South Indian home décor: How can I add traditional touches to my modern home?

Sunita Vellapally Sunita Vellapally
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In recent years, traditional South Indian houses have become rare rather than commonplace with high-rise apartments taking over the cityscape in most of India’s urban areas. However, the charm of South Indian tradition is something that homeowners in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu cannot forget so easily. The typical sloping terracotta tiled roofs, airy inner courtyards, beautifully carved doors and pillars, shiny brass statues and lamps… these are some of the elements of South Indian home décor. Each state has its unique tradition, but many of the décor elements or items are inspired by the interiors of ancient temples, whether it’s carved stone pillars or brass lamps. In many South Indian homes, even today, one finds a lot of these elements thanks to treasures passed down over the generations.

If you have a modern apartment or house and want to bring a few traditional elements into it, we present simple interior design ideas for South Indian homes.

Statues or images of gods

Besides the idols in the pooja room, one of the best ways to infuse a traditional touch, even in a modern home, is to decorate it with statues of gods or goddesses. Ganesha statues are commonly used as besides adding the aesthetics this idol is believed to remove obstacles and pave the path to success. In old traditional South Indian houses, often a statue of Ganesha would be placed near the entrance of the house. This idea can be used to create a stunning feature wall in the entrance lobby of your apartment or house. If your small home doesn’t have an entrance lobby, a statue of Ganesha can be placed on the foyer table or even on a floating shelf.

In old Shiva temples, the statue of Nandi the bull would be placed at the entrance. You can add a memorable element to the entrance porch of your home by installing a stunning brass statue of Nandi. Other popular idols that are used for decoration include statues of Krishna and Nataraj, the dancing avatar of Shiva.

Besides this, decorating the walls with Tanjore paintings or murals with scenes from Hindu mythology are options for bringing a traditional element to your home’s décor and are often a part of the main door design in Tamilnadu houses.

Get inspired by these beautiful home entrance ideas.

South Indian furniture design

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Old houses in the southern states feature beautiful wooden furniture, which although not as ornately carved as ones from North India, have a certain charm in their simplicity. When you come across South Indian interior design photos, you will notice that furniture has low seating. These include diwans, wooden chairs with woven cane seats and stools. Often, they are not upholstered, but instead decorated with colourful tiles or brass elements. It’s easy to find similar pieces in antique stores or thrift markets.

When talking about furniture, let’s not forget to mention the swing or oonjal, which is a classic piece in South Indian home décor. Even the most modern home can get a beautiful hint of tradition with this type of seating that is playful and functional. It’s an excellent idea for partitioning spaces such as the living room and the dining room. For the balcony, a swing seat is practical as it saves floor space and makes it easier to clean the area without moving the furniture.

Carved doors

In traditional South Indian houses, the entrance door was designed to create a good impression. This tradition can be replicated even today by replacing your entrance door with a beautifully carved custom-designed front door in teak or rosewood. If the housing society in which you live has a restriction on the type of doors you can use for the entrance, then you can have a similar door for your pooja room entrance to bring a stunning traditional touch to your modern interiors. These types of doors can be found in antique shops or with artefacts dealers. You can have it repaired and polished by a carpenter before you install it in your home.

Brass lamps

One of the easiest to implement South Indian home décor ideas is the use of brass lamps. From a tall floor standing pakshi villaku or a table top Meenakshi villaku to thooku villakus or hanging lamps with chains that are suspended from a ceiling hook or a wall bracket, these lamps can be found in handicraft shops. All you need to do is find a suitable corner in your living room to place these beautiful lamps to bring tradition into your home. Light them at night to bring a festive mood to your interiors.

Stone or wooden pillars

Even the starkest minimalist home can transform into a charming space by adding a beautiful pillar. A carved stone pillar, like those seen in ancient temples can be placed in the centre of an open-plan hall to create a visual partition between spaces. Wooden pillars, which once were a common feature in traditional South Indian houses, can replace the brick or cement pillars in a courtyard or veranda, where they not only provide support to the roof structure but also infuse old world charm to the space.

Printed or hand painted tiles

In old traditional houses in Tamil Nadu, hand painted tiles were used for the flooring to bring an exquisite feature to the interiors. Even if the theme of your apartment is modern, you can replicate this idea by changing the flooring in a small area, whether it’s the entrance lobby, a balcony or the terrace. However, when choosing tiles, bear in mind that usually, hand painted tiles use natural or organic colours that can fade when exposed to the sun and rain. Instead, you can pick regular tiles with a traditional print to create the same effect.

Brass artefacts for South Indian home décor

Besides lamps and statues, a variety of brass articles can be used to add a traditional South Indian theme to your home. Perhaps the most popular among these is an urli, which is a flat brass pot. You can place it at the entrance of your house, fill it with water and float candles or flowers in it to welcome guests. Similarly, old brass pots or vessels can double up as holders for your indoor plants. Brass boxes can be used to store medicines, and you can place them on the sideboard in your dining room for easy access.

A pooja unit

In any South Indian home, the pooja space has a beautiful collection of idols and images that are representative of traditional décor. Therefore, instead of hiding them away, how about placing them in full view of the living room so that your guests can admire them? You can either reserve a wall against which the pooja shelves can be fixed or get an intricately carved wooden mandir unit within which the idols can be arranged.

Find tips on how to design a pooja space.

What are some unique South Indian interior design ideas that I can use?

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If you have a good eye and a creative streak, you can modify the use of traditional South Indian artefacts or décor accessories to add a unique element to your house. For example, hanging brass lamps can be used as the support chains for a floating shelf to display décor accessories. Similarly, an urli can serve as the base of a coffee table with a glass top. The options are as limitless as your imagination!

It’s all about thinking out of the box, so if you can’t dream up new ways to add traditional South Indian home décor to your modern home, we recommend that you consult a professional interior designer to help you.

What to keep in mind when blending traditional and modern décor

There could be several reasons why one chooses to mix the old with the new when it comes to the décor in a South Indian home. In some cases, it might be the need to display an heirloom piece of furniture passed down the generations or even to display a love for antiques. You should consider whether it brings homogeneity to the décor or sticks out like a sore thumb. The trick lies in not using more than one piece, especially if it is a large one. Also, it helps to ensure that the wood in the antique piece matches that of other wood accents such as cabinets, wardrobes or entertainment units. In this home, the swing seat matches not only the built-in entertainment unit but also the rusticity of the brick finish on the wall.

Which of these ideas is your favourite? Leave a comment.

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