undyed woollen blankets by Uttarakhand label Avani turned into carpets. Cotton curtains from Maheshwar’s WomenWeave with just that hint of an indigo border. Noren (Japanese fabric dividers) across glass-panelled doors that she had a friend in Tokyo courier over between bouts of the pandemic. Naga throws, such as the one across her Ligne Roset couch, a buy from when she worked at IDEO, San Francisco. And handwoven indigo-dyed cushions by Kohima-based designer Kevisedenuo Margaret Zinyu. “I’ve always hoarded fabric—lugged them back from my travels. But when we came here, I found fabric like what Margaret makes and felt they have the same aesthetic as you would find in Tokyo or Paris,” she says. (Sidebar: Her finds have led Rao to co-create Northeast Edit, a platform to promote arts, crafts, and textiles from this region, which she describes as, “part gallery space, part cultural journal, part creative collective”.)