Dome Sweet Dome: Contractor House, Vadodra

Renowned Parsi lawyer and philanthropist Jeru Contractor’s grand old mansion, located on Vadodara’s RC Dutt Road, may not be formally labelled as a heritage building,

but it is definitely a part of the city’s folklore. After all, its builder created some of the most beautiful and grand buildings of the erstwhile royal city more than a century ago, and adopted the same architectural style for his own houses.

By Ramaninder K Bhatia | TNN

This beautiful, 130-year-old, imposing structure in red and cream reflects the grandeur and beauty – albeit on a much smaller scale – that was envisioned by Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad for the landmark MS University. Jeru’s great-grandfather Khansaheb Faramji Cowasji Contractor was entrusted the task of turning that vision into a brick-and-mortar reality.

The beautiful domes on the side wings of the two-storied house are the most visible signs of the architectural influence of MSU. These domes serve as the ceilings of the two first-floor bedrooms.

"My great grandfather built seven bungalows for his family," reveals Jeru, who recently got the mansion built in the Indo-Saracenic style, restored with the help of Mysore-based heritage restoration architect, Ravi Gundu Rao. "My parents occupied this one in 1942, after the earlier occupants, members of the royal family, vacated it," Jeru says.

Few new features were added simultaneously without disturbing the original style, which include the rainwater harvesting system emptying into an old well in the vast 50,000 sq ft compound.

The exterior promises wonderful interiors; yet, there is no inkling of a lovely surprise indoors. After crossing over the beautifully laid out drawing room with its period furniture, charming wooden ceiling, and walls embossed with beautiful floral patterns, the enchanted, lush green scenery of a typical Kerala rural house suddenly looms into view.

Banana trees crowd the open courtyard, embracing a custard apple tree and a huge mango tree, and creating a green oasis. A spacious inner verandah covered by sloping roofs, and build in two distinct styles of architecture runs along the rear side of the courtyard. The kitchen, dining room, stores, Jeru’s office and servant quarters are located in this part which is covered by sloping roof topped with mangalorean tiles.

"The roof was damaged and leaking due to wear and tear," says Neelesh Thakkar, the civil engineer in Ravi Gundu Rao’s team. "We inserted an aluminium sheet under the tiles to waterproof it without changing the original look."

A charming skylight and a huge chimney with a sloping exterior over a wood-and-coal-fired stove are the charm quotient of the kitchen. No longer used for cooking, the stove is now the central point where the Parsi occupants pray every day by lighting fire.

Winding wooden staircases in three corners of the house lead to the first floor where another beautiful drawing room has a unique feature – ten doors and no window.

The Aha moment:

Gazing at the smooth curves of the grand domes of the bedrooms which have beautiful floral patterns, Jeru says he has never felt the need to install airconditioning as the domes keep the room cool. Not a drop of rain water has seeped through the dome.