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In Memoriam: Gunther Maria Norrenberg

NOV 13, 2017 | By Sneha Ullal Goel
L-R:Gunther Norrenberg was an eccentric architect, historian and restaurateur, who passed away last week, leaving a legacy behind
Photography By Jignesh Jhaveri/Photolink;The veranda on the courtyard;An eclectic drawing room that mirrors his colourful personality.
Interior architect Gunther Maria Norrenberg’s terraced haveli is a kaleidoscopic adventure composed of contemporary artworks, historic furniture, marble masonry and idiosyncratic, mismatched styles.
This Udaipur trip was nothing short of an adventure and a kaleidoscopic treat for the senses. From the torrential downpour, to the yum food, from the weirdest antique shops to the warmest people and home owners we met… it felt more like a life experience than a work exercise. One home owner we had the pleasure to meet and interact with, by Dominique Jean Lavabre’s kind introduction, was Gunther Maria Norrenberg, an eccentric interior architect, historian and restaurateur. They say a home is an extension of the owner…for Gunther; his beautiful terraced palace was a self-portrait – a bold mix of colours and patterns, a generous ode to the art that he cherished (both European and Indian) and the people that he loved. Easily one of the most challenging home stories I’ve written too, purely because there was so much to talk about – how do you honour and write about every single thought and detail a person has out into his own hermitage? The initial reluctance aside, the stories he shared, the anecdotes, the passion that he reflected while he single handedly put together every corner, just made the job easier, both writing as well as documenting it.
Gunther passed away last week, after a long, quiet battle with cancer. As a tribute, we’re republishing his home from the Oct-Nov 2015 issue, which also made the cover – easily one of the team’s (and rare unanimous) favourites. Rest in peace, Gunther.
Getting lost in Chandpole, Udaipur is highly recommended. The claustrophobic, undulating by lanes are lined with sorbet houses that have made peace with shared walls; expat run boutiques that blend into this Pac Man maze; and shops that sell the collectable (ancient miniature paintings) and the questionable (glass eyeballs, old dentures!). Every turn leads to a pleasant surprise – which is how we found Gunther Maria Norrenberg’s ivory terraced chateau. A restaurant opportunity brought the art historian and interior architect to Udaipur nearly three decades ago. Growing up in Germany, he spent considerable time in Paris, Rome and Egypt too. Now a permanent resident of the city of lakes, he manages two eateries – Cafe Edelweiss and Savage Garden – and also works on interior projects (his company is called GMN Interiors). When he found this typical 17th century haveli, the marble foundation blew him away, but the plaster that protected the exterior stone and mud walls, was threatening to fall apart. “I changed it along with a few pillars, floors and ceilings. I also tried to create a link between the disparate terraces,” explains the septuagenarian, who completed the restoration in three years. “It couldn’t have been done without Mohnish Paliwal’s help…his technical prowess in repairing such structures is exceptional.” On the inside, it’s nothing like a Rajasthani palace. Each level bursts with unexpected clusters of patterns, colours and pieces…together they compose a strangely cohesive, yet appealing madness. In the foyer/TV room, the “shoe installation”, La Pute sculpture by Parisian icon Kriki and a framed Egyptian calligraphy fabric artwork of the “99 names of Allah”, set the tone of Gunther’s indiscriminate love for the eccentric. Upstairs in the courtyard and verandah, the melody changes. Lay down mattresses, and it transforms into a stage for a private qawwali concert. While the third layer has two smaller courts, the highest storey lets you relish 360 degree vistas and the dizzying drama of other levels below. For Gunther, the outdoor and indoor areas have clear definitions. The rooms by the courtyard are his intimate “nests”. While the boudoir astonishes with its ceiling of convex mirrors, the cheeky drawing space has Renaissance styled chairs resting under a psychedelic Murano chandelier. He often seeks solace in his well-stocked library, where he’ll pick an art history tome, and read by the Grisaille painting of a Bacchanalian scene. In every corner, his rebellious creative honesty and humour shines through. “The Chinese say ‘you have eyes’ as a compliment,” says Gunther, when asked to describe his unorthodox design method. “My decisions are directed through my sight. These areas are who I am…I can’t describe them in words.” For us, though, it’s easy – “modern day Alice in Wonderland” instantly comes to mind. And, like Chandpole, it’s fun getting lost in Gunther’s brilliantly cacophonic oasis.
Also read: Can’t miss art show: Ink, Reels and the Graphics Gang