SPACES / HOME
‘Not all who wander are lost’ reads Annah Chakola’s business card. It’s apt. This high rise apartment overlooking the Thevara canal in Kochi’s mainland Ernakulam, filled with souvenirs from around the world bears evidence: this is one traveller who knows exactly where she’s going.
After spend a decade and a half overseas, the stylist and designer returned to Kerala to make a home. When we visit, she puts on Billie Holiday (recommended listening while scrolling), invites us to stay for lunch and tells us what we already know - “I fear no colour, nor mixing patterns or styles.” The result is her own brand of bohemian.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I was born and raised in Kochi, Kerala, the backwaters were my playground. My brother and I went to a small boarding school in Ooty called Hebron. I moved to the US in 1996 for college and lived and worked in the arts. In 2012, I launched my accessories label Boho Gypsy. Now I find myself back in India, setting up base here and going back to the US as needed, work wise.
What is your role at Boho Gypsy?
Boho Gypsy is my small accessories and home label that blends traditional craftsmanship with contemporary bohemian design. I work with various artisans around India. I recently launched a small apparel section where I work with handloom weavers in West Bengal. I initially started working with just natural stones and materials to make jewellery, now I find myself gearing towards fabrics and lifestyle goods more, it’s the field my family has been in for over 150 years and I'm slowly moving in that direction with my own aesthetic. The people I work with are just as important as the work. I choose to work mainly with fairtrade collectives or small businesses I meet while exploring the markets. I have plans to work more in Kerala this year with some of the natural materials our state has to offer, so watch this space.
How would you describe your decorating style?
It’s like an urban jungle. I love plants, so a lot of green all round, mixed with vintage finds and an urban gypsy/boho mash up. I love the challenge of mixing different objects, colours, textures with each other to create harmony. I have a dear friend who once called my decorating style "a beautiful accident". I take that as a huge compliment.
You’ve recently started taking on styling projects as well. Do your clients ask for the same aesthetic as your home?:
I designed a popular restaurant in Kochi called the Drawing Room. It was my first big project from the ground up. I knew and believed in the space even more than the owners once I knew what I wanted to do with it. I walked into the space just the other day after a long time and felt the vibes I had created still lingering. I came up with the name and the concept for the restaurant so it was much more than just styling the space. It is set inside one of the oldest properties in Kochi called Cochin Club. While working on it, I discovered an entire room of desks and chairs from years past, the name came instantly and I started the workflow from there. Those chairs and desks are now part of the dining experience. I physically laid the tiles in the pathway and every piece of wood in there was handpicked. I created an urban jungle inside and out which amped up the place instantly. My best friend Denise Duong's illustrations are on the wall.
It was a personal project and I hope to only continue to do work that resonates along that line, that’s where I know the magic happens. I love styling in a manner that is personal even if it’s not my own space. It’s the only way I know how. Anyone who has ever come to me for styling help typically leans towards the maximalist style or they would run a mile away as fast as they could. I fear contemporary clean lines, so don’t come to me if you want to keep it clean.
There’s evidence of all your travels around the house. What are your favourite travel destinations?
I recently visited Morocco with my best girl friend and I fell in love. I think it was the juxtaposition of being able to experience the old world fully aware that there was a concrete jungle outside the medina. My heart beats just a bit faster when I’m surrounded by vintage textiles and craft and Morocco was all of that and more. I came back with a few rugs, a tapestry I could not live without and a painting of a Berber woman we found in a small art school in the medina. It was painted by one of the students and left to dust on the side. I was drawn to it because the Moroccans kept calling me a Berber woman sp when I happened upon this, I had to have it. My house is filled with such finds..with meaning. Portugal was so lovely too. It had that old world charm I adore that no longer lingers in too many places. Once you start roaming the world, a lot of places start to feel the same, then travel becomes more about experiencing the people and culture. You find yourself getting back to the roots, back to nature. I did a two month road trip across the US two summers ago, that's for another day but it was filled with national parks and long hikes. It was an epic summer.
What are some of your favourite things that are in your home currently?
Everything in my home has a story but if I had to pick a few favourites -
Record collection: Collected from thrift stores, garage sales, I have every record Billie Holiday came out with. It was given to me by a woman who was having a moving sale. The records belonged to her father. We got talking and I expressed my interest in buying the collection and she ended up gifting it to me under the notion that she felt I would take care of the little things her father found so precious. So from a little town in Texas, it has found a home in Kochi.
Day of the Dead Catrinas: These are delicately handcrafted ceramic figures of skeletal men and woman dressed up. I carried these all the way from Mexico to India. I love Mexican craft .
Vintage blankets: I’m obsessed! Wool, quilting, I am a thrifting junkie. I get a high off it and these 70's colorful blankets are everything. I use them as throws all over my house. I brought them back from the US . I also adore true vintage kantha. Finding true vintage kantha is rare these days so I collect them whenever I find it for future projects.
Large painted wood cow head: This was a local find and they are sold all over Kochi but I do believe I own the most amazing one.
Old lamps from ships: My dad was a collector and I inherited some of his treasures.
What is the secret to shopping while travelling?
Don’t do souvenir shops, just don’t. Buy experiences, not mementos. With that said, some places offer more of a shopping delight than others, like Morocco was for me. Research and check out what the place is known for? Portugal does beautiful ceramic work, they are heavy to pack so I bought myself a small hand painted plate than I keep now as a memory of my trip even though I wanted an entire set to fill the walls. I also love to buy local art from weekend markets, they can easily roll up and take little space and you have yourself an original piece of art. The weekend markets are everywhere, you will always find something, and it’s so much more personal than a Chinese-made shot glass.
Recommend a book from your shelf.
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw
What are three tips for creating a home like yours:
Only bring in pieces that truly resonate with you. There is no space for anything less than that however big your home is. You are what you surround yourself with and that goes for objects and material things too.
Plants help create magic effortlessly. The more plants, the merrier the place. Indoor plants rock!
Support local art and keep it original, it doesn’t take a lot of money to buy an original piece. Stay away from posters.com, unless they are vintage and original.
Mix patterns and styles, don’t be scared. A little bit of mod with a little victorian vis-a-vis industrial hurt no one.
Sorry that was four.
How do you typically spend your time at home?
When I’m in India, I work from home. It can be super distracting because I’m just as much a homebody as I am nomadic. I love walking around and constantly moving stuff around which doesn’t help on the work front, so now I have a studio separate from my home. At home, I love having friends over. Kochi is a small city without a big nightlife so friends gather in houses and mine is one of the houses that make the rotation, we cook, there is always lots of music, we listen and play with drinks flowing.
What is your go-to-sunset drink if you’re hosting friends?
Tanqueray and tonic with lots of limes. Not everyone loves a good G&T as I do, so then a caipirinha usually does the trick. Anything with mint leaves.
What are the best things about living in Kochi?
The food, the abundance of coconut trees, the water and finally being close to my family after roaming around for 15 years.
Thanks Annah for your hospitality and time. Follow her on instagram at @gypsyannah.