How A Heritage Calcutta Home Has Been Restored As A Cafe & A Thriving Culture Space

The Red Bari represents a model that could potentially save many old Kolkata homes from the wrecking ball.
The Red Bari represents a model that could potentially save many old Kolkata homes from the wrecking ball.Avantika Jalan

As urban modernity marches on, it leaves behind a lot of destruction in its wake. Under the guise of ‘development’, there is a lot of erasure of history. I’ve always felt that many modern architectural forms, in the pursuit of ‘being purposeful’, lack imagination. So, when I’m arguing for the preservation of those heritage buildings and structures in cities that have stood the trials and tribulations of time, it is both about the preservation of tangible cultural heritage as well as an aesthetic choice, which acts as a window into our glorious past.

The Red Bari represents a model that could potentially save many old Kolkata homes from the wrecking ball.
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At 18 Sadananda Road, Kolkata, just a stone's throw away from the iconic Kalighat temple, exists is a ninety-year-old house that has stood the test of time. Its owners, who cherish the house's history, had long been searching for a buyer who would preserve its charm rather than demolish it. Finally, their prayers were answered.

Avantika Jalan, a visionary with a passion for organic farming and community development, stepped forward to save this majestic house from destruction. She planned to transform it into a space that would serve both commercial and private purposes, while also conserving its heritage. She replaced the idea of demolition with restoration. Her vision involved building upon a legacy, instead of creating something from the ruins of heritage. Enter 'The Red Bari'.

Avantika Jalan and her husband, John Grams
Avantika Jalan and her husband, John GramsAvantika Jalan

The Red Bari boasts a striking red façade adorned with green lattice windows made of teakwood much like several colonial-era buildings you will find in Kolkata. Avantika envisioned the ground floor as a cozy coffee shop, where locals and visitors alike can gather and savor the flavors of Kolkata The two floors above will be transformed into a vibrant co-working space, hosting workshops, exhibitions and fostering a sense of community. The top floor will be a private residential place, that can be rented as an Airbnb accommodation. During this year’s Durga Puja, her vision for the cafe finally came to life.

The exterior of the Red Bari
The exterior of the Red BariAvantika Jalan

As Avantika breathed new life into The Red Bari, she was determined to preserve its authenticity. Consulting with an architect, she carefully planned renovations that would enhance the house's charm without compromising its structural integrity. The semi-circular balconies on the first and second floors, reminiscent of pitchers, would remain intact, offering a glimpse into the past. The long verandahs, once a witness to countless conversations and laughter, would be lovingly restored.

Jyotirmoy Banerjee, one of the third-generation owners, seeing The Red Bari find a new purpose brought mixed emotions, which he revealed in an interview with the Telegraph India. Selling the house meant parting with a piece of himself, but he was relieved knowing that it would not be demolished in his lifetime. The house had served as a home for generations, and now it would continue to be a part of Kolkata's story, albeit in a different way.

The Red Bari represents a model that could potentially save many old Kolkata homes from the wrecking ball. Finding utility for these spaces, which often proved challenging, was the key to their survival. Avantika's vision and determination set an example for others, showing that economic viability and heritage conservation could go hand in hand.

The Red Bari team
The Red Bari teamAvantika Jalan
The Red Bari represents a model that could potentially save many old Kolkata homes from the wrecking ball.
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In a candid interview with Homegrown, Avantika gave us some more details about the Red Bari.

Will you tell us about the architecture of the heritage building and how it differs after the renovations?

The overall architecture of the original building hasn't been changed at all. Interestingly, there are no columns in the house and the walls are very thick, reminiscent of many 1920s Calcutta buildings. We've kept everything intact. We had a few arches that needed structural support and we have restored those.

Congratulations on the inauguration of the Red Bari coffee shop during this year’s Durga Puja. What are the must-try beverages there?

The must-try beverages include Cortado, Pour Over, and Rose City Black (it's a black tea blend). We have partnered with Subko Coffee and are the first cafe in Kolkata to do so. The tea is high-quality Assamese tea from the Choto Tingrai Tea Estate. The baked goods are from our tie-ups with A Dessert Affair and we employ local bakers. Soon, we will add in-house sandwiches and salads to our menu.

The Red Bari represents a model that could potentially save many old Kolkata homes from the wrecking ball.
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How do you envision The Red Bari at the intersection of community development and as a commercial space in the days to come?

The Red Bari is envisioned to be a space for building a community. The way I think about it, each floor and each space of the building lends itself to different communities. The event space will cater to artists and musicians who can also perform within the cafe space. We will soon be taking in booking inquiries. The co-working space is for the young working professional communities and the Airbnb on the top floor will be rented to anyone who requires accommodation.

In this day and age of real-estate demolition in the name of ‘development’, how important is the art of restoration?

That is a very pertinent question. In an ever-changing cityscape, restoration is key to keeping the ethos of the city of Kolkata intact. One can see this happening in many places in Europe, America and also other parts of the world. Also, it is a more sustainable choice as many materials are conserved in the process compared to demolition and re-building.

Find out more about the Red Bari here.

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