A unique ‘East meets West’ experience welcomes you the minute you enter Malabar House at Fort Kochi. That ‘chilled effect’ that you so often come across people raving about; it is right here! The lobby's interiors can take your breath away with its stunning paintings and art installations.
Joerg Drechsel, a German national is the man behind the unique design of the Malabar House. Old colonial style bungalows and traditional Kerala architecture comes alive with Joerg’s magical touch. Most of his works have earned him international laurels. His approach to design begins at the 'soul' level. More than ‘constructing’ a new building, he ‘crafts.’
Like sculptors, who put in a part of themselves in the sculptures that they make, there is a bit of him in all the buildings designed by him.
“It was in 1972 that I first came to Cochin with a friend. I was bewitched by this place; it was love at first sight! I stayed on for a month. Then, in 1992, I came back and settled here for good with my wife Txuku.”
What attracted you to of Fort Kochi?
This is an Indo-European town with Dutch and Portuguese influences. You could almost call Mattanchery the ‘Micro Cosmos’ of India. It’s an interesting cauldron of different cultures and different languages. Since I am a regular traveler, getting to know various cultures is something I enjoy very much. The place has great historical significance too.
What factors influenced you to buy the Malabar House?
The initial search was for a house where we could stay. Then we bought an old colonial bungalow. After the remodeling was done, the house seemed too large for us. That’s how the idea of a Boutique Hotel came about. Malabar House was opened in 1997.
Tell us about the ‘Boutique Hotel’ concept.
Back then Kochi was not what it is today. It was entirely untouched, if I could say so. The last of the Anglo-Indian families remaining here were preparing for exit. With the emergence of tourism, more foreign nationals came to know of the place. But today, everything has changed immensely. The opportunities in the Boutique Hotel space are myriad and limitless. It is no longer a novel concept.
Could you tell us about your life as a designer? How have the architecture styles in Fort Kochi influenced you?
Basically I am a designer and I have conducted many design exhibitions across Europe. Colonial Architecture, Mexican style homes, Charles Correa’s projects, works of Geoffrey Bawa done in Sri Lanka have all influenced me in my work. Traditional Kerala style architecture is indeed a sight to behold. The importance that regional architecture and tropical architecture gives to the climate and the surrounding environment is amazing.
What do you think is most special about this school of architecture?
The major specialty is the air flow and natural lighting in the interiors. The expertise of the indigenous craftsmen forms the base of the Vaasthu art in Kerala. Something that is unique to the state.
How are these fundamentals used in your own projects?
Our Boutique Hotel will have separate private, semi-private and public areas. The public and semi-private areas are on the exterior. Foreigners come here to escape from the extreme cold weather but at the end of the day, they treasure their privacy.
What is the ‘Joerg style’ of design?
Every design of mine is what I have specially crafted. There is both crafted design and industrial design. I elaborate on the design as well as the design elements to the workers and they make it for me. It is the same case whether it is a chair or a lamp shade. They work on it according to the design given and sometimes will have to rework on it if there are any flaws. It’s all a trial and error process that requires a lot of patience.
What according to you is a good design?
I give importance to the most basic of things. There has to be an easy flow to it, fluidity. Regionally available building materials ought to be used. Good design should imbibe the characters of the culture and weather of that particular place.
What are the basic things to keep in mind when designing a building?
The adequate distribution of light is the most important thing. The light inside the house should tell us a thing or two about the direction where we are standing or even the time of the day. Cross-ventilation is perhaps the best part of Kerala style architecture. As colonial style buildings are quite large, cross ventilation is comparatively tougher to attain. I use dark color tones but only on walls that can reflect the light.
Are the decor elements here sourced from your travels abroad?
We have never found the need for that, when you can get excellent things here. You will find the best craftsmen here and even the fabrics used for the furnishings; you cannot get this quality elsewhere.
Does Txuku take care of all the other matters apart from design?
Txuku: We currently have an excellent team of people running the show for us. They manage everything brilliantly.
Would you do external projects other than your own projects?
Since I am involved in the A to Z aspect of designing, it is a very gradual and time-consuming process. For me design is more of a journey than a business.
Joerg Drechsel & Txuku Iriarte
The founders-cum-directors of the Malabar Escape project first opened the Heritage Hotel Malabar Escape at Fort Kochi in 1997. Other projects - Serenity, Purity, Trinity & Discovery - followed suit. Apart from the ‘Best Boutique Hotel in Asia’ award, the Malabar House has won a number of other accolades as well. Malabar House is the first Boutique Hotel in India, that is now a part of the internationally renowned Relais & Chateaux group of Heritage Hotels.