Remembering Wendell Rodricks: Taking a walk down memory lane to Casa Dona Maria

The designer’s sentiments about his home are generous. “Whoever gets or buys this home (I will not live forever, you know) will inherit a precious jewel. Not because a designer lived in it, but because of its ongoing Goan tradition,” he reflected. “I feel it is loaned to me to carry our Goan culture forward.” Hopefully, whoever inherits this jewel will treasure it in the same way.

That was how I had ended my article for a now-defunct design magazine many moons ago, when I wrote about Casa Dona Maria – home to Wendell Rodricks and his partner Jerome Marrel until a couple of years ago. In the light of the iconic fashion designer’s sudden demise earlier this month, his words come rushing back.

Remembering Wendell Rodricks: Taking a walk down memory lane to Casa Dona Maria

In his honour, I would like to dwell on the memories it houses of a life well lived… for the perceptive designer’s foresight led him to bequeath it to his dream project: an international-standard museum of costume design in Goa.

The story of how the house came to him in a dream has been told and retold by others, but Wendell’s recounting of that fantastical tale is seared in my memory, just as the precious moments we have spent there.

Along with the ancestral house of Mrs Olinda Braganza, who sold it to him seven years after he told her about his dream, Wendell inherited a slice of history.

Remembering Wendell Rodricks: Taking a walk down memory lane to Casa Dona Maria

“It was the first walled house in the village,” he disclosed. “Because it is built according to Vaastu and the old Hindu part is now a metre below ground level, I would estimate that the old part is older than the church (over 400 years old); but the upper storey must be 200 years old, as it is built in Portuguese style.”

Averse to tampering with its traditional features, the heritage enthusiast only added modern amenities like bathrooms and broke open a few windows to create doors leading to verandahs. “I was my own architect,” he recalled, “though Dean D’Cruz helped me to put in a bathroom. For the rest,

I used my design sensibility.” Except for one bedroom, all nine rooms opened on to verandahs. The backyard housed a lap pool “full of children and families on Sunday.”

Wendell loved art… and it showed in his collection of paintings. Besides art, his home housed Jerome’s hat collection, his own nutcracker collection, family portraits, a wall of photographs by Farrokh Chothia, and sculptures.

While most of Wendell’s collection could be admired in the living-room that overlooked his well-tended garden, the dining-room below held the piece the resistance – an imposing 200-year-old altar that was part of the old Mandrem church which was demolished to make way for a new one.

“Daniel Ferrao had it lurking in his antique shop, the Attic,” revealed Wendell. “I saw a piece of the gold work… and when he got all the pieces out, I realised that it would be perfect for the dining-room wall. It’s a nine-metre-tall wall – and, no matter what I tried, from canvases to objects, nothing could effectively fill that vast space… but the altar fitted in beautifully.”

Since Wendell wanted to retain the flavour of the old home, there was no talk of marble or gold taps in the kitchen. “There was an old firewood platform,” recalled the designer. “I wish I had retained part of it. The only lavish thing here is the food, as Jerome is a wonderful chef and does a great barbecue,” added a visibly-proud Wendell.

“During the festive season, we use only material that does not turn into bad garbage – so our Christmas tree has paper cut-out snowflakes. No plastic. No foil.

We do our own composting.” Even the paint used for the façade (every year) is made from shells which are baked in a kiln and then mixed with water to create the paint mixture.

With its beautiful garden, pool and verandahs, this mansion was designed for entertaining… and Wendell generously shared it with friends and family. “Our friends love it because it’s a home… not just a house. Very few of them are from fashion. I mix with real people, and every guest is special,” he insisted.

But he has graciously played host to celebrities like actress Rekha and author Ruskin Bond. “They said flattering things about our home,” he admitted. That’s scarcely surprising, when you hear that Jerome lit the entire garden and house with candles… creating a magical experience that will remain etched in their memory. Just as the moments we spent in what is being transformed into a museum of memories, will remain etched in ours.

The Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre, to which Wendell donated his dream house, is now slated to open in late May… and his guiding spirit will be present in each of the 15 galleries.

(Maria Louis, founder editor of Architect and Interiors India & Society Interiors, specialises in writing on design and architecture)

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