Overcoming the cliche of a celebrity home, where bling and glamour dominate, architect Alan Abraham of Abraham John Architects puts together an unadorned, serene abode in Mumbai for actor John Abraham. Sketched in a contemporary vein, this sprawling penthouse provides a perfect connect to nature with stunning views of the Arabian sea and beautiful landscaping both on the "inside and outside". This project has won the National Runner-Up at the IIID Anchor Awards and was also nominated for the World Interiors News Awards in 2013.
Elegant, calm, unpretentious. Yes, these are a few terms I can use to describe both the apartment and the man behind it. Architect Alan Abraham has managed to infuse his warm personality into this luxurious duplex penthouse that he has fashioned for his brother, actor John Abraham. In the heart of a crowded city, who would imagine there lies a cosy haven, enveloped in green cover, where one can hear the soothing sound of the waves closing in, invoking a feel of being right in nature's lap.
Two separate apartments on the top floors (seventh and eighth) of a building were combined and completely remodelled into a sophisticated 4,000 sq ft "villa in the sky". The penthouse has been designed with an open plan concept to eliminate the distinction between the indoor and outdoor spaces.
The open floor plan makes the living, dining and kitchen areas on the lower level, feel like one big lounge, connecting views of the Arabian Sea on the west to the trees on the opposite side. The open kitchen with a brushed stainless steel island platform is accompanied by an enclosed kitchen, specially designed to limit the aromas of traditional Indian cooking from permeating the whole house. Alan has demarcated the kitchen with glass to maintain the feeling of a seamless space. A unique dining table and seating, sculpted out of a single tree trunk, immediately grabs attention in this space, which is ideal for parties and get togethers.
The master bedroom suite - which Alan terms as his favourite spot in the penthouse, is an expansive space which includes a private terrace looking onto the ocean, a functional walk-in wardrobe and a lavish open plan spa bathroom. What's unique here is - there are no walls anywhere. To demarcate individual spaces, glass partitions have been used to ensure they don't miss out on the stunning views of the sea. Each element of this suite blends fluently into the landscape of the exterior terrace.
"While being indoors, you feel you are part of the landscape outside," says interior designer Anca Florescu Abraham. "In every single space you are connected to nature. Even from the bathtub and the living room you can see the sea and the greenery outside. We don't like enclosed spaces. We like to bring the outside, inside, otherwise you feel claustrophobic in a confined space," explains Alan Abraham.
A cantilevered wood and steel staircase set against imposing double-storey windows, visually connects the upper and lower levels. This leads to the hi-tech glass walled media room with a large projector screen. It overlooks the ocean as well as a spacious wooden deck with a walk-on glass skylight. The lush garden terrace acts as the perfect spot to unwind and also serves as a spacious outdoor entertainment area with apt lighting and an open bar.
Green materials have been used extensively in the penthouse: eco friendly flooring of engineered wood, recycled tiles on the eighth floor terrace, sleeper wood for garden screens and pergolas, old Burma teak for the deck and natural stone and natural fabrics. For the first time in India, the "Panoramah Sliding Window Systems" has been appointed for the windows, which cuts down the solar radiation and the air-conditioning load due to its double glazing. "It's a very green project, but we do not use these eco-friendly techniques for the green ratings, but because we believe in them," says Alan.
A neutral palette inspired by tones of nature - greens, whites, greys and browns dominate the decor. "John was inclined towards a neutral base, and even we prefer earthy shades because one can keep changing the accessories. It gives longevity to a design. We believe it's the people who bring in colour to a house. In a private space, painting a wall red or blue is temporary and we don't really encourage it as people tend to get bored of them very quickly. In this particular home, the colour flashes come up with the evening light. When the sunlight comes in, you have the light and shadow effect," Alan explains.
Most of the furniture is bespoke, with the exception of a few pieces. A tasteful collection of art adorns the interiors. John is an art collector himself and a bike installation has been mounted on the terrace.
Careful attention has been paid to the automated lighting, which is designed keeping the client's requirements in mind. "If a tree is lit up, your vision goes to the tree, beyond the mere walls of the plane - thus connecting you to nature. We have also illuminated a lot of landscaping elements to achieve that effect and used different types of reflective surfaces so everything looks different at night' says Alan.
The architects had their share of challenges to deal with while the renovation was in progress. "We had to contend with low ceiling heights, odd columns, beams in awkward places and work around them to come to a good conclusion. It's essential to respect the structure and the space," says Alan. "Taking the double-story windows upto the seventh and eighth floors was a task in itself as they weighed around 800 kgs each. Plus the strong sea breeze and the use of manual labour didn't make matters easier. But all the hard work was completely worth it," smiles Anca. "On top of that you have to do everything without disturbing your neighbours, who by the way, are all high profile residents," laughs Alan.
"Our design theory is to work around nature without giving up the comforts of a modern home. To maintain a sense of openness, we do not try to fill the space with furniture, but try to keep it as minimal as possible and maintain the aesthetics. We don't really follow fashion and do anything just because it's in vogue. We try to keep our clients budgets in mind, but at the same time maintain high quality standards. Attending to each small detail is very important to us," Alan adds.
It's not so easy to be able to blend nature with luxury in a city context so effortlessly. I believe this home truly reflects the understated style that epitomise both, its resident and its designer. They have taken advantage of the location, enhanced the stunning views of the sea and blurred the boundaries between landscape and architecture, without compromising on functionality - giving the client an oasis in the middle of the urban desert!
The open kitchen with a brushed stainless steel island platform is accompanied by an enclosed kitchen, specially designed to limit the aromas of traditional Indian cooking from permeating the whole house.