The Italian Job
The main problem in Jaipur,” says Barbara Miolini, “was that to have a drink or some food in a beautiful place, you had to go to one of the five-star hotels.” So Miolini, 45, who had previously worked with Venice’s Cipriani hotel but moved to work on a textile business, began searching for the dream spot to open her chic aperitivo-style restaurant and lounge. It was around this time that she was introduced to Marie-Anne Oudejans, the celebrated Dutch interior designer, and found a kindred spirit. Oudejans knew just the space Miolini was looking for, in the grounds of the Narain Niwas Palace Hotel, having lived in her own apartment at the site for some time.
Palladio turned out to be the perfect marriage of Italian and Indian styles: hand-painted floral panelling and exotic wall murals, created by the local Jaipuri artisan Vikas Soni and his team, offset the brilliant blue hue of the space. “We didn’t want to do something pink, because it’s already a pink city and it felt too obvious for us,” explains Oudejans, 52. “We used inspirations from traditional Rajasthani artwork, and the blue seen in the city palace, but much bigger in scale.”
Another innovation was the use of tented ceilings throughout the space, something that has become somewhat of an Oudejans trademark: “When I was young my grandmother gave me my first tent in Holland. Since then, any project I do always has an element of a tent, whether it’s an office in New York or a fashion store.” Everything, from the crockery to the block-printed Gitto striped textiles you see, were also made bespoke for the bar, making it a must-visit destination for design lovers in the Pink City.
The bar was, unsurprisingly, an instant hit, featuring in Architectural Digest and The World of Interiors. A second eatery, Caffè Palladio, was opened last autumn (“More feminine, on the site of an abandoned garden and inspired by Sicily,” explains Miolini) along with a small pavilion-style shop to “allow people to take some of Bar Palladio home”.
The next four months are set to be very busy for the pair, as they embark on a project that will bring together the food, culture and scenic landscapes of Rajasthan aboard a train shuttling between Jodhpur and Jaipur. “We’re calling it the Jodhpur Express – it’s a working title,” smiles Miolini. Judging from the keen welcome given to Palladio both internationally and with locals, the new project is on track to be a runaway success.
The modern Maharaja’s palace
Suján Rajmahal Palace
If Wes Anderson conjured up a vision of a Jaipuri palace, it would look very like the Suján Rajmahal with its candy-pink exterior and white colonnades. The interior too is a riot of colour. Over forty bespoke wallpapers line the walls of the hotel, with vivid motifs that fuse an Art Deco style with more traditional images of cypress trees and floral patterns inspired by the city’s famous forts and mansions, or havelis.
“Rajmahal has always been the private property of the royal family of Jaipur,” explains Jaisal Singh, 37, CEO of the Suján luxury hotel group, which oversaw the property’s renovation in 2014 alongside New Delhi interior designer Adil Ahmad. “They wanted to breathe fresh life into this treasure.”
Together they set about creating a very modern palace hotel, fit for Jaipur’s current maharaja (His Highness Sawai Singh is only 18 years old), as well as a playful alternative to the city’s dated heritage hotels, taking inspiration from some of the great hotels – “in London, The Goring, in Paris the Saint James, and, on safari, undoubtedly Londolozi Private Game Reserve in South Africa”.
Upstairs, the 13 rooms and suites pay homage to the palace’s most famous former guests (top pick is the pretty if a touch flamboyant Kennedy Suite, once home to the first lady for three months, hung with handmade papers in eye-popping turquoise and hot pink tones), while downstairs the atmospheric Orient Occident dining room is abuzz every night with city creatives.
Since the facelift, Singh has noticed Rajmahal “has changed people’s perception of interiors. Almost every other hotel in Jaipur has the same predictable interiors and architectural style”. The same certainly can’t be said of this treasure in the heart of Jaipur.
The high-concept store
The idea behind Teatro Dhora was simple enough. Aavritri Jain, 26, wanted to create a space that “absorbed” her experiences studying at Milan’s Istituto Marangoni and travels in Europe: “Teatro – ‘theatre’ in Italian – fit well with our philosophy. We wanted it to be a theatre of all the things we liked and an active space.”
She set about creating a shop that would stand up against the likes of Dover Street Market, 10 Corso Como or Colette, but stocking “all natural, organic” Indian brands such as Noshan Ali, Nicobar and the Byredo-esque fragrance line Bombay Perfumery.
The walls – all moody blue Farrow and Ball hues – suddenly provided the perfect backdrop to showcase art and photography by local artists. A decked stage was incorporated at the back of the store “where you can come and perform. We’ve had gigs by classical Indian singers, exhibitions and poetry recitals during Jaipur Literary Festival.”
The furniture and homewares, from the Jodhpuri armoires and vintage Indian trunks to renowned Rajasthani dhurrie rugs, is superb. And it’s not just for show – “everything in the store is for sale, except myself,” laughs Jain.
Although she admits that the store’s clientele is still “predominantly foreigners and tourists”, it has tapped into a nascent young creative community in Jaipur that want “an active space” to exchange ideas and meet like-minded people.
9 Yashwant Place, 302006 Jaipur
The hipster retreat
Jaipur can be a sensory overload. The colours, the smells, the historic sites – all inspiring, but at times too much for the tourist’s mind to handle. Which is why a year ago Siddharth Kasliwal and Nur Kaoukji, both 32, decided to open 28 Kothi, as the tonic to busy city life. Set in the quiet neighbourhood of Civil Lines, it models itself on the traditional guesthouse. Kaoukji describes it as “fresh, clean and sober. A place to absorb it all”.
It has been a passion project for the pair, and a homage to Kasliwal’s late father Munnu – the family run Jaipur’s famous Gem Palace jeweller’s – who bought the site of the property in the early noughties with a view to create, as Kasliwal Jr describes it, “a simple retreat for meditation and yoga”.
“Here you have a dream collection of artisans at your disposal, who are very open to ideas”
Enlisting the support of French architect Georges Floret, Kasliwal built the house – kothi translates as “villa” – based around his father’s original designs, inspired by 1950s homes around India. “It became a mission for me. I went to Kishangarh to source all the marble, reproducing Dad’s jali designs and even perfected the chunna (limestone wash) we used.”
But once the shell was complete, it was down to Kaoukji to head up the interior design. “That’s when the magic happened,” smiles Kasliwal.
Kaoukji, originally from Beirut and a graduate of the London College of Fashion, wanted to stay true to a mid-century Indian aesthetic: “It’s the opposite of what you’d expect. Usually when you go to hotels, [the interiors] scream of all the things that India has to offer, all at once.”
She set about working from a neutral white palette, incorporating pops of colour through verdant hand-painted murals (in the library), bespoke textiles (in each of the five rooms, to match the semi-precious stones they are named after), and painstakingly sourced brass and wooden antiques in the mid-century style. When something wasn’t available, Kaoukji had it made: “Here you have a dream collection of artisans at your disposal. Your carpenter is not your average carpenter, the guy is a genius. And they are very open to ideas. Of course, he’ll argue with you initially, but he will always try.”
Kothi has been a hit with the hipsters since opening last year, having entertained the likes of jewellery designer Noor Fares, creatives from the Soho House Group as well as the toast of India’s literary world during the annual Jaipur Literary Festival. Are there plans for expansion? “There’s talk of a second project outside Jaipur, but it’s still early days.”