Passage to India
For Cape Town-born actress, model and soon-to-be author Tarina Patel, the joy of Johannesburg has always been in its hidden parts – and her home in Sandton is one of her favourite secrets in the city. From outside, the house looks like one of the suburb’s Italianate mansions, but inside, Tarina has transformed its formerly beige walls into a riotous tribute to the legacy of her and husband Iqbal Sharma’s Indian origins.
‘I love watching people gasp when they walk in,’ Tarina says of the foyer – a domed, triple-volume area surrounded by an ornate bifurcated staircase hung with a Mughal-era crystal chandelier, and with golden Tikri mirror mosaic, Persian carpeting, and walls of handpainted, Indian miniature-inspired murals. ‘People can’t believe that they’re in South Africa, and that’s what I love about this house, and this area – it’s full of surprises.
‘Sandton is known as the hub of Africa, so naturally we would want to be in the heart of the action, but you still have the greenery, and the privacy, which is charming,’ she says. ‘I love that I can travel the world, work in Joburg, and do all the crazy things I do, and come back to our own little ashram that we have created for ourselves.’
Beyond the impressive foyer, a pair of sliding Rajasthani doors open up to reveal the house’s central feature – a pair of extraordinarily opulent interconnected rooms designed to emulate the interior courtyard-style layout of the Samode Palace in Jaipur. Bright red ornamental arches – created by a team of Indian craftsmen who were flown to South Africa by Tarina and Iqbal to create an authentically Indian interior – make the wide rooms intimate again.
‘Having stayed at all the beautiful palaces in Rajasthan, I absolutely fell in love with many of them, especially Samode, and had to bring that feeling back to Johannesburg. So we brought out the Indian artisans, which was stressful and difficult. But just getting their items to Johannesburg was challenging, because you need specialist tools and products to do what they did.’ Tarina did everything in her power, refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer, to make sure officials at ports around the world got the supplies to South Africa in time. ‘How else do you make something that looks like this?’, she says.
The couple have no plans to extend their family anytime soon, so they altered the design of the original house to make for larger spaces. ‘What I was looking for was the wow factor and this house kind of encompassed most of it,’ Tarina says, ‘but when we first got here, there were too many rooms, so we knocked things down to make fewer, and the ones that remained are now much bigger.’
With enough space to play with, Tarina spent an intense two months creating her own palace, adding frescoes and decoration to every surface, even inlaying ceilings in the rooms with mirror mosaic like that seen in the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1631. ‘The decor the previous owners had was very clean-cut minimalist, with lots of steel and marble, but I have changed all of that and turned it into an Indian palace,’ Tarina says.
The project is ambitious, especially considering that Tarina ran it all herself amid her professional commitments, but she sees the house as a part of herself. ‘I’m full of energy, so my home is definitely an extension of that. I thought I would go with a French or Venetian theme, but as I started this process I naturally gravitated towards the Indian idea – mostly because that’s my culture, and what I am most proud of. So for me it made absolute sense.’
A tragedy in the family added another dimension to the realisation of the space. ‘We bought the house and I left straight after that to take my father to India for treatment for an indefinite period. After losing him to an autoimmune disease, this house honestly provided me with the project that I needed to immerse myself in, and it was very cathartic for me. Also, my father – like me – had a great love affair with India, and in many ways he was part of this journey with me. He loved this house [and] my ideas about it, and I felt his presence all along. Our history is in these walls.’