John Bot­ica will never sell his quirky, colour-rich home. “I am in­fat­u­ated with my house,” the former ten­nis coach says.

This Auck­land house is an ever-chang­ing can­vas for a ten­nis coach turned mo­saic artist

NZ House & Garden - - CONTENTS - WORDS Y VON NE VAN DON GEN PHO­TO­GRAPHS JANE USS HER

If there’s one thing John Bot­ica never con­sid­ers when think­ing about mak­ing al­ter­ations to his Beach­lands home, it’s the re­sale value. That’s be­cause his home is not for sale. Not now. Not later. “Never,” he says, in a tone that sug­gests it’s the cra­zi­est sug­ges­tion he’s heard in a while. “I will never leave this place. I am in­fat­u­ated with my house.”

When he and his wife Karin bought the house 15 years ago it was a sim­ple dwelling on a bar­ren sec­tion, but the cou­ple set about trans­form­ing their new pur­chase al­most im­me­di­ately. The re­sult is a colour ex­plo­sion from the out­side in. It starts with mul­ti­coloured fence pal­ings and a brick-red ex­te­rior; in­side there are multi-hued rooms, coloured ap­pli­ances, vivid artworks and nu­mer­ous tiled spa­ces. You could call the style Amer­i­can desert ranch, Mex­i­can in­spired or sim­ply an ex­pres­sion of the cou­ple’s love of colour and one an­other. The home was their joint project un­til Karin died last year.

That doesn’t mean John in­tends to stop work­ing on their mas­ter­piece. He will add a me­mo­rial plaque to Karin in the gar­den and the huge peb­ble huia grac­ing the back­yard is also for her: “New Zealand’s most beautiful bird for the most amaz­ing woman. Karin was my great­est fan, sup­porter, ad­mirer, critic. She was, in my eyes, the most com­plete per­son there’s ever been.”

When the cou­ple met 35 years ear­lier, John was a ten­nis pro, work­ing the cir­cuit in Europe and Amer­ica. But he ad­mits to lack­ing the killer in­stinct re­quired to slay his op­po­nents and in the 80s he turned to coach­ing. When the Bot­i­cas made the de­ci­sion to mi­grate to New Zealand, they were liv­ing in Stuttgart, Ger­many, the mecca of ten­nis in the age of Boris Becker and St­effi Graf. Karin worked in re­tail and their daugh­ter Jodie was four years old.

It wasn’t John’s first time down un­der. Orig­i­nally from Bel­grade, Ser­bia, he mi­grated with his fam­ily to New Zealand in the 70s but two years later they moved to the United States.

At first John thought he had made a ter­ri­ble mis­take mov­ing to the other side of the world a sec­ond time. He’d been paid much more as a coach in Europe – he had ex­pected his in­come to halve, but never ex­pected it to re­duce by two-thirds.

But then thanks to his cousins ( who owned Auck­land Stone­ma­sons) he was asked to cre­ate a peb­ble mo­saic for a client. John had already mas­tered the art of tile mo­saics in his own home, but cre­at­ing a peb­ble mo­saic is quite dif­fer­ent. >

‘I am so in­fat­u­ated with this work that I can work for hours alone’

“It’s very phys­i­cal. You have to sketch the right de­sign, cre­ate moulds, select stones, place them care­fully and then, us­ing the re­verse tech­nique, pour the grout over the im­age you have made.”

The first one, com­pleted in 2004, took three months but John was im­me­di­ately hooked. The trans­for­ma­tion from ten­nis player/ coach to artist was vir­tu­ally overnight. “I am so in­fat­u­ated with this work that I can work for hours alone.”

Look­ing at John’s cre­ations, it’s hard to be­lieve mo­saics were his first artis­tic ven­ture. How­ever, he had al­ways loved de­sign and fash­ion. In years gone by, his wardrobe was full of high-end la­bels like Ar­mani, and he says his kitchen holds one of the big­gest col­lec­tions of Alessi home­ware in New Zealand.

In the eight years he’s worked full-time as a peb­ble mo­saic artist, John says he has cre­ated most of the peb­ble artworks on dis­play in New Zealand and is now reg­u­larly com­mis­sioned by clients such as Peter Jack­son, and has work at the botanic gar­dens in Ma­nurewa and Bas­tion Point (see powerof­peb­bles.com).

In March, his work ap­peared in the Mel­bourne In­ter­na­tional Flower and Gar­den Show and this year he will travel to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to work with a land­scape gar­dener to the stars. The only hint he will give is that the man de­signed a gar­den for El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and has been on The Oprah Win­frey Show. Care­fully se­lected New Zealand stones will be air­freighted over with John be­cause “no other coun­try in the world has stones as lovely”.

Though Karin never helped make the mo­saic works, her in­put at the de­sign stage was cru­cial.

Since her death John has tried to make sense of his loss. “Many times I cry. Oh, I cry so eas­ily. But peo­ple are wired to over­come tragic losses so I have been think­ing what is my higher pur­pose in life, what is it that gives my life sig­nif­i­cance? And I think – I am a peb­ble mo­saic artist and I can touch hu­man hearts. I have never felt more pow­er­ful in my life than at the mo­ment.”

At 64, John is con­fi­dent he has years of work left in him. There are not that many peb­ble mo­saic artists around, he says, and “no one can do the work like I can”.

As for his former life as a ten­nis star? John reck­ons he’s been the real win­ner in that game. “Imag­ine you win at Wim­ble­don. So what? My mo­saics will be there for mil­len­nia.”

THIS PAGE John’s late wife Karin de­signed and painted the bath­room, all with­out mask­ing tape; she also cre­ated the mo­saics around the bath and the peb­ble sink. OP­PO­SITE (clock­wise from top left) The New Zealand wool bed cover is by Stans­bor­ough; John...

THIS PAGE The chan­de­lier and rat­tan fur­ni­ture were made by Ger­man in­te­rior de­signer Gun­ther Lam­bert. OP­PO­SITE (clock­wise from top left) The ter­razzo base of the wood burner was made by John. The red bear, from Ger­many, lights up at night; else­where is...

THIS PAGE (clock­wise from top left) This mo­saic was in­spired by a carved door with Mayan de­signs he saw at a friend’s place. The colour­ful fence posts are all in Re­sene shades, framed by Agave at­ten­u­ata. The in­spi­ra­tion here comes from a book on Inca...

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