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
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...