A Haven for Art is More Than a Home

Photography By Bagus Tri Laksono

It’s actually a blissful abode where one finds love at every corner. We recently visited the South Jakarta home of Michelle Somerville Kannan and her strategy consultant husband Raj Kannan. They are perhaps the most joyous couple in town, living in perfect harmony with much loved art and antiquities collected from every corner of the world, filling every nook and every wall in this double-storey home.

Charles Eames famously said that “Details are not details, they make the design” and the Kannan’s home bears that out perfectly with an interior design that is seamless, that reflects who they are and, more importantly, respects and highlights the many years they have been together as lovers of life and lovers of art. Their home is a true haven for art.

Michelle greets us at the front door and the warmth of the welcome is matched only by the warmth from the sun’s rays streaming down from the central void and reflecting off the water in the Koi pond below. A pair of English arm chairs covered in Indonesian ikat motif fabric sit invitingly on either side of an antique Chinese glass sided cabinet filled with celadon water urns and green glazed ginger jars. This ensemble alludes to the fact that this home is entirely a blend of Michelle’s English heritage and Raj’s Asian heritage.

The warmth of the foyer is enhanced by a red toned Afghan rug with a Bokhara design. The walls of the foyer and dining room are painted in a rich blue and all the walls are covered with exquisite paintings.

What strikes the viewer is that these paintings are at ease with each other and seem to blend well with the rest of the décor of the foyer and the dining room and beyond.

The dining room, with both walls covered in paintings, is brought together by a custom-made 3.2-metre long raintree wood table. Michelle pointed out that, as the table was a solid piece of wood, they didn’t want to hide it with large wooden dining chairs, “so instead we have used Louis Ghost Chairs by Philippe Starck; this way the grandeur of the thick trunk of the raintree is visible”, Michelle was quick to add that raintree wood is not a rain forest wood; raintrees are cultivated and widely grown.

On the immediate right of the foyer is Raj’s man-cave – his study featuring an antique partner’s desk sitting on a Tabriz rug, with walls painted in his favourite shade of green. Behind the desk is a redwood bookshelf filled with first editions and rare books. The glass display teak cabinet holds some of the finest Chinese porcelain pieces bought at auctions, mainly from the Qing period as well as some rare artifacts recovered from sunken ships, including a perfectly preserved blue narrow mouth jar from the Royal Nanhai that sunk off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia 360 years ago. Raj has a keen interest in history and so he collects things that have a historic value, including furniture, porcelain and of course books.

On the left of the foyer is a large lounge and sitting area that further enhances the sense of warmth of the home. The first piece of artwork that draws one’s attention is a large painting of Sydney Harbour viewed from Lavender Bay by Robert Penggilley hanging above a Qing Dynasty Huanghuali desk with matching yokeback Huanghuali chairs. The desk holds silver framed family pictures sitting at ease with rare ceramic pieces bought at various auctions. “We bought this over 100-year old huanghuali wood desk and chairs set from the famous antiques dealer, Tomlinsons almost 20 years ago and it is still in pristine condition. It was in pride of place in our previous house which was larger, but we do feel that this set is a touch cramped in this home” Michelle lamented.

The lounge and sitting space is very large and the use of large Persian rugs brings the room together. The large coffee table in the middle of the lounge is an antique, which was a Chinese daybed in its previous life. The two new sofas are paired with French antique arm chairs sitting on either side of an exquisite French oak Regency folding card table. A round Javanese teak table with a white marble top with white moth orchids sits adjacent to another Chinese masterpiece. This antique cabinet, made of Chinese elm wood and with no metal hinges or nails, is now used as a drinks cabinet holding most of Raj’s single malt collection.

The stairwell heading to the top floor of the home befits the description of an Art Haven – it is a marvel of precision hanging of paintings in a saloon style - large and small, old and new, foreign and local artists all perfectly in harmony welcoming the visitors to the top floor, where a square montage of white framed photos of their four children takes pride of place. Raj has boy-girl twins, who are at university in Melbourne, and Michelle has two girls, both in London, one working as a consultant and the other finishing university. The upstairs lounge is a classic family room, with a large comfortable couch, bookshelves full of books and family memorabilia. This area also functions as Michelle’s study and she has a large leather desk called a Planner’s Desk by Charles Lawrence with an old rattan and teak rotating chair from Jepara, East Java.

The guest room is large with a red custom-made book shelf as the centre piece. There are two further rooms used by the couple’s children during their regular visits home.

The master bedroom is downstairs with direct access to the pool. This is a large room, with a mainly white theme and a gilt framed mirror. “This is the most relaxing room in the entire world. All the pressures of work and travels somehow melt away as soon as I lay on the bed” Raj said with a big smile. “This bed is the biggest detox and recharge machine there is.”

We couldn’t end the visit without asking the couple about their art collection. “Raj and I have been collecting art for almost 20 years and these paintings, except for one or two, were all bought at art auctions from London to Canterbury to Kuala Lumpur to Kolkata and of course Jakarta. Our preference is always to buy at auctions by reputable auction houses since that takes care of the authenticity and provenance questions. We also have a few pieces that we bought from the artists directly” says Michelle. “We are not art snobs, so you’ll find canvases painted in the 1800’s by artists like Auguste Henry Musin from Belgium and French artist Jacques-Emile Blanche hanging comfortably amongst contemporary Indonesian artists like Nasirun, Jeihan, Dandung, Erizal, Irsam and Iwan Sulistyo.”

“We also have works by some Indonesian masters like the recently passed Nyoman Gunarsa and Edhi Sunarso. The painting by Edhi Sunarso is an interesting one because he is more well known for major sculptures and monuments like the ‘welcome’ monument at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout and the ‘freedom’ monument in Lapangan Banteng. This particular painting of a young woman in a sari, called Mega from Bangalore, hanging above the antique tall boy in the lounge was painted in 1956 when he was a postgraduate student at Shantini Ketan in Northeast Bengal, the university founded by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It turns out Edhi Sunarso also made a sculpture of this lady and Raj was very determined to get the painting at the auction as he is a big fan of Tagore and we spent time at Shantini Ketan on a family holiday.”

“Raj is also a big fan of Soekarno and he likes paintings by those painters that Soekarno liked. So, invariably we also have paintings by the likes of Dullah, Ernest Dezentje, Roland Strasser, Widayat, Hofker and Lee Man Fong. Given Raj’s Malaysian roots, we have a few paintings by Malaysian artists like Jalaini Abu Hassan, Anurendra Jegadeva, Norma Abbas and Rafiee Ghani. As I grew up in Australia, we naturally have paintings by Australian artists like Robert Penggilley, Carmen McFaull and aboriginal painter Jillian Nungarryi.”

“Sometimes we buy paintings for historic value but most of the time it’s for the quality of the artist. Our most recent acquisition is a fairly large painting by up and coming Indonesian artist Acong Dwi Stya from Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. With no wall space left we had to reorganize both dining room walls to prepare for the imminent arrival of the painting. A friend once said, if you buy a painting that you don’t have a place to hang then you have too many but that, to us, is the pleasure of collecting – get it and worry about where to hang it later.”

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Erza S.T.
Erza has pursued his great passion for opera and classical music for over a decade. His brainchild, the Indonesia Opera Society, has produced many classical music concerts and operas, and recently marked its 10th anniversary with a gala production. He is also a journalism lover focusing on luxury, lifestyle and travel stories, which he files from datelines around the globe.
Bagus Tri Laksono

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