Home tour: architect Anjali Mangalgiri’s Black and White heritage apartment
It’s no secret, we’re low-key obsessed with conservation homes and can’t walk past one without smiling at it. So when we spotted architect Anjali Mangalgiri’s Black and White flat, we just had to get the grand tour.
The principal architect of Grounded – an architecture and development firm based in India and Singapore – Anjali’s home is characterful. A natural light-filled 2,500 sqft home with three bedrooms and high ceilings, its interior design echoes the monochromatic palette with a cheerful seasoning of colour.
We talk to the architect-designer-developer about her unique practice as she shows us around her home in Singapore.
At a glance
– The proud residents: Architect Anjali Mangalgiri, her husband and two kids.
– Who designed it: The interiors are all by Anjali.
– What kind of unit: 3 bedroom, 2,500 sqft Black and White rental apartment. It’s a four-storey walk-up in Newton.
If you’re intrigued by history, this home is brimming with it. Apart from the colonial build, every item of decor takes the residents back in time. Point at anything and there’s a story of how it was chanced upon during travels… perhaps on a heritage walk in an old Indian city or in a museum shop on the other side of the globe. We’re convinced that surrounding ourselves with our own artefacts, that hold personal meaning or bear memories of a lifetime of travels, spark joy. Now more than ever.
In conversation with architect Anjali Mangalgiri
When did you realise you had a passion for architecture?
Anjali: My earliest childhood memories are of playing on mountains of sand at construction sites in New Delhi, India. My mother believed that playing with our hands would enhance our creativity, so she would take my brother and me to these sites. They were the only sand pits available in an urban concrete jungle like New Delhi.
I’m still fascinated by how life has come full circle – as an architect, these construction sites are now my playground once again.
Honest, sustainable and earthy, Grounded’s creations exude a quiet luxury. Tell us about Grounded’s origin story…
Anjali: Grounded is a culmination of my love and respect for nature and architecture. At Grounded, we essentially offer two services: architecture and interior design consulting in India and Singapore, and development (for sale) of boutique homes in Goa, India.
Almost 20 years ago, I undertook a four-month internship at the Earth Institute at Auroville, India. Auroville is a utopian community living concept established by the followers of Sri Aurobindo, a spiritual leader. During this time, I really got to explore earthy materials and sustainable building techniques.
I built using earth bricks, rammed earth and even straw bales. This left a deep impression on me.
I began to appreciate the beauty in all forms of nature and realised that I wanted to centre my architecture practice around the tenets of sustainability.
I moved to the United States to study Urban Planning at MIT and subsequently moved to New York for my first job at HOK, an architecture firm. During my time there, I saw how often good ideas and sustainable practices were not implemented due to budget concerns or process efficiencies. That’s when I realised I wanted to be the decision-maker in the room.
This led me to do a second Master’s, this time in Real Estate Development at Columbia University. In 2010, I started Grounded with a unique architect-developer model, where we put money behind our sustainable ideas. We source land, get permits, design, build and sell boutique homes in Goa, India.
Since its inception, Grounded has built homes that have won awards and have received wide coverage. We have also been successful at attracting some notable celebrity clients for our consulting services.
What sets Grounded apart?
Anjali: At Grounded, we design buildings that are rooted in sound architectural principles.
Our homes help their owners reconnect with nature and celebrate the simple joys of life.
Fresh air, natural light, fertile soil, love and laughter – we believe these are the essentials that contribute towards our well-being. What our work attempts to convey is an earthy luxury – a sense of luxury that comes from enjoying one’s life to the fullest while being connected with nature.
Home Tour: Anjali’s colonial Black and White apartment in Newton
Your Black and White apartment in Singapore is sublime. How did you spot this unique property?
Anjali: We moved into our Black and White apartment in 2014. But we began to look for homes here in 2012 when my husband moved to Singapore from NYC. We saw several condominiums, but I longed for a home with character… and something that was a part of the city fabric. That was when a friend pointed us toward Black and Whites, the historic colonial-era residences in Singapore.
I remember we saw an apartment in our building and it was love at first sight! Our Black and White conservation building is a four-storey walk-up. Each apartment is generous at 2,500 sqft with three bedrooms and features lofty 12 ft high ceilings, abundant daylight, shaded openings and a distinct old-world charm that was hard to resist.
At that time, we decided to give it a pass. I was still splitting my time between Goa and NYC and we didn’t really need a place this big just for my husband alone. Also, we didn’t have children at that time. But I kept a close watch on the SLA (Singapore Land Authority) website that owns and runs our building from then on.
Our current apartment came on the market in 2014. But we were both in New York at that time. The rental process is an auction where prospective tenants bid the rent and the highest bidder wins the lease. We bid 40% higher than the base rent without even seeing the actual apartment and won the bid.
Since then, I have made several incremental changes to make the apartment our home. Our two daughters were born while we lived in this apartment, and it’s now a very busy, fun-filled and loving family home.
What are the biggest perks of living in a Black and White heritage apartment?
Anjali: As you know, Singapore’s Black and Whites were built by the British between the late 19th century and 1930s (pre-WWI) and only 500 of them still stand. They have a distinct colonial identity and are far removed in character from the ubiquitous glass condominium towers.
The main highlight is simply the luxury of space that these homes offer.
In our apartment, the smallest bedroom is 15 ft x 15 ft. Such room sizes are truly non-existent in newer builds.
Apart from the space, one of the key features of these colonial homes has to be the quality of light. Each room in our home has windows on two to three walls and a wrap-around balcony. These large windows are shaded and bring an abundance of light and cool breeze through cross ventilation.
For me, the third highlight is the high ceiling! Our apartment features a 12 ft high ceiling across all rooms. It does add to the lofty and spacious feel of the space… and keeps our home cool.
The architectural bones of the Black and Whites are phenomenal.
And even though our floors are all basic white ceramic tile and kitchens sport basic white laminated cabinets, the space is uber-luxurious, unique and a privilege to live in.
Tell us about the interiors. Why did you opt for a less is more approach?
Anjali: With my ‘less is more’ design concept, I wanted to retain the lightness and airiness of the space and keep the interiors clean and uncluttered. I stuck to a black and white overall palette to highlight the historic nature of the building, and then added bright pops of colour for fun. The apartment is surrounded by big trees, so we brought some of that nature indoors in the form of plants, dried tree branches and a big Suar wood dining table.
The living room is anchored around a teak wood daybed instead of a couch. Compared to couches, I do think daybeds are more wonderful in the living room.
Our master bedroom has a king-size platform bed that was custom-made in China. I’ve always dreamed of owning this kind of a bed but it would’ve never fit into my New York apartments. The bedside tables are antique Burmese lacquer finished pieces that we purchased in Singapore from Lee’s Antiques & Interiors.
Above the bed is a hanging mobile to hold my collection of art postcards. I spend a couple of minutes in bed every morning looking at them in the morning. I find it calming and motivating. So much of a home is about our personal memorabilia collected over the years. I believe that’s what makes a house a home. Each object in our apartment has a story and a memory attached to it, making the interiors very intimate and personal.
As for the prints on the walls, they were purchased from museum shops from across the world. The sheepskin thrown over a chair in the hallway was purchased on a cold morning at the Union Square Farmer’s Market in New York.
The antique silver and copper containers peppering my home were bought during a heritage walk through the old city in Jaipur, India. The teapot is a Longpi vessel, made without a potter’s wheel by North East Indian tribe. We bought from a craft bazaar in Delhi. The side tables in the living room are bone inlay in the black and white theme bought from West Elm in NYC.
Then there’s a tiny brightly coloured alebrije – a papier-mâché animal – from Oaxaca bought from Mexico City, wooden boats from Kerala, a Jonathan Adler ceramic, a piece of root from a vineyard in Provence in France and stone bookends from a New Mexico Native Indian community in the US.
Your favourite nook in the house?
Anjali: My balcony. It’s my escape from the madness that sometimes takes over with two kids in the house. I especially love spending time here in the morning to read the newspaper and drink my coffee.
Post-Covid, do you sense a fundamental change in the way we live and perhaps design our homes inside and out?
Anjali: I think that the crisis has reminded us that we need human interaction for our well-being. As a result, I think people will want to live closer to their families and friends. And with a rise and acceptance of the work-from-home culture, the necessary relocation is highly possible.
In a post-Covid era, people will pay more attention to the design and comfort of their homes. I’ve talked about how to love staying at home on my blog This is Epic too. I foresee people wanting to upgrade their apartments, furniture, appliances and even simple things like their bedsheets and towels.
The goal would be to enhance the experience of staying at home that has proven to be the safest place in the world!
I suppose people have also missed their connection to nature during this crisis. I’m very confident that more people will desire balconies and open spaces in their homes.
Do you have any upcoming projects in Singapore?
Anjali: We wish to expand in Singapore, and are actively looking for clients with a similar mindset. With limited travel options, there’s a real opportunity to redesign homes within Singapore to offer all the goodness of resort-style living.
I’m talking about homes and spaces that connect with nature, are luxurious with super comfy seating, soft rugs, solid wood furniture and walls decorated with real art. Spaces with great lighting, filled with books to read and good food where conversations with friends and families can prosper over long, languid evenings.
Where to next?