Monday, May 09, 2011

Where form and function meet

Architect Joseph’s John’s house in Kochi has a forbidding exterior, but a warm interior

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Architect Joseph John and his wife in their garden

The first sight of architect Joseph John’s house at Kochi is intimidating. The courtyard is filled with black, chipped, gravel stones. Apart from a door, all you see is a large blank wall with no windows at all.

“I realised that there is no point in looking at the main road, because there is nothing there,” he says. “So I decided the back of the house should be my front. It is something like a desert. There is no vegetation. It is an unfriendly exterior. But when you come inside, things are different.”

Yes, indeed, the moment the wooden door is opened, you are immediately confronted by a green plant growing in a brass vase. On the right there is a five-foot high fingerpalm tree and an abstract painting, next to it, on the wall, in thick red, white, blue and yellow streaks, drawn by John himself.

The living room is spacious, with wooden sofas and chairs, while the floor is made of polished wood. On a side table there is a striking statue of an African Masai couple wearing red tunics and colourful bead necklaces, the man holding a thin, long spear. At one end of the room, there is a foot-high pool, with several frogs, made of porcelain placed in the water, as well as on the side.

“The aim is to keep the room cool,” says John. “And the frogs give the impression that it is an actual pool.”

John has a collection of frogs from all over the world. He has stored them in a bookcase. One is lying on its back, its four legs spread out, as if he is sleeping off a hangover. Another is massaging another frog, presumably a female. “I cannot explain my fascination for frogs,” he says, with a laugh.

From the living room, it leads off to a semi-circular verandah.

At one corner there is a reclining chair, made of black rexine leather, with a low foot stool. “This is where I read my morning newspaper with a cup of tea,” he says, and points with his hand. “Look at the scene.”

The scene: a small pond filled with water plants and Oscar fishes. Beyond that is a large grassy patch, filled with several coconut and frangipani trees. “Can you believe that this is a house in Kochi?” he says. “I have recreated a village scene in my backyard.”

Interestingly, John has painted the exterior of the 3000 sq. ft. house in a muted tone. “It is the colour of dried leaf or cowdung,” he says. “I was looking for a natural colour, which is soothing to the eye. I also wanted to give the impression that I am living in nature.”

Upstairs, he has made small bedrooms for his son, Shreyes, 17, and daughter Diya, 13. Both have only a cot and a study table. And he has an unusual explanation. “When my children grow up they will leave and go away,” he says. “So there is no need for large rooms.”

He gives an intriguing reason as to why the master bedroom is also small. “It is a space where you go to sleep, which means you are dead to the world,” says John. “But my clients have said, ‘We spend one-third of our life in the bedroom.’ But I tell them, ‘You are mostly sleeping, so you don’t need a big area.’”

Interesting perceptions by a gifted architect has resulted in an atypical, but alluring home.

(The New Indian Express, Chennai and Delhi)

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