Pakistan’s world famous husband and wife artists newly built home exudes simplicity and taste

Artists Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid specialize in miniatures. In contrast, their home—designed by architect Raza Ali Dada—is big on space and beauty

Providing directions to the house he and his wife and fellow artist Aisha Khalid share, Imran Qureshi says: “It’s a white house with a neem tree and a mango tree.” He is right on the money: the sleek white house is like a jewel nestled amongst the grand old trees. The imposing triple-height Burmese teak doors open into a foyer lit by two windows that reach up to the ceiling; the left has a view of the lush garden, and the right looks into the sitting room. You can’t really tell where one begins and the other ends, and the house is meant to do just that. “We didn’t want the house to feel like a showroom,” Khalid explains. “It should feel like a home.”

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AT HOME

Built by architect Raza Ali Dada—the son of the celebrated architect Nayyar Ali Dada—the five-bedroom house with a semi-detached studio was completed this year. From the way things are placed, with each object perfectly at home, it’s hard to believe that Qureshi and Khalid have been living here for just a few months. Their art, lovingly collected on their travels around the world, is scattered all over the house. Two pale-pink Murano chandeliers, bought on a quest in Venice, hang frond-like from the distressed concrete slabs of the kitchen ceiling; a narrow Syed Sadequain piece—it was Khalid’s dream to get one—reaches up alongside a window; an antique Multani-inlay box shaped like the Kaaba sits beneath an enormous four-panelled piece by Qureshi.

They planned it this way, Qureshi explains, so that the house and their art would harmonize. The fact that Dada is a friend from their National College of Arts days made it easier, because he understood what Qureshi and Khalid wanted: a minimalist space with huge windows, lots of light and a place for all their treasures.

But this is not your ordinary white house with big windows; it is the house of artists trained in the art of miniature, and the details are everything. It represents that rare symbiosis between client, architect and contractor. “Everyone was owning the project,” Qureshi laughs, recalling how he would lend his contractor books on architecture and interiors, telling him to study the photographs so he understood what Qureshi wanted.

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The floors are burnished grey marble, one huge slab leading into the other, seamlessly. Qureshi calls it the chaal—meaning ‘walk’. It is a deliberately crafted unity, a flow that leads your eye forward, taking it through the ground floor. You may stop, but only to admire the ceramic plates that flank the stairwell wall—a collection that began with two plates bought in Morocco from a trip in 2004, and now includes additions from Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands.

The stairwell itself is a perfect example of how Qureshi and Khalid’s home reflects their propensity for creative subversion. The fact that it’s their favourite part of the house speaks volumes too. The walls of the narrow staircase are terrazzo-clad; a material only ever used for flooring. “It’s probably the first house to ever have terrazzo on the walls,” Qureshi muses. Polishing it was a Herculean task in itself. The machine is incredibly heavy and had to be winched up so it could reach the top of the 28-foot-high walls, which culminate in a three-pane skylight. We crane our necks upwards, and a few birds fly past. Qureshi smiles. “You can see and hear the rain, too.”

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FROM NATURE

It’s easy to see how much Qureshi and Khalid treasure their interaction with nature. Khalid knows the name of each plant in their lush courtyard garden, which separates the house from her three-storey studio. As we walk through, she pauses to rapturously smell the blossoms on a marwa (marjoram) bush. The master-bedroom windows look out onto blooming frangipani, and a papaya tree laden with promising green fruit, while fronds of lemon grass wave from planters outside. “We wanted to bring the exterior inside,” Qureshi says, “and create a weave.” That’s why they wanted an inner courtyard, haveli-style, and the reason why all the windows in the house, wherever they are, look to a wall of green.

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Khalid is the force behind all the magnificent Burmese teak furniture in the house, including the swing in their little veranda, where she likes to sit. Each piece has a story, from how the dining table, with its single long slab of grey-white Italian marble and accompanying squat chairs, was devised by the couple; to how the takht in the living room, a nod to Qureshi’s childhood, was designed to accommodate a specific Persian carpet. The master bedroom features two built-in wardrobes with antique doors from Khalid’s ancestral home; the headboard of the bed displays a lovingly restored teak filigree from a balcony of the same house. The ceiling of the powder room is a cheeky panel of colourful Multani mirror-work, and Qureshi has plans for a video installation to amuse guests using the amenities. It’s evident that, for this couple, home is a thoughtful mix of past and present, open and private, measured and playful.

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