If penthouse living is epitomised by being perched above everyone else with expansive views and lavish living spaces, adman Swapan Seth’s modern duplex penthouse in Gurgaon fits the bill to the hilt. When I walked into his house on a hot summer’s afternoon in 2010, my jaw hit the floor.
Interiors done a la mode, open-floor plans, an integrated sound system, wrap-around terraces that curved from the front to the side and tall picture windows that seemed to bring the outside in. The 6,500-square feet space in the swanky Richmond Park apartments had all the ingredients that make a penthouse the hallowed space it is.
The look was modern and clean, yet not too minimal.
The interior designer — Swapan’s pretty wife, Sreya — was at hand to lay bare all the nuances of the apartment. “She seems to have perfected her skills with the countless times that we have moved,” pointed out Swapan.
The Seths moved a floor up from the same building to this crème de la crème of condominiums in 2009 that gave them enough breathing room and more. Four bedrooms (one of which was a guest room), a study, a living room, a dining room, attached baths, kitchen and even a few terraces spread out between the two levels of the penthouse.
It was not hard to figure out that this was an art aficionado’s abode. Site-specific installations (created by the artists specifically for the penthouse) occupied its various walls, nooks and corners.
The story began right at the entrance when the main door of the apartment opened up to a staircase wall that was startlingly sheathed in Fornasetti wallpaper, the leitmotif of which is the face of Italian operatic soprano, Lina Cavalieri. For those who came in late that’s from the art house of famed Italian painter, sculptor and interior decorator, Piero Fornasetti.
The entrance had other installations that made a quiet statement. The most intriguing being a water-filled white cube by Pakistani visual artist, Iqra Tanveer. Once lit up, the surface of the cube came alive with mesmerising eddies in the water.
Looking up, I found a clock with a circular scale that instead of reading hours displayed a gamut of emotions — anxiety, guilt, duty and nostalgia. “If fatigue wins at around 6 pm, ecstasy sets in with a drink by 8 pm,” laughed Swapan.
And you simply could not miss the clinical precision of another installation in the lobby. Called A Thousand Tears, it had artist Suchitra Gahlot poignantly cataloguing a thousand artificial tears in 10ml vials. The tears are triggered by replies that a thousand people gave to the question: “Why did you cry last?” So, each vial is cryptically labelled — iPod, Mother-in-Law, Dentist and more.
The walls and ceiling of the airy double-height living room meanwhile had stark white walls that were offset by warm wooden flooring and contemporary sofas in red and black. These were livened by the occasional bright fuchsia and red cushions.
The highlight of the living room, apart from the attractive lights on the ceiling from Klove, a studio in Delhi that does futuristic and trendy light designs, was a massive installation art piece called Four-digit Lock by artist Pushkar Thakur.
“It has some 10,568 keys on it that are made such that they will eventually rust. But within one of these is a combination of unpolished keys that will not rust,” noted Swapan.
Weekends for him often mean sitting with their two sons, 12-year-old Sirhaan and 10-year-old Reyhaan, trying to figure out that particular combination that will remain untarnished.
One of the couple’s favourites elements in this space was a video screen and projector to watch video art.
But when Swapan prefers to unwind, the study adjacent the living room is his personal haven. It was an art gallery of another order with black-and-white photographs — some iconic like that of American socialite Edie Sedgwick shot by famed American painter, Andy Warhol, and a portrait of Madonna by American fashion photographer Herb Ritts. Besides, it boasted a wall-cabinet with shelves lined with DVDs and two substantial-sized in-built wine racks.
His study was also the only space within the apartment where he was allowed to smoke. “It’s a dangerous place. It has everything a man could want from wines to books and movies,” added Swapan with a twinkle in his eyes. Besides the study and living room, the first floor housed the dining room, the powder room and guest room. The family’s domain however was the second floor that was more lived-in with a master bedroom suite and two bedrooms for the sons.
His wife’s personal favourite was the powder room on the first level. The mirrors here were sandblasted with lines from T.S Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. ‘There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’.
Not a hair was out of place even in the dining room on the first floor with its bright orange wall adorned with quirky lines in Hindi — Asuvidha ke liye khed hai (read: sorry for the inconvenience). “It’s a site-specific installation inspired by the placards found at metro construction locations in Delhi,” added Swapan.
As you made your way to the second level, one of the two highlights was an installation of a huge bull made of garbage bags in the corridor leading to the bedrooms. It occupied pride of place at the end of a bookshelf lining an entire wall.
And the other riveting yet classy touch was a polka-dotted glass partition that overlooked the living room below.
The Seth penthouse was a playground for architecture and art to connect. It is after all a household that dabbles extensively in art — where its youngest member, Reyhaan, spends his pocket money on art. And where you could even mistake Dude, their five-year-old French bulldog, for an art installation as he lay sprawled on the floor soaking up the cool air-conditioning to beat the heat.
Besides making for stylish digs, art obviously works best for its occupants and has even made homebodies of the Seths. Added Swapan: “We hardly feel the need to hang out anywhere else. What else could one want?”