The Nattukottai Chettiar traders followed the expansion of the British Empire into Southeast Asia for their business. They brought back Burmese teak and European tiles for their mansions, as well as the inspiration from colonial and palace architecture. They also incorporated the wealth of wood sculpting and craftsmanship from local craftsmen in their homes.
Most of the Chettinad mansions are treasure troves of architectural details that mirror the passion for art and craft of this mercantile community that had the reputation of establishing and running their business ventures from various corners of South East Asia .
The most important aspect of Chettinad architecture is an indigenous amalgam of traditional Indian architecture and various European styles evolved over years. The source of inspiration is derived out of the ‘Nagarathars’ connection with trade, travel, temples, tradition and taste.
The basic floor plan of a Chettinad house consists of an outside verandah (thinnai) for guests, with a room for conducting business on one or both ends; an interior courtyard to be used in ceremonies, with a raised seating area at one or both ends; a series of small
double rooms opening off the main courtyard, for storage, prayer and sleeping and a small courtyard behind for cooking and for the women to socialize.
The Chettinad houses were usually tile-roofed with a small two-storeyed tower at both ends of the front elevation. They later expanded vertically into two-storeyed structures, and horizontally through the addition of numerous halls and courtyards that could accommodate guests at marriages and other ceremonies.
Chettinad architechture stands out for its use of large spaces in halls and courtyards, ornate embellishments like Belgian glasswork, intricate woodwork, spectacular ceramic tiles, stone, iron and wooden pillars like nothing else that can be seen in this part of the world.