Photos by Bagus Tri Laksono
Paul Smith, the current director of the British Council in Indonesia, and his beautiful wife Viveka Kumari, have lived in many different parts of the world. In their 28 wonderful years together, Indonesia is the ninth country where they have made a home. Paul, who is British and grew up in Birmingham, went to Queens’ College, Cambridge and then, in 1978, took his first job overseas at Delhi University teaching English literature. His love of the arts, and his curiosity and inherent respect for the world’s diversity, drew him to the British Council and its work in building global partnerships.
Their home at the Dharmawangsa Residence truly reflects the life journey that Paul and Viveka have undertaken together. The four-bedroom apartment on the first floor has an eclectic style that brings together myriad bric-a-brac that they have collected from all around the world. Viveka shared that it was the easiest decision that they had ever made to choose this apartment to be their new home.
“As soon as we walked into this particular apartment, we both immediately just felt and knew we had to be here – it was meant to be – even Paul thought there was a karmic echo to it. The elegant open flow of the architecture, wrapped in green, green and more green, through all the abundant and generous windows that bathe every room with light just make it so lovely. There is also a sense of quiet and calm – very positive energies. And then, of course, there is the verandah where we live most of our time when at home. It is just such a haven for us (and many of our friends now!) I knew straight away where my desk would be and to write there, looking out on to a glorious frangipani juxtapositioned with a variety of leaf and light…it was simply perfect for us. Not too big so that we would miss the children too much but with enough room for them when they visited.
And we love the sense of Indonesia in all the aesthetics and culture of the Dharmawangsa itself – walking back home in to the foyer after hours in the traffic is such a pleasant balm – not just the vistas and visuals, but the courtesy and smiles of all who work here, is so typical of Jakarta, and it makes for such happy, gentle, easy living. We feel awfully blessed. It also harks back to the Bombay of my childhood…which no longer exists…”
Viveka grew up in Bombay (now called Mumbai). She went to boarding school in England, after which she returned to India where she worked in New Delhi as a drama teacher and theatre director. Like Paul, the main thrust of her work is inclusivity in diversity. Viveka is passionate about textiles and it is one of the many aspects of life she loves in Indonesia. Having chosen to be a full-time mother, she began a handloom textile business in India when their daughter started school. She designed textiles from Maheswar, in Central India, for table linen and made beaded home accessories by employing young artisans from the slums of Bombay. She enjoys all things ‘visual’ and also found time to work as a stylist with friends in advertising. And now, the life journey that has already taken in London, Mumbai, Cairo, Washington DC, Nigeria, Burma, Germany, Chile, Dhaka and Kabul, among others, has brought Paul and Viveka to Indonesia.
Nearly everything in their apartment can be related to their life journey. A collection of old photographs in dark wooden frames of Old Bombay and Viveka’s family fills the red wall in the entrance hall. The red hallway then leads to a white circular room, which acts as an annex to the living area and the bedrooms. On the left-hand side of the room there is a guest washroom, also decorated in red, featuring various art photographs as well as ethnic animal masks. An open plan layout then connects the living area to the dining and kitchen in one continuous sweep. Paul’s study room, located in between the living area and the bedrooms, serves as a connecting annex.
Most of the interior design was done by Viveka, though Paul also gave his input. Believing that a good design is one that functions well, they first worked out where and how they wanted to use the various spaces and then it was like fitting the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle: placing everything according to the movement of the light while maintaining a clean flow and a natural balance. Viveka chose some Indonesian furniture from Arbor & Troy, including products from the renowned local artisan, Paisley Things.
Art also played a pivotal role in the interior design for this apartment. Paul and Viveka are great art lovers and have a very eclectic taste. Viveka told us that they were lucky to get to live with some of the British Council’s art collection, which is one of the best in Britain. “Here we have the two delicate Hockney sketches, the evocative ‘On The Road Alone’ by a Polish painter and Dhruv Mistry’s Hanuman which we thought were perfect for Jakarta, The Pear Tree in the study room and the wonderfully quirky black and white photographs in the powder room. Our own collection is mainly from India – Simeen Oshidar with her bold striking colours, Anjum Singh’s bright abstract, Ravi Vermas and Dhruvi Acharya. Two Chant Avedessian prints from Egypt and a wonderful collection of Nigerian pictures including some by Bruce Onabrepaya, and some beautiful pages from the Qur’an. Sadly, the three dervishes from an old Sufi Qur’an were damaged when Paul’s office and home were attacked in Kabul. Again, it is what we love, we don’t care about its financial value or the fame of the artist – it’s what we would like to live with and share with those whom we welcome to our home.”
Together, Paul and Viveka have created a true home where they can celebrate their life journey and the experiences they have accumulated. The interior design here has an impeccable sense of equilibrium and symmetry that is very appealing and soothing at the same time. “Our home is primarily our home, and home for me is that unconditional space where we can simply be. Part of that being is socialising and welcoming friends and associates home and sharing that space with them,” adds Viveka. As the home of the director of the British Council in Indonesia, it reflects the values and aesthetics of Britain today, which is an ethnically diverse and inclusive nation, exemplified by the mixed nationalities of Paul Smith and Viveka Kumari’s happy marriage.