On a sweltering Monday morning in October, I’m braving the roundabouts of New Delhi in a Mahindra Scorpio SUV en route to visit my friend, the designer Michael Aram, at his apartment in Lutyens’ Delhi, a neighborhood named after its British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens. Constructed between 1912 and 1930, the Lutyens Bungalow Zone, or LBZ, contains nearly 1,000 white bungalows, each resplendent with lush lawns, on its wide streets. At one time, some of India’s most powerful people, such as the prime minister and cabinet members, resided here. More recently, the bungalows have come under fire by groups who find them ghostly relics of a Colonial past and wish to see them replaced with more affordable high-rise housing. Whichever side you fall on in that argument, there is no denying the LBZ’s continuing appeal: Prices for recently sold houses have exceeded $70 million.
Apart from those gorgeous freestanding homes, there is a redbrick Anglo-Indian Colonial complex that was built by architect Walter George, a disciple of Lutyens, that boasts expansive apartments—one of which is occupied by Aram—with grand fireplaces and a leafy communal garden that is home to banana trees, monkeys, and peacocks. Aram has actually lived in three different flats in the building since he first landed in India in late 1988.
As I walk through the wooden front doors to Aram’s second-floor home, which he shares with his husband, Aret Tikiryan, and their eight-year-old twins, Anabel and Thadeus, I pass two gates composed of hand-hammered key sculptures that Aram designed and an enfilade upholstered in an exquisite traditional cloth. I then spy the strapping Armenian-American designer meticulously arranging another of his signature metal pieces on the open-air terrace—a trio of lily tables that could have been inspired by Monet. “Welcome to the Dakota of New Delhi,” he says, a reference to the iconic apartment building on Manhattan’s Central Park West. (While India is his spiritual and design home, Aram was raised in Scarsdale, New York.)
When he was starting his eponymous line, Aram says vendors would line up to show him all their copies of Western designs. “The pieces had pits and scratches and vial marks, but that’s what they thought the Western buyers wanted,” he says. Aram implored these craftsmen to show him their handmade pieces instead to highlight their talents, rather than having their work seem mass-produced. In the early 1990s, that was his career revelation, and indeed, as I look around the house, his love of Indian crafts, photography, textiles, nature, and, of course, handmade metalwork is everywhere.
At his factory in Noida, about a 45-minute drive from New Delhi, Aram now employs more than 200 craftsmen who make everything from his signature ginkgo-leaf centerpieces to a wisdom-tree sculpture (he’s even made pieces for Pope Francis). It’s where the magic happens. “We had some dedicated factories here and there,” he says. “I grew my business like my grandfather would have. We own everything we need. I own our warehouse, the retail stores in New York City and Los Angeles. I own the work at the factory.”
To unwind, Aram drives two hours south to a small village where he also owns a gorgeous haveli, a place for respite and reflection. “It’s over three centuries old,” he says during a stroll on the hilly grounds. “According to village history, the site was first inhabited 600 years ago.” The property was previously owned by descendants of the inhabitants of the old village, who now live in the village below, and who pay us a visit around sunset. Their exquisite saris are a foil to Aram’s gleaming metal sculptures displayed throughout the property.
Over masala chai, the talk turns to Alexander Calder, an artist Aram has admired his entire career. “Calder said he was going to do whatever he wanted,” Aram says. “He’s making door latches for his kitchen, toilet-paper holders for his bathroom, carpets for his living room, beds. I just want to make things. I just want to keep having fun, you know?”
This story originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Siweb.