“The luxury today is ‘to be able to achieve a true reflection of your inner self through your abode.”

Speak about luxury, and the first trail of words that comes to mind is expensive, excess, opulence, and status. In the mid-90s, when rapid market growth and diversification facilitated the mainstream middle class with access to luxury products, its development was predominantly based on these keywords. 

Materials and aesthetics that were financially, geographically, and culturally inaccessible earlier now had a place in the mainstream lifestyle, which called for a complete redefinition of the general codes and standards of luxury.  

Since then, the growing technology, accessibility, and exposure are continually re-evaluating the definition of luxury. Every year the brands and producers are obligated to re-evaluate the market, to maintain the luxury of luxury’. This has led to a shift from it being less about the product and more about the experience, story, and character that it entails.

Luxe digital’s predictions for 2020 rightly establishes this point. They published, “Luxury will be distilled to its very essence—raw, sensible, deeply rooted in craftsmanship and fueled by innovation. To stay relevant, luxury brands will indeed need to create deeper and more meaningful engagement with their modern affluent consumers, deliver a new range of personalised experiences and innovate both their business models and value propositions to fit modern digital-infused lifestyles. In short: empower individual identities and expressions.”  

Luxury has always been about materials. Chinese porcelain, glamorous Italian marbles, eminent paintings, grace homes and drawing rooms. It is about having diversity within a space. 

But now, it’s not just about that. It’s more about the metaphor, character, and symbolism. They say, “History repeats itself”. Luxury in architecture is also again shifting towards symbolism and metaphor like our heritage structures. Every inch of those expressed not just grandeur but skill, craftsmanship, lifestyle, stories, and most importantly, character. Architecture in history spoke about status, beliefs, and paramparas. Likewise, today it again reflects values, consideration, and knowledge. The luxury today, then, is to be able to achieve a true reflection of yourself through your abode.’ 

Luxury has long been about materials; now it’s time to search for noble sustainable ideas and intangible and abstract necessities through our material possessions. 

For a long time, natural materials were considered a low-cost alternative to building and wrongly labelled as the poor’s architecture. But the architecture and design world is not aloof from the shift in the definition of luxury. This has been through the acceptance of natural materials in high-end projects. The natural and vernacular materials as we call it adds a character to space, and gives a reason to the client to boast about the environmentally considerate and high skilled work. Since the skilled masons needed for the type of construction are few, it sure can be considered a luxury. Having a home efficiently built with natural sustainable material is a big deal, as our societal setup has almost kept us devoid of knowing it.  

Architects like Didi Contractor, Anupama Kundoo, Revathi Kamath, Nari Gandhi, etc. have successfully re-defined luxury by introducing natural and sustainable materials into the lifestyles of the rich and opulent. They have created projects of all scale and status, using the noble harmless materials, and leaving clients satisfied, with the luxury of calmness and artistic execution of their homes and resorts. 

This article shall take you through two examples of luxury redefined, which shall leave you to wonder, if all those elite bungalows, with numerous things to show off, is the real luxury?

Can luxury be redefined using materials? Sheet1
Weekend Home in Alibaug by Nari Gandhi_Architectural Digest India
Can luxury be redefined using materials? Sheet2
Weekend Home in Alibaug by Nari Gandhi_Architectural Digest India
Can luxury be redefined using materials? Sheet3
Wall House at Auroville by Anupama Kundoo_urbanNext
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Wall House at Auroville by Anupama Kundoo_urbanNext

These are very few from numerous fascinating projects trying to capture nature and blend in, inspiring the world to do the same. 

Today, clients are tired of glamorous, bright houses. They crave for something raw, something homely, close to roots. Anything different, new, or unseen gets perceived as a luxury. 

Another category of unseen, different material in the market is a non-recyclable waste. Designers like Anu Tondon with her firm “The “Retirement plan, Mumbai, Artists like Deval Verma, and many other fellow designers are producing luxury murals and furniture attracting numerous customers and penetrating the luxury industry with an enlightening pace. 

Can upcycled product artwork become a part of luxury? 

The following examples prove, it already has begun its era! 

Can luxury be redefined using materials? Sheet5
Installations and murals by Deval Verma, Indore_www.thebetterindia.com
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Installations and murals by Deval Verma, Indore_www.thebetterindia.com
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Upcycled furniture by Anu Tondon Viera (NID) , The Retyrement plan_www.designpataki.com 
Can luxury be redefined using materials? Sheet8
Upcycled furniture by Anu Tondon Viera (NID) , The Retyrement plan_www.designpataki.com 

Even though the creative minds are openly accepting this new definition of luxury, to infiltrate it into the lifestyles of laymen, remains a challenge. For them, this new luxury is limited to vacations. Featuring sustainable designs in powerful, and influential platforms, magazines, and awards have sure given a boost to this shift in the luxury paradigm among the fraternity. 

Many Organizations like Not On Maps are doing a remarkable job to facilitate the transition. They are trying to offer luxury in local, traditional homestays. When Lage 5-star hotels offer hi-fi rooms for stays on vacation, this organization helps the traveller to avail the luxury of local culture, and intangible experiences. 

Mud and stone and lime, were used to create bhungas, and jhuggi jhopri, but the same mud, stone, and lime were used to create the thick strong walls of the temple and the forts, and today, same is being used to construct 5-star resorts, and luxury holiday residences, for people who want to be close to the calm that earth offers. 

This is a rather ironic statement because we surely don’t want these incredible materials to move from being material for the poor to material for the rich. Instead, we want to ensure that the same materials can work both ways. While it shall be easily accessible to the poor, it can be highly designed, and tamed, to become the luxury of calm, peace, and sustainability to the beholders of luxury. 

After all, luxury is no longer dependent on availability in this small world, it is dependent on skill, and uniqueness. 


Mubaraka Surury Saifee is a passionate architect and writer with a keen ability to appreciate the humble gestures of architecture. She believes that there always exists more than single way of looking at things. She sees architecture and writing combined as a medium to reach people and produce some food for thought, to bring positive changes in the society.