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The Great Life

The £50-million kothi

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ORIGINAL SPLENDOUR: Materials had to be sourced from Italy and France, but the Lohias' insistence on authenticity has paid off

Could the grand Georgian manor Sheridan House look better today than it did when it was first built in 1772? Yes, says industrialist Sri Prakash Lohia who bought the mansion and restored it.

The riches of the Empire had once enabled the British to erect lavish places of residence. One such was Sheridan House, an 18th century five-storey Georgian structure in the heart of London's tony Mayfair district. But like many other such mansions, it became a white elephant once the sun set on the Empire. Till four years ago, its interiors were in a state of total disrepair.
Then a Bollygarch - yes, that's what the desi oligarch is called - came to the rescue of Sheridan House. The mansion has now been marvelously restored by new billionaire on the block, Sri Prakash Lohia, and his wife, Seema, sister of steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. The restoration took four and a half years and when it ended, the Lohias officially opened the door to their manor with a grand house-warming party for a hundred guests.

Like many other Marwaris, Lohia quit Kolkata in 1972 when Marxist rule was edging industrialists out of the state. He migrated to Indonesia, where his brother-in-law followed three years later. Today, his multi-national corporation, Indorama, is the world's largest producer of polyester. Every third plastic bottle sold in the globe is sourced from materials manufactured in an Indorama plant. This year, Forbes magazine and the Rich List in Britain's Sunday Times newspaper concurred in estimating his personal wealth at around $2 billion.

Lohia's acquisition of Sheridan House was conditional upon it being returned to its original grandeur. Fortunately, a catalogue of the building survived at auctioneers Christie's. This provided detailed descriptions of its once opulent rooms. Armed with this, the Lohia-appointed team of historians, architects and specialist craftsmen set to work recreating the property's former glory.

The modern touches the mansion had acquired over the years were carefully stripped away to reveal the fundamental features of the house. Every detail - from bespoke stone work to wooden cabinets - was redone. Technology was incorporated but it was made to blend seamlessly into the majestic interiors.

The painted ceilings were immaculately refreshed and missing fireplaces re-installed in keeping with the first builders' drawings.

Giving the credit for the effort to his wife, Lohia says: "It was a very frustrating experience and (meant) lots of travelling to source the material from Italy and France. But it was well worth the wait. " He, in fact, claims that the house looks better today than it did in 1770 when it was built.

He is probably right. It is doubtful if two hundred years ago, builders possessed Lohia's resources. He is said to have spent £50 million (over Rs 435 crore) on the purchase of the building and its refurbishment.
The fact that Lohia has set up shop in London is significant. Not only will he be spending more time in the British capital, but he is also planning further expansion in the West. "We are looking for investments in Europe and the US. Our existing assets in Europe are over $1 billion already, " he says. Indorama employs 17, 000 workers worldwide;its biggest factory is in the US, which it bought from Du Pont. Its products are sold in 90 countries spread over four continents. It has also diversified into the power sector and real estate.

From stained glass windows to a magnificent swimming pool, not to mention a spa, Sheridan House has it all. It even has a conference room for the busy businessman. Mittal may still be the richest person in the United Kingdom but his fortunes have plummeted in the wake of the global economic meltdown. But Indorama's fortunes have catapulted. "We have been able to sustain and grow our businesses despite the recession, " Lohia maintains.

In January, Lohia was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in India. "We have just started a plant in Himachal Pradesh with an investment of Rs 400 crore and more investments are under consideration, " Lohia says.

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