Devika Martins: Restoring Goa homes, saving history and culture

Devika Martins studied in Florence, Italy. With a Masters in Interior Design, she took courses in Restoration, Mortar(lime plaster) and furniture restoration. She worked In Italy and Dubai for around two and a half years, then decided it was time to come back to Goa and start her own company in 2016.

What does a day in the life of Devika Martins look like?

I wake up the usual 7-7:30am and head to the gym. After that I am on site and start my daily visits. Making sure everyone on site has a task to complete for that day. I buy required materials, sometimes waking up at 5am to meet the sand truck on site. I try and keep client meetings twice a week. I work all through, with no weekends off. And I try to take a holiday once a year where I try not to work, but that is hard to do at this stage in my business. Also, we've just started a Podcast, where I meet and talk to various people who have settled in Goa or people that are doing interesting work in Goa, and this keeps me very occupied.

You have been stirring a conversation around lime plaster, can you tell us more? I try hard to inform people when restoring a property, how best it can be done. And most times cement can't be used on the structure, for a simple reason that cement doesn't marry lime plaster (if the structure is lime plaster of course) and will crack sooner or later. Also, lime is a lost art that is getting ignored in a state like Goa. I'm trying to create some awareness to save parts of our Goan Architectural Heritage.

Where do you start when it comes to restoration? We follow a step by step plan for the perfect attack and this is what we do: 1. Assessment of current condition 2. How can we stop further decay in terms of dampness, termites, rotten wood roofs etc. 3. How best we can keep the structure without demolishing, 4. How can we treat and repair the damp walls and terracotta flooring and use heritage tiles. 5. What is the best option of plaster to be used.

If people had to take better care of their homes and buildings, what would you recommend? Maintenance needs to be done twice a year- once in May before the monsoon and once again in October! If the roof is terracotta tiles and wooden rafters, mud settles and weeds begin to grow, you'll have water seeping in, thereby rotting your wooden rafters. Make sure the house is whitewashed BEFORE the monsoon, this helps protect the plaster from the harsh rains. Also, get a termite treatment done every 6-12 months.

If buying a new property in Goa, what should people be aware of? Making sure the papers have clear titles before buying a heritage house in Goa. Most of these houses used to have pig toilets, so if a septic tank has been dug, get a professional to check if it's big enough for the people living and using the house, or it'll overflow causing severe damage to the water table. Also, if the house comes with a well, thats a huge plus!

When you restore a property, how long do you estimate it would last? The way we restore it, about 30-40 years if  maintained properly. Tell us about your most interesting or favourite site that you have worked on? I don't have a favourite site, but I have great clients who let me take control and experiment and this makes it very interesting and fun to jump out of bed every morning! Still waiting for the day when I can keep those massive trees growing into walls.

Restoration is very important in today's day and age where we are tearing down old buildings filled with history to build new structures. Why don't more people opt for restoring before they begin to build something new? In Goa we have litigation issues, so this makes it hard to restore the property. Because all the siblings who have inherited the house have to be on the same page: either sell the house for a huge sum of cash or restore it and put it up on Airbnb. One thing about this is how so many Indians- Mumbaikars and Delhites have bought these heritage houses and restored them so beautifully, they've really saved our heritage I'd say. Its a positive change for Goa!