Balance Beam: Designer Raji Radhakrishnan

Lit from above by a polished aluminum chandelier by Max Sauze, circa 1970s, the kitchen is pure white save Pratt & Lambert’s King’s Blue inside the cupboards. The breakfast bar is white oak and the surrounding chairs are 1960s French.
Circa 1960 Knoll credenzas in the living room are fabricated of laminate and steel casing. The marble top displays small artworks, the most eye-catching perhaps, the midcentury wire cubes.
The family room is casual with its melange of furnishings. Among them are the Milo Baughman chrome-clad chair upholstered in white, Herve Van der Straeten’s tabouret of polished aluminum, and the oak gueridon fronting the straight-edged sofa.

“My home is a good reflection of where I stand on color,” says interior designer Raji Radhakrishnan. As the photographs on this blog illustrate, except for a few instances, the designer begins with white walls that allow her to see each room as a canvas. She then layers on colors taken from modern art, the vintage French and Italian furniture she’s collected over the years, and the enormous murals she crafts that depict legendary places and figures in European history.

“The really great thing about white walls,” says the Washington, D.C.-based designer, “is that you can change items around and not worry too much about the various components working better in one room versus another.”

Following her own wisdom, she quickly points out that the decor currently in place is the latest of several incarnations. Having lived here for 15 years, however, she recently decided that a fresh venue was in order and began work on a new home for herself and her family.

In the guestroom, splendid with a wall of crimson, Duralee damask, the French lamp/table dates from the 1960s. A mix of patterns and textures dress the bed.
In the guestroom, splendid with a wall of crimson, Duralee damask, the French lamp/table dates from the 1960s. A mix of patterns and textures dress the bed.

Radhakrishnan is going a bit more classical within her new home, conceived by Dutch architect Piet Boon as a very modern, one-level structure, by adding some walls and aligning doorways to create gallery-like spaces. The millwork, she says, will be rather elaborate, yet the rooms will still feel very modern due to the materials and finishes. “I know the interior decoration will be informed by history, yet at the same time be cutting edge, and as always, driven by art,” she notes. “It will definitely be colorful!”

The big question, of course, is how Radhakrishnan composes all the disparate elements in a room so that everything is smoothly integrated with no one aspect jumping out, not even the brilliant color, which abounds. Key to the process, she reveals, is to keep the eye moving, with surprises appearing along the way. “I do this by observing the spatial quality and ensuring there is enough negative space between each piece,” she explains. “Similarly, I try to balance the various strengths of color throughout a room so there’s no lopsided feeling. Furnishings and art are excellent opportunities to bring color into a space, but if you don’t balance them well, and proportionately, it can feel very uncomfortable.

“Every piece,” she continues, “is important and needs to be considered carefully, acknowledging what it brings to a room and how it will affect everything else.” She likens it to casting a play: Each actor, no matter how small his part, must be perfect for the role.

The simple, yet richly appointed living room features one of Radhakrishnan’s self-produced murals depicting an 18th century painting, Willy Rizzo’s table fitted with a brass cocktail tray, and Marc Newson’s fiberglass “felt chair.”

Lastly, she explains, “You want to tell your ‘story’ with intelligence and wit.”

Born in Madras, India, where color is a given, from the statues of innumerable gods to the saris worn and spices consumed, Radhakrishnan grew up in a house designed and built by her architect-grandfather (who was greatly influenced by Le Corbusier), spent months at a time traveling the world as a professional dancer, and earned an MBA in Strategic Planning from American University following her move to the United States. She feels that these diverse experiences have come together to create her unique style, which she defines as “a timeless mix of old and new, modern furnishings and contemporary art juxtaposed with classical architecture, precious and humble, masculine and feminine.”

A self-proclaimed daydreamer, Radhakrishnan says, “Color has been a constant in my work, but the proportion, intensity and blending of colors has improved over the years – not necessarily using more or less, but applied with more control so that I achieve the result as I envisioned it.”

Tranquility reigns in the designer’s bedroom, one wall covered with a Radhakrishnan mural depicting an artist’s rendering of the Louvre. Two Gio Ponti chairs and a Philip and Kelvin LaVerne table are in the foreground. The bedside lamps are by Alberto Giacometti.

Once a project’s colors are determined, putting them correctly in a room is an organic process, but it’s not always smooth sailing, even for her. “Sometimes, I’ll have my colors planned, but something seems amiss,” she tells. “Then I need to hunt for that perfect something to balance everything.”

Regardless of the amount of work required, it’s worth it. Asked if she could live in a color-free home, the designer replies, “No, I’d get bored; all the joy would be gone. I’d probably pull out my brushes and colors, and start painting the furnishings, walls and floors, the whole house!”

Radhakrishnan sees a change afoot when it comes to using color in the home: “I think designers (as opposed to most clients) are increasingly interested in color now, and that comes from exposure – television, shopping, books, magazines, the Internet. It’s everywhere! There are also more opportunities to study color, and understanding it better, we can learn to wield it just the way we want.”

Photography Courtesy of Rikki Snyder.

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