photography by Amie Vanderford
The intricately carved columns are just a hint of the marvelous hand-crafted details to be found inside the Germantown home of Dr. Srikant and Ruta Gir.
Tucked away in the gated Nottoway subdivision near Poplar and Kirby, the home of Dr. Srikant and Ruta Gir is more than just a house. It is an ever-evolving work of art, the detailing of which is a product of extensive planning. And with the help of artisans here in Memphis and around the world, the Girs’ splendid home is first and foremost a tribute to spectacular craftsmanship.
Approaching the house, visitors note that a floral, hand-carved sandstone frame borders the front entrance, giving them a small taste of the meticulously designed and handcrafted elements that await them inside the Gir home.
Inside, one-of-a-kind, custom-made furniture sets the scene, and unique features throughout give life to their traditional-meets-contemporary look.
“I wanted to do more than just build a house,” Srikant says. “I wanted it to look like a piece of art.”
Both Girs were born in India: Ruta in Bombay, and her husband Srikant in Hyderabad, where his home-as-art inspiration was clearly formed. Srikant grew up at his grandfather’s estate, an early 1900s-era architectural wonder, which as he recalls had 30-foot ceilings, elaborate mosaic tile work, a fountain, and several European chandeliers. Adorned with pillars and packed with architectural detail, the home has forever held a special place in his heart. “That really motivated me to bring those kind of things into this house,” Srikant says.
And that he did. Custom-made in Hong Kong, the chandeliers that ornament the ceilings are replicas of those that hung in his grandfather’s home. His mother’s silken wedding sari, handmade with silver and gold thread, hangs framed on one of the walls. Traditional Indian images appear in paintings and decor throughout the home.
But the influence didn’t stop in India. “I wanted to bring a piece of home here, yes, but I also wanted to bring elements of our travels,” Srikant says. “We’ve traveled extensively to Europe and Southeast Asia for business, and we were able to incorporate art and culture from different parts of the world.”
Srikant, an engineer and co-director of the University of Memphis’ Biofuel Energy and Sustainable Technologies Center, spent more than three years conceptualizing floor plans and acquiring pieces for what would become a nearly 7,000-square-foot home filled with awe-inspiring, handcrafted items. After spending years planning, traveling, and connecting with artisans around the world to collect and create the items that would turn their home into art, the project began to take shape when they broke ground for construction of their dream home in 2008 with the help of Memphis builders Millard and Bonnie Townsend.
The inspiration for the exterior and interior design sprang from home — from India — and from the Girs’ various travels. “The top designers from all over the world gravitate toward Bali,” says Srikant, an avid reader of Architectural Digest. “Bali is a place for art.” Traveling there once a year has made it easier for the Girs to locate the appropriate artists and materials that can bring a sense of Bali style into their home.
The carved frame and pillars that mark the front entryway derive from Balinese design. The Girs continue this theme inside the house with several more hand-carved sandstone Corinthian columns — not unlike those in Srikant’s grandfather’s home — and a large carved panel of sandstone wall art, depicting a scene with cranes wading in a small water pond flecked with lotus flowers. Upon first entering the Gir home, the most eye-catching piece of art is the flowing steel stairway banister and second-floor railing, designed by renowned Memphis artist Yvonne Bobo, whose public art projects are displayed all across the city, including the Cancer Survivors Park and LeBonheur Children’s Hospital. With creeping vines dotted with “flowers” marked by gold leafing and Swarovski crystals that diffract the light at every angle into light-beam petals, Bobo’s creation took nearly eight months to complete.
The distinguishing feature of the sitting room beyond the foyer is its magnificent collection of hand-carved Louis XVI-style chairs. The Girs spent months searching for an artist to craft the chairs to their specifics and eventually found Jean Phillips, a Frenchman whose work (before he retired in Bali) included restoring original Louis XVI furniture. “It took him almost two years to hand- carve these pieces in teak wood,” Srikant says.
Though Phillips based his design on period examples, he included many original concepts and intricate details, down to the small graduated beads carved into grooves in the chairs’ legs. The elegant chairs were finished with gold leafing.
For the dining room table, the Girs desired an old European marquetry look, but after shopping around for quite some time without finding the “one,” they decided to build what they wanted. It took seven months to acquire the perfect 5-foot by 13-foot solid mahogany piece needed for the table top. Once the wood was selected, the Girs sought out skilled artists to do the marquetry work. They found them in Bandung, a city on the Indonesian island of Java; the table took nearly a year to design and construct. The finished product is a thing of beauty, featuring carved veneer organic patterns inlaid into the table’s top and sides. The final wood finishing was done here in Memphis by Furniture Medics.
Another of the many attractive artisan features of the home is an abalone shell sink in one of the bathrooms. Ruta, who designs jewelry for her own local boutique (The Gir Collection) in The Peabody, often works with abalone, and sought out a magnificent, pearlescent shell to use as the basin. The abalone was purchased in New Zealand and transported to Bali, where an artist spent two months creating this unique, light-catching sink.
The Gir home features two kitchens: a spice kitchen in which Ruta prepares her exotic, fragrant Indian cuisine, and a second for dining and entertaining. The European-style cabinetry here was also hand-carved and crafted in Bali and is coated with a light ivory marble finish. The countertops are beautiful Brazilian granite, purchased locally from Natural Stone Distributors. Local handymen Bill and John Rush installed the cabinetry, did the trim work, and put finishing touches on several other projects in the home. And the Girs have another enterprise in the works: designing what will become an eighteenth-century sitting area, like those found in traditional Indian homes, as an addition to the kitchen.
The Girs prove that with aspiration, patience pays off. “You can have ideas, but if you are not able to execute the ideas, they are just on the paper,” Srikant says. “You have to find the right artisans to do quality work, and there are a lot of people all over the world who have contributed to this project.” Now for the Girs, home is truly where the art is.