Living spaces Homes and gardens

Vintage charm in verdant setting

The leafy porch of Eden

The leafy porch of Eden   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Eden, a quaint cottage on Ottukuzhi Road, is lost in another era

The nearly 70-year-old Eden, a pretty cottage, has clearly seen better days. Even when covered with little care, Eden has an undeniable charm. Covered with flowering vines that seems to hold the roof to the house, the cottage is enveloped by trees, plantain and shrubs. With ferns, flowering shrubs and all kinds of plants occupying every bit of the overgrown garden, Eden is a picture of greenery that would gladden the heart of every environmentalist. A huge, leafy mango tree, a malgova, that used to shelter the house from the noise and dust of the busy road outside had to be cut down during road widening.

A single-storeyed, tiled house on Ootukuzhi Road, Eden was built in the late forties by JE Fernandez, who served two terms as Mayor of Thiruvananthapuram. The present resident George Fernandez, a popular art instructor in the city, says with obvious pride that the entire structure was planned by his father. “He bought a 20-cent plot in the forties and then designed the house. His sense of aesthetics was really good and he even designed much of the furniture that you see in the house,” says George.

An antique wooden figurine of Jesus with Mary and Joseph is a treasured heirloom at Eden

An antique wooden figurine of Jesus with Mary and Joseph is a treasured heirloom at Eden   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The L-shaped, sun-lit verandah that opens into a spacious living room is filled with his students, men and women, learning and practising all kinds of art and craft. Built with clay and lime plaster, the house is naturally cool even on a hot, sultry day. “We don’t use fans even in the peak of summer. The high ceiling in all the bedrooms obviates the need for fans. There is a loft but to access it, we have to use a ladder. There are no steps,” he says with a smile.

One of the pieces of a three-piece sofa set that was designed by JE Fernandez

One of the pieces of a three-piece sofa set that was designed by JE Fernandez   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Pointing to the exquisite rosewood furniture, he guesses that those must also have been designed by his father. At present, the living room is crammed with paintings, framed craftwork, mural art and what not.... all done by George, the second of three siblings, who now lives in the house. Here and there one can spot some vintage sepia tinted portraits and an old framed picture of the Black Madonna. “Some of my ancestors came to the city from Coorg and some from Tuticorin. We also had relatives in Kollam,” he adds.

An antique timepiece in George Fernandez’s home, Eden, on Ottukuzhi Road

An antique timepiece in George Fernandez’s home, Eden, on Ottukuzhi Road   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A gem of an antique clock attracts the eye though it does not tick any more. But he has a story for the clock that came from his father’s ancestral house that was once located almost opposite the Reserve Bank of India building. “It was a heritage building in which my father grew up. It went to his youngest brother. Later, it was sold and the house was demolished. Now, this clock is all that reminds us of that house,” he muses as he steps into a bedroom that opens into the living room.

Two bedrooms on either side of the living room were once occupied by his parents. One, with a smaller room attached to it, which has a door opening into the verandah, served as his father’s bedroom and office. After the demise of the senior Fernandez, George and his mother, Prescina, began using the two rooms with an attached bathroom. Looking at the state of the rooms, George says that his mother, who passed away eight months ago, was the one who used to keep the rooms spic and span. Narrow, low beds from a different era and sturdy cupboards still have pride of place in the bedrooms. In one of the bedrooms, there is an iron four-poster bed with minimalistic work on the bedsteads.

From the living room, one steps into a smaller room with an ancient no-frills dressing table. A smaller room on one side is also filled with old furniture, including an ancient cradle. A family heirloom is placed high on top of a long cupboard. “That was given to my father by one of my relatives. The figurines of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are carved in wood and see how fresh the pastel colours look even now. We don’t get such beautiful pieces now. The colours are so garish!” he says.

Stepping into a long dining room that is adjacent to the dressing room, George recalls that until his father decided to put in proper windows around a part of the dining room, it was wooden jali on both sides that made it a sunny, airy room. “The old well that you see outside has sweet water and I guess once upon a time it must have been possible to draw water from the well even while you were in the dining room. The well has never run dry. In fact, I don’t have a water connection of the Kerala Water Authority. The water from two wells on my compound is enough for all for our needs. I don’t even bother to boil the water for drinking. It is that good,” he explains.

Three kitchens and an old store lies behind the dining room and George says that even now, they use firewood stoves as they get plenty of firewood from their grounds. A room that once functioned as a granary and a place to store coconuts are almost in ruins. “In those days, we had paddy fields and coconut groves near Thonakkal. So, we used to store all farm produce there,” he recounts.

Admitting that it is difficult to maintain such houses, he says that even simple repairs need skilled carpenters and masons. “But one has to admit that having such a patch of greenery in the city has become a rarity,” he adds.

(A column on houses in and around the city that are more than 50 years old)

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:42:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/vintage-charm-in-verdant-setting/article17515518.ece

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