A tranquil escape: German designer’s duo spirited experiment of crafting an earthy holiday home by the sea

FEB 2, 2024 | By Tarjani Samani
A down-to-earth abode imbibing the versatile approach of designing in harmony with the context; Photography and Styling by Caterina Rancho
The living room has been thoughtfully assembled with a customised sofa and table by the designers and chairs from Nilambur Furniture. As seen on the wall, the wooden wings and mirror near Caterina’s artwork are a part of the antique haul that the designers went on in Jew Town, Kochi; Photography by Caterina Rancho
A warm and effortless dining space amidst lush greenery; Photography by Caterina Rancho
The bedroom is an uncluttered winding-down space with a customised door and artwork by Caterina. The designers have worked with basic shapes. In doing so, they create a symphony between the design approach followed in the West with the rich spatial experience of the Indian context; Photography by Caterina Rancho

Recently, the designers Caterina Rancho of Caterina Rancho Interior Design and Jan Gerlach of Thingk-Design ventured into renovating a 1,991 sq ft holiday home at Varkala, an undisturbed oasis in Kerala. Crafting this eco-attuned property marks the beginning of an experimental journey for the two in India. 

Based in Germany, Caterina has always cherished memories of her brief travel across India’s vivid landscape. The rich palette of colours has sparked her imagination for over a decade. Elated to discover that her friend Marlon Fronhofer was giving her full creative freedom to renovate his holiday home, Caterina also convinced Jan, a product designer, to come on board. Together, they brought this space with a serene demeanour to life within a challenging span of one month.

Caterina Rancho and Jan Gerlach
The simple earthy material palette succeeds in emoting a heartfelt, versatile and sustainable response for this quaint holiday home. Seen here is an old existing table coated with coconut oil, artwork by Caterina and chairs from Fabindia. The old concrete mixing bowl on the dining table was also sanded and coated by Caterina; Photography and Styling by Caterina Rancho

The house is perched amidst a sweeping 21,527 sq ft property on a cliff with a small pathway leading to the beach. Walking towards this holiday home does not make one feel like they are leaving the lush greenery and sea behind, rather the designer’s harmonious approach with the context results in experiencing effortless continuity from the unbuilt to the built. For the designers, merging a decluttered visual language with the traditional material palette inspired by the Indian landscape was intrinsic to the design concept. 

A down-to-earth abode imbibing the versatile approach of designing in harmony with the context; Photography by Caterina Rancho

Where East Meets West — A Design Story 

While in Germany, the designer duo began working on the renovation project with the assistance of Arun Joseph Matthew of A & A Architecture Studio. Coordinating with an architect based in India provided them with the required on-ground support. Arun was instrumental in aiding the designers with requisite site images and ensuring that the interior works were carried out efficiently on-site. 

Caterina Rancho and Jan Gerlach
This peaceful reading corner is curated with a comforting armchair from Srishti Home Decor, artwork by Caterina and refurbished wall shelves made from old discarded furniture; Photography by Caterina Rancho

Their initial intuitive response to the renovation was to take inspiration from the surrounding landscape and to generate the least possible waste in the entire process. This informed the designers of two primary parameters. First, they did not propose major changes in the floor plan thus restricting unnecessary civil work and letting nature have its unbothered rhythm on the site.

Second, they reused as much material as they could from the existing house. The designers have worked with basic clear geometry that they have experienced in Germany while working with warm materials that respond to the local context. Additionally, the Wabi Sabi philosophy is something that deeply resonate with the duo, with the Japanese approach is reflected in their unpretentious and raw response to the site.

This sundowner sea spot offers a soothing view of the beach across. Seen here are chairs from Fabindia and a coffee table from Inos, Prime Decor. Photography by Caterina Rancho

Timeless earthy aesthetic

The renovated home merges into the surrounding landscape with its red colour exterior mirroring the soil on the cliff. Upon stepping inside the home, we enter a refreshingly cool colour palette in stark contrast with its warm exterior. It is as if the designers aspire to invite the refreshing feeling of the sea into the interior space.

Caterina Rancho and Jan Gerlach
The interior space with a refreshing cool hue. The shelves seen here are made from old furniture discarded by the owner and the green chair has been sourced from Grandeza Furnish. Photography by Caterina Rancho

Approaching the material palette with this concept allowed the designers to have a quick turnaround of both the interior and verandah spaces. This decision was also motivated by attempting to have a thoughtful response to the design brief within the one-month time restriction for the renovation. They were also positively challenged to find furniture that would respond to this warm palette. Caterina mentions, “What was most fun was that the research for furniture and accessories was very different from what we are used to in Europe. It was challenging because — unlike here — we didn’t know the places where you can find good things. At the same time, however, we were able to get to know the country and are grateful for this experience.”

The night table in the bedroom has been custom-designed by Jan Gerlach. One can also see the designer’s attempt to provide privacy with a Jali opening in the wall; Photography by Caterina Rancho


Caterina Rancho and Jan Gerlach
The night table in the bedroom has been custom-designed by Jan Gerlach. Seen on top of the table is a night lamp from Fabindia and next to it is the artwork by Caterina. Photography by Caterina Rancho

A holistic design approach

The designers have been sensitive to the presence of natural landscapes around the holiday home and paid attention to the minutest of details. As mentioned by Caterina, “We created signs from wood in the garden which says ‘No cigarette butts and plastic in nature’ with the hope that we can help to raise awareness of the damage to the environment caused by cigarettes and other unnatural rubbish.”

Even the outdoor fence has been customised such that the local birds and pets are safe from any possible harm. The pathway from the holiday home to the sundown nook also provides an immediate close connection with nature without disturbing the wildflower meadow.

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