One of the many things that bring together Shipra Singhania (35), a Bombay native, and Sunita Sanghi (60), a Rajasthan native and Shipra’s mother-in-law, is their shared appreciation of their heritage, the natural world, sustainable homes & a simple life.
The duo’s vacation home in the remote village of Barh Kesharpur in Alwar, Rajasthan, is a symbol of their devotion to one another, to nature and to the idea of living a sustainable life.
Eco-friendly features and a focus on sustainability have made this house a haven for the family to relax and spend quality time together, far from the distractions of the city.
A fresh start with Sustainable Homes
Shipra Singhania has been practising as an interior designer since 2014 through her firm Sketch Design Studio. But something changed for her and she started finding her peace in blocks of nature. It was in the year 2020 when a client asked Shipra to design an agro-tourism area on his farm.
She says she didn’t know she was capable of so much until immediately before she finished something really difficult. As a result of working on the project of sustainable homes, she decided to learn as much as she could about natural construction and the wonders of the natural world.
Once she realised the possibilities of environmentally friendly designs, sustainable homes, there was no turning back. With this in mind, Shipra with her family began construction on her second home.
The family was overjoyed to move into their 2,000-square-foot utopia in 2021 after a yearlong construction process.
Shipra’s natural building techniques required fine-tuning for the climate of Alwar, so it’s important to get a sense of the region. The local sandstone was used extensively in the construction of the many forts and other stone structures that dot the picturesque landscape of Alwar city.
The city experiences average summer highs of 41 degrees Celsius and winter lows of 8 degrees Celsius. Because of the extreme weather conditions, the house had to be built in a way that it could withstand strong winds and high temperatures without causing significant temperature swings inside. It was her first architectural project, and there was much to learn
She spoke with other professionals in the architecture sector for advice on how to build using eco-friendly materials.
She then went on to talk about environmentally friendly materials, which she felt to be a viable alternative due to the fact that its scientific basis was entwined with ancient concepts.
Shipra with her mother inlaws support constructed the house out of mud, earthen sacks, lime, and plaster. they even made the construction material out of food, like neem leaves, turmeric, and jaggery. These foods have been used for centuries in earthen buildings because of their many useful properties, such as neem’s ability to repel termites, jaggery’s strength as a binding agent, and methi (fenugreek) ability’s to do the same for earthen bricks.
Shipra has made it a top priority to ensure that the house is well insulated due to the state’s extreme weather.
To achieve this, mud is used to build the walls along the south and west, while the stone is used for the walls along the north and east. Thatch is used for the roof because of its airtight qualities.
She was sceptical about the durability of the structures made from natural materials at first, but was ultimately pleasantly surprised. No cement was used in the building’s construction.
Inside the house
As you go across the house, you’ll see that the central roof is much higher than the rest of the roofs (23 ft to be precise). This is the key to the home’s year-round good ventilation. Light from the sun may seep in via the many windows, even on the coldest winter days.
The building process centred on using as many regional resources as possible while minimising the amount of cement and concrete used.
The lime plaster, for instance, came from a town 20 kilometres away, but Shipra claims that the mud used in the building’s foundation and walls originated from the ground itself. Overhangs constructed from stone brackets are installed over the windows to shield them from the sun and rain.
On chilly winter nights, the family drives out to the farm, builds a campfire, and sits around it to enjoy each other’s company and the night sky. As fantastical as it may seem, the location of Alwar makes this a reality.
According to Shipra, the house’s rural location means there is little ambient light, making it perfect for stargazing.
Shipra attributes the successful realisation of her dream idea to a 10-day programme on sustainable design that she attended in South India prior to COVID-19. In this setting, she became enthusiastic about all sustainable architecture principles and planned to include them in her future home
Sunita, a former artisan who now devotes her time to gardening, has always considered organic farming as a particularly meaningful pursuit. She was delighted that the vacation house allowed her farm to flourish with organic products.
About all of the food they consume comes from the four acres of land that she shares. The family owns a spice garden with turmeric, dhaniya, and saunf, as well as a vegetable patch with tomatoes, potatoes, and lady’s fingers, and a small orchard with seasonal fruits. According to her estimates, “about ninety percent of everything goes into our food originates from here.”
The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law combo may have found common ground in this labour of love, but they both agree it has been transformative.
They get to enjoy the results of their labour on the weekends when they travel out to the location for supper or breakfast and have a peaceful meal to themselves.
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