At first sight, the house is a modest-sized one. From the road, a short flight of steps with a wooden hand rail leads to a front veranda where two sturdy wooden poles support a tiled roof.
Throw open the wooden door, and inside, a cosy bedroom awaits you. In case you are wondering what is special about this house, this one-bedroom home is arguably one of the finest examples of sustainability.
Constructed on a lush 4-acre plot of land in Thuvayur in Adoor, Kerala, the house has already become a must-visit site for those in the area and even from afar.
Built completely of mud and wood, it is attracting the attention of architects and designers who are in discussions with the house’s owner on plans to create a model that can be replicated elsewhere.
‘I had always wanted to do something that is different,’ says Jacob Thankachan, the owner of this model house and a long time resident of Dubai. ‘So when I came to own this plot of land, I decided to construct a house that would not only be different but also a haven of calmness; an oasis of peace and of health.’
That last term, health, is quite literally what the house also offers its residents. Included in the plastering mix that went into the making of the house are 65 different herbs and medicinal plants that not only help lend a soothing fragrance 24/7 all through the house but also offer protective health properties to its residents, says the IT engineer by profession who has a deep interest in outdoor activities including long distance running.
Jacob believes such houses can be easily replicated in the Gulf region. ‘For the last 15 years I have been working on plans to build something like this house. This kind of a house is perfect for families who are looking for a place that is cool, rejuvenating, calming and, of course, sustainable.’
Excerpts from an interview with Jacob:
When did you start work on this house?
I started construction in 2019. I had been doing a lot of research on constructing such houses. During a trip to Switzerland some time ago, I came across similar structures which encouraged me to build a sustainable home in Kerala, my home state. Over the course of some years, I created a kind of blueprint for this house which I built and have named Mrunmayam, which in Malayalam means close to mud.
Who inspired you to build such a house?
I suppose it is a realisation of my childhood dream… of going back to nature.
My grandparents did play a role. They were nature-loving people and, looking back, I think they truly knew the meaning of sustainable practices. They were simple folk who lived off the land. But the impetus for going ahead with this plan began seriously after my visit to Switzerland. I learnt a lot of lessons from there on how to live a less stressful life, how nature has a huge role to play in alleviating stress, how it can be a calming influence, how living in close proximity with nature is good not just for the body but also the mind.
How did you go about constructing this home?
Initially, I met with some members of society who make strong and sturdy clay pots and utensils and sought advice from them on the use of the right kind of clay for the house. One of them suggested using crushed bamboo pieces into the mixture. We followed basic construction methods and kept trying and testing with different kinds of clay until we hit upon the right mix.
I also used crushed herbs and medicinal plants in the mud mixture that is used in the plastering of the house. If given an opportunity, I can handle a similar project here in the UAE too.
But why a mud house?
I think using mud is as close to nature as one can imagine. I have stayed in mud houses in some resorts in Kerala and they have been novel experiences. I remember, seeing such homes while growing up in Kerala. They might have been modest structures but they surely had a novel ambience. Also, I remember those houses were always cool no matter how sweltering the summer was.
What were your expectations when you began construction of this house?
My initial plan was to construct a kind of out-house with a windmill so it could generate power sustainably. I also wanted the structure to be in sync with the land which is natural, green, verdant and bountiful. However, I could not get moving on it earlier because I got busy with various job responsibilities. However, when the pandemic came along, I guess there was more time as I was not as busy so could devote myself to this pet project.
What kind of effort did you put into making it?
Apart from some online research, I also met with a few tribal people in India and learnt a bit on how they construct mud houses. My passion for running also helped me, I should say. Once while participating in the Jaisalmer-Longewala race, which is over a distance of 161 kms and involves several stretches of desert, I would often think about how people in those areas survived the harsh summers. While embracing the loneliness of the desert and nature I also realised it was particularly calming; there was a sense of bliss. I wanted to recreate those similar emotions while in a house in Kerala, thus Mrunmayam came into being.
My mother-in-law Lilly George who was an employee with Dubai Municipality for more than four decades oversaw the construction while I was in Dubai. Sadly she is no more. My father-in-law who is now back in Kerala after spending more than four decades in the UAE, enjoys resting in this house. He lives close by and almost every afternoon makes it a point to come and have his afternoon snooze in Mrunmayam. He finds it rejuvenating and refreshing.
What were the challenges when constructing the house and how much did it cost?
Covid was the main challenge. Arranging the raw materials from far places, getting resources on time, were some of the major problems.
I spent close to Indian rupees 600,000 (around Dh28,000) on this house.
Besides being made of mud, what sets this house apart?
The fact that more than 65 different herbs and medicinal plants have been crushed and included in the mix that went into the making of the bricks and plastering of the house. The house is also unique in that it is away from the city and pretty much in the lap of nature. There are a lot of peacocks and other birds in an around the area. The surroundings are also rich in fruit trees.
What according to you are the best benefits of such a house?
One of the things I have felt here (and which several people who have spent time in the house would vouch for) is that it has a calming effect. One feels stress ebbing away and there is a feeling of being close to nature. Several film personalities have visited the place and, liking the concept, are considering building a similar home close to their residences.
My aim is to spread awareness about such structures and help in replicating it in other areas particularly in the Middle East.
Some research needs to be done on how locally available materials can be used to build such houses that are suitable for the climate here.
I have visited many similar homes in Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and in parts of Muscat. I am sure this concept would be well accepted by people once they realise the benefits of living in the lap of nature.