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Spaces
July 10, 2013

Master Planner

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena and Photographs by Vishal Kullarwar

Believing in simplicity, landscapes and the interaction of the outdoors with the interiors, Alan Abraham creates spaces that are open and often, minimalistic. Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena interacts with the interior designer-architect in the home that he created for his brother, actor John Abraham

A short, but steep, driveway takes me to the building that houses John Abraham’s abode in suburban Mumbai. The elevator deposits me on the top floor – the doors open; I step out and walk into a home that overlooks Bandra’s sea face. My first impression of the squeaky clean place is one of immense space. This is in large measure due to the shell-white walls, brown wooden floor and just enough furniture to give it a comfortable functionality. If there is anything more – the music system included – it is hidden in cleverly created spaces. Huge, magnetically appealing windows let in the natural light and afford an ample view of the surrounding cityscape and the rise and fall of the waves that stretch out as far as the eye can see.

John surfaces from his bedroom (right now, the only one in his home) and plays host to the hilt. The conversation this time – as we wait for Alan Abraham, his brother, architect and interior designer, to arrive, revolves – for a change not around his films – but around his space (spread around 5000 square feet and two floors) that his sibling has created for him. John walks to the cantilevered steps and shows us how a special set of lights can colour the trees outside to create a beautiful effect.

Alan strolls in, accompanied by his wife, Anca. Both the brothers are tall; together they make an attractive picture. They instantly focus on the task at hand, as John defers all talk about the house to Alan who is also a photographer and has spent hours capturing the city’s urban landscape. He was felicitated by an architect and interiors magazine as one of iGen 50 – the new generation of innovators in architecture and interiors. In fact, Abraham John Architects (founded by the boys’ father) is a multidisciplinary architecture, interior design, landscaping and urban planning firm.

For Alan, photography and architecture are complementary and he has drawn inspiration from his dad. Alan says, “We believe in simplicity and landscape and a lot of interaction between the outdoors and the indoors, so all our projects are very open. We introduce plants both inside as well as outside. We keep things to a minimum because then the person’s character can stand out.”

Alan cannot remember the first project that he cut his teeth on, for the range of work that he and his firm engages in is vast. He points out, “We do more than houses; we do institutions and a lot of other work. We do architecture, interiors and landscapes. We are master planners. It’s always images and spaces – always rather visual.”

John and he have flopped down on the sofa set in the middle of the hall as the photographer captures the fraternal bonding, and then John moves to the table to grab some lunch. Alan observes that, “This would be one of the most challenging ones – from the technical point of view, because it involved working in an existing old building. The structure is not very strong and we had a plan where we actually reduced a lot of stuff. We were playing with low ceiling lights and had to get special glasses which were being used in India for the first time. To get them up with the sea breeze, the rains, preparing the roof – all this was very challenging. When you are undertaking a project from scratch as an architect, it is all under your control. But here, you have to deal with a variety of factors like neighbours who call the cops! Also, even though we tried to stay professional, this was a personal project – with a client, there is a certain amount of distance.”

Even though the demands of a client have to be kept in mind, it is inevitable that Alan’s creative mind colours each project. He elucidates, “It is the same as in writing and photography. The architect puts across what has to be done within the brief that is given to him. I deal with each situation individually. So, even my home is different from John’s because the spaces and environments are different. Here we opened up the spaces, cleared all the three rooms – in fact, we re-engineered the area so much that if you have seen it earlier, you would not recognise it now.”

What the two brothers do share is a love for muted hues. Looking around at the walls, he points out, “Personally I prefer it like this for other things bring colour into a room – like furniture, fabric and even people who tend to be very bright. Neutral, classic and earthy shades are the best for a home. Bright, strong colours are good but can influence one person positively and another negatively and these can be brought in with art and other accessories that can be moved.”

Thinking out-of-the-box comes easily to the Abrahams. For as Alan has done with John’s home, he says, “We transform spaces – we don’t just deal with space as it is. We don’t merely redecorate a wall. We rethink a wall, so a wall might cease to exist and become a window. Innovations in spaces happen in details. From glass panels to windows to whatever is executed here are innovations in terms of application of certain materials. By materials I don’t mean paint or texture but I mean an entire system. We have won a few awards for interior design as well as for master planning – right now we won one for the Bombay Greenway Projects.”

The Greenway Projects are one of the several that have seen Alan and his company move their thought processes from the micro to the macro level. Believing in doing a lot of charity, the firm works at multiple scales and with various organisations – from private clients to corporates and NGOs. “This allows us to experiment and diversify our work: architectural and interior projects such as luxury villas, high-end residences and unique offices, as well as hospitality and institutional projects, several charitable works including earthquake and cyclone proof buildings in Karaikkal (Tamil Nadu), Vijaywada and Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), Latur (Maharashtra) and Rajkot (Gujarat). “You have to be happy and to be happy you also have to contribute to society. So even the Bombay Greenway Project is a pro bono project, it is our effort to contribute to society rather than to just complain about the system and get frustrated every time.”

The Bombay Greenway Projects is an ambitious one. He explains, “We are thinking of a podium garden; there are many freeways in Mumbai. You combine the two and you get a greenway – and that is what you have imagined running right through and across the city so that you are creating a new space altogether. We are looking at saving around 4,000 lives that die while crossing tracks every year. In the transport solution that we are providing, the journey will be like a walk in the park.” It is an idea inspired by his global vision for the world has opened up new vistas for him. “Europe is the most exciting because it has got history. In terms of architecture, it is innovative and cutting edge. The US is a bit boring.”

And, what about Indian culture – does he find that many of our homes reflect the roots of the residents? Alan believes, “Clients are Indian but there is very little reflection of the Indian culture in contemporary homes. Ironically, Indian culture is superb in terms of its natural architecture, cross ventilation, landscapes and open spaces. You just have to look at the old wadis to realise that. But the clients are not necessarily traditional or Indian; today there is a mix as you have the influence of the Internet and you have people who have travelled across the globe.”

And that is one occupational hazard that Alan faces time and again – for his clients get him references that they want him to perhaps clone. He emphasises, “Everyone has an idea that what is good there will be good here. But they do not realise that styles are different.

So, we have to educate them and tell them what is good for them. We have to understand their lifestyle – I am an architect and I do interiors so I am giving my client a lifestyle. I am not just giving him a house or a place. But I am actually changing the way he lives, the way he moves, the way he showers, where he eats his food, where the food is cooked. John’s home is just one example of all that I believe in and work towards.”

“Alan treated me like any other client”
John Abraham on the home his brother built…

THE MINIMALISTIC aspect is key. That’s pretty much like how I am. It’s got very clean lines. I love nature a lot; so there is a lot of wood in the home, there are many plants, there is a lot of glass so you can connect to the sea and the trees. I feel claustrophobic if a house is overdone and this one absolutely signifies my taste. It’s basic and simple. And the wood pegs, table, bench – all belong to the same family.

THE CONCEPT was planned in great detail. I was completely involved from the conceptualisation stage. I’d drop in to see how the work was progressing. Alan and I treated the whole thing as a client-architect relationship. That was the only way we felt we could get the job done. He made no exceptions for me just because I’m his brother. Only thing, as my brother, he knew exactly what I wanted and the project worked as if it was on auto-pilot. Alan is very diligent, fair and honest in his work – like my father who is a very honest man. Due to all these factors, the house turned out to be 50 or 60 lakhs less than what it would actually cost. It took us a year to get it completely ready.

THE SPACE is sparse. I have always lived in this way. The home was ready about three to four years ago. Before this, I used to live on the terrace in one room which was divided into two. There was a bathroom on one side and the kitchen on the other. There was a small sofa which became my bed.

THE COLOUR is perfect. You could call it shell-white. I avoid dark things. I love my staircase – this area is cantilevered. We had special engineers come in to ensure that the structure was a good load-bearing one. That is what differentiates my brother from a lot of interior designers, because it is not about keeping a yellow pillow on a white sofa and you see he is so amazing and has done such a great job. It is important to change a house structurally. So, if you see its layout it is beautiful and clean. There is nothing in the way.

THE SOFA is my favourite spot. I find it very uncomfortable to keep my legs down and sit. I have a habit of putting my feet up all the time, so when we designed the sofas I told Alan that I want an area where I can put my legs up. Initially, the TV was on the facing wall but then I moved it as I do not watch too much of TV.

THE HOUSE is a place my friends hang out in. I’m very social but I have very few friends. It’s a dichotomy in my life. I have two three classmates from school, they come here, they hang out. I don’t have film parties because I’ve got OCD. For me, right now what is troubling me is that white spot there. I can’t get over it. The sofa has been moved, I can see it and I’m only thinking how will we take it off. No one can smoke in this house because everything will smell; my friends drink here, but I don’t touch alcohol unless it is champagne once in a way.

THE LIGHTS reflect my film space. They are track lights and like them everything is recessed. It is all about conserving electricity. As a moral citizen, I know I have to lead a life so that people understand my lifestyle and respect it.

THE FLOORING is Tuscany oak. I liked the colour, but Alan was not convinced that I liked it. So, he gave me a plate and told me to wake up with it for two nights to see how I felt and I actually slept with the wooden piece for two nights and told him that this was non-negotiable.

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