Precious state of mind

Jeroen Wolterink knows he cuts an unusual figure in Gurugram — a tall Dutchman often seen feeding street dogs in the mornings and crouching beside his artisans in the afternoons, ensuring each pivot of their blades is made with precision. But embracing the minutiae is second nature to the new creative director of Delhi-based luxury design brand INV Home. “Every day I discover new, interesting techniques, like camel bone carving, and what can be done by really special artists,” he says, adding with a laugh, “To them, I’m this strange European guy who wants to do something spectacular and for whom money is not an issue. They get excited!”

Wolterink, 50, specialises in luxury homes and furnishings, using unique, sometimes semi-precious, materials like selenite, mother-of-pearl and stingray, among many others. Currently working on a new lifestyle line for INV Home, he is also setting up their ambitious showroom in the city. Humblebragging it may be, but the designer is positive that the 20,000 sq ft store “will be one of the most spectacular in the world”. “Step in and you will feel like your are in an uber luxurious penthouse in New York or Russia,” he says, pointing out that every design and space (to be launched in a couple of months) will tell a story, including the spa and tea/coffee bar that are being planned. “I’m also putting together a materials library — with everything from jade and eggshells to
work — that’s already running into the thousands and will keep growing.”

Fish leather, anyone?

In the country for the last one year, he says India is not foreign to him. Wolterink has been travelling around Asia for over two decades, scouting new techniques and materials. “Hand crafting is the new luxury, but it is difficult to find artisans in Europe,” he shares. Many of the techniques he uses are over 2,000 years old, he tells me. “Stingray was first used as sandpaper. Then, in Japan, it was used to make the grips of Samurai swords.” Though the materials were familiar, he did extensive research at libraries and museums to understand their nuances. “I’m also inspired by the architects who used them, especially between the late 1800s and the 1950s,” he adds.

Bamboo is a new favourite. “It may be one of the humblest of materials, but the way we process it makes it luxurious. We bring in fine marquetry work and colour, giving it a 3D effect.” Another speciality is vellum. “It is a very luxurious medium and in Europe, the super brands use the leather to make furniture. I’ve taught our artisans how to work with it and have introduced new ways to colour it. We now make tabletops with spectacular inlay.”

But how sustainable is it all? It is a challenge, he admits, but “we procure and produce as green as possible. For example, our stingray leather is sourced from the fishing community, and all of our mother-of-pearl is leftover from the pearl industry. An oyster produces pearls four times in its life, after which it is sold. That is when we buy and process it.”

Contemporary sensibility

Wolterink’s biggest challenge, especially in India, is finding the right balance. Often clients walk into their materials library and fall in love, wanting a bit of everything. “I can do it over-the-top, like the palaces here, but that is not my style,” he jokes. Instead, he has detailed conversations with them, learning about everything from lifestyles to hobbies, before designing a space. “A project I’m doing in Jodhpur is a mix of modern architecture and the best of Indian handcraft, including stone carving and gemstone inlay like in the Taj Mahal. The longer you are inside, the more details you will discover — it’s like walking through a book; all the chapters are interconnected. The inlay in the flooring comes back in the railings of the Art Deco-inspired staircase; the pattern of the staircase is stone-carved in subtle patterns on the walls, and so on.”

He and his wife, Michelle, are also touring the country, sourcing new materials and crafts, and looking for inspiration in colours, buildings and patterns. “Travelling is always a mix of pleasure and work; I try to visit places where I can find inspiration. I also enjoy a night out with delicious food and wine, but I often end up taking a complete tour of the restaurant,” he says, adding that the Kailasa temple at Ellora is on his wish list.

Jeroen brings his expertise, wide knowledge of international techniques and materials, and eye for detail. He is curating a collection made out of natural products, and we are actively procuring materials like seashells, silver leaf and ebony

Nitin Jain,Founder & Managing Director, INV Home

Material love

Au naturel

is Wolterink’s byword, and in India, he would particularly love to explore these:

This crystallised stone is said to have healing properties; it takes away negative energy. It is difficult to source, very expensive, and is one of my favourite materials to work with. I make chandeliers, mirror frames, etc, from it, as it conducts light beautifully.

Petrified wood:
I mostly source this fossilised organic material from Indonesia. It is over 75 million years old, and is almost as hard as diamonds. When you polish it, it can be made into floors, doors and staircases.

It is very difficult to find good quality, but this semi-precious stone can be crafted into the most beautiful tabletops and walls.

The art of eggshell inlay originated in China, around the Tang Dynasty. I have artisans in Vietnam who use pan-roasted duck shells to do the intricate work. I have a vase in the collection that took over 10,000 man hours to make. That is more than one year of work for one artisan. One mistake can be catastrophic!

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