Vincent Van Gogh's 'Cottages'
A cottage – in the Hills, five words that spin a whole image of charm, and peace, of pine scented air and crisp sunlight. A calm and peaceful hide-away, safe from the noise and dust and the clamour of city life. A get-away you escape to every once in a while when the trials of the city have put your nerves on edge and you would just want to leave it all behind for just long enough to refresh the spirit.
The hills of Uttarakhand, and Himachal , less than day’s drive from Delhi seem to be an ideal choice for many. Far enough for a change in scene, and close enough to throw a duffel in the boot and head out .
As an architect the hills are special to me, from child hood to my working life they have remained my favorite terrain of work.
So what do you have in mind when you set out, to find your slice of that mountain sky and woods, and a place to rest in the heart of it all? What do you look for in cottage? Or what make the difference between just any cottage and good, or shall we say perfect cottage?
The crisp mountain sun, especially in the morning of a fresh spring day is just one of the pleasures you want from a cottage in the hills. You want to sit out and have a lazy breakfast sipping Darjeeling in that air. You want all the sun you can get. So build that cottage where you get a lot of sun. Its longer length running east-west, and laid out such that almost all rooms get sun for a good few hours every day. Let it face south, with a small covered verandah , and if possible just one unit deep. The sun also sanitizes and keeps spaces healthy and energises space. It would be great to figure out ways in which you could use the sun to keep the spaces warm and reduce energy use. Good orientation also ensures spaces are well ventilated, and always smell fresh and healthy.
While sourcing materials go local , that is, as far as possible build with materials that are readily sourced from close by, and with techniques and skills that are locally available. This ensures the cottage is well built, and also ensures easy and prompt repair should some repair or maintenance be needed. The primary reason why you want a cottage and not a Delhi style villa.
Also it gives employment, and means to you to stay relevant within the local economy, and so become important to it.
The hills are wonderful places, but they don’t have 24 hour electricity, and back up like we get used to. Design to reduce dependence on energy. If you can, design to avoid Aircon and lighting in the day. Usually fans and well ventilated houses stay cool enough if you are higher up. And who doesn’t like fresh, crisp mountain air flowing though the rooms of a lovely getaway. And if you have resource you could even stay OFF the grid!
When thinking rooms keep spaces adequate, large spaces are nice, but tough to keep warm in cold climes. In the hills even the rains are beautiful and you want to watch them. When the weather is good, which will be a lot of the time you will be out of doors, or in the outside spaces. Keep indoor spaces adequate, not cramped but just enough and always connected with the outdoors, you will enjoy being in them more when you need to.
Design Meticulously and build simply. Keep the construction systems clear, easy to understand, sequence and erect. The hills are hard places to build in. A lot of the technology and machinery you have in the plains, would either be unusable there – and even if they were, they might cause far more damage to the site than could be repaired. Especially mechanized excavations – that would be best avoided. And build keeping in mind the weather and its effects. Choose materials that have stood the test of times.
The cottage is an idea, a place to retire to, a place of peace and a place that is best kept quiet and hidden. A place for the heart and the soul. Let that spirit guide its appearance. Build in a manner that effortlessly blends into its location. And built with the colour and texture of the place. The most beautiful are those that share the rustic purity and essentiality of the place they are built in. Made by hand, carefully and lovingly put together so they seamlessly flow from the inside, out and into the forest and hills. Simple, yet beautifully proportioned and crafted by hand. Let the materials show, bring in the light and wind, and smell the real wood. You want a cottage, your own piece of the local flavor and not Delhi style villa.
Ensure each space has a view to the outside – a verandah or a lawn or a paved court, where you can spend lazy afternoons, and sunny bright mornings. Have lavish outdoor space, those are where you would want to spend more of your time. Grow large flowering bushes and fruit trees. Keep the large trees for shade, to read under in the afternoon, and a wide verandah to watch the rain or sunset over the distant hills
When thinking what you would like to have in a cottage – Always design to enjoy and live in the beauty that is outside.
Henri is an Architect based in New Delhi. Materiality, Meaning, and Sustainability are key areas of interest in his design practice. He is also passionate about teaching architecture and is a faculty at the School of Planning and Architecture , New Delhi.
He can be reached at +91 98115 79334. More on him at hfoa.in
Samatara from DLF – An exquisite, super luxury project nestled in the serenity of Shimla, is an exclusive development of just 24 villas spanning over 1.6 acres of thick and pristine cedar woods within a picture perfect setting. Limited villas available so if you have been yearning for your own space in the hills, this might just be the one.