It’s 11 am and Sonali Khullar is still on the balcony of her 17th-floor flat in Gurugram. “Every chance I get, I’m out here,” she says. “My husband Vikas and I have always been house-proud people and we’ve always wanted a nice balcony. The pandemic just made it very urgent to have a really good one.”

In winter, it’s a place to take in the sun. In festive season, a space to decorate. A safe place to socially distance with your one or two “safe” visitors. As the closest thing to the outdoors in the pandemic, the balcony’s been getting the makeover it deserves.

Khullar, 51, a former teacher at a hotel management institute, calls her balcony “the room that breathes”. Here, each family member can claim a corner and be by themselves while surrounded by family.

There’s a high table for the Khullars’ morning and evening beverages; a space where the children (Ehsaas, 26, and Tejal, 24) can set up their laptops. “Earlier we would mainly meet in the dining room. Now when we call the kids out into the balcony they come out of their rooms without a fuss. They may not stay as long as we do, but going to the balcony is looked upon as almost an outing,” she says.

This is after the Khullars redecorated their balcony in September. The nearly 100-sq-ft space is now divided into different seating sections, high stools at the bar table, couches and a swing. On the ground, there is artificial turf and wood-finish tiles.

Mahima Chawla Pinto, the interior decorator behind this redesign, says there has been a surge of about 50% in inquiries and commissions for balcony makeovers over the past year, amid the pandemic.

Around the world, it’s where neighbours have gathered to sing, play music together, even participate in flash mobs. It’s where couples have sought refuge, celebrating anniversaries on candle-lit tables that take them away from the house without the need to leave.

“Bold statements can often be made by a single element — a railing painted midnight blue, a painted fence, a bird pond,” says interior designer Meeta Sarin. In India, requests typically include outdoor furniture, fake lawns, picnic chairs, loungers, patio tables and nature-inspired wall accents. “Inspired by their travels, some will say they want a Moroccan setting or a rustic Greek wall with an unfinished look.”

Makeovers need not involve experts or big budgets, however. Ishita Sudhyashvi, 38, a Delhi-based entrepreneur, bought a brush and some cans of paint and give her two balconies a new look herself. One of them she painted a deep blue. On the other, she did a block print. “Due to the pandemic, we are forced to spend so much time indoors. How long can you look at the same walls?” she says. Her balcony makeover cost Rs 5,000 in all.

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