The Chettinad mansions / villas / houses are sumptuous, spacious, and flamboyant with intricate carved structures.
Chettinad mansions are built using bricks (known as ‘sengkal’), country made roof tiles (known as ‘naattu odu’) preferably from ‘Manamadurai’, (owing to the soil’s rich iron content), decorative floor tiles (preferably, the famed ‘Athankudi’ handmade terracotta tiles), limestone mixture (known as ‘santhu kalavai’ / ‘sunnambu kalavai’) for mortar, and stone blocks, wooden support structures, decorative doorframes and intricate carved panels. The teakwood from Burma is the choice wood for woodworks and support structures. The household items range from artistically made wooden furnitures, glasswares, ceramic wares, traditional wares, and to other exotic articles made around the world. These mansions popularly came to be known as Karai veedu (the house built with limestone mixture).
Particularly, the Santhu kalavai, which is made from the mixture of finely ground Santhu (limestone) powder – the raw material, Kadukkai (gallnut) – as accelerant, Egg’s white yolk – for smooth finish, and Karuppatti (palm jaggery) – as binder, that are mixed in prerequisite proportions with right amount of water. Sometimes Padaneer (unfermented palm tree sap) – as bonding agent, is also added. This provides a strong crack resistant bond and gives a smooth finish. Many [significant] historical constructions still stand testimony to its strength and longevity spanning many centuries.