Kazakhstan Charm

the gleaming Norman Foster designed glass pyramid
Blaise Hopkinson
Blaise Hopkinson

BLAISE HOPKINSON embarks on a steppe-by-steppe interior design course from his friend, Borat’s sister

 

 

One of the marvellous by-products of travel is being able to learn first-hand about interior design trends in far-flung places, from the Skandi minimalism beloved in England in the 60s and 70s to the ornate faux Louis XV favoured in suburban Jeddah, Sharjah and Manila homes.

.And so to sleep… I suspect the landlady was alone or had been at the Snow Queen when she snaffled up these bargain drapes for the bedroom.
.And so to sleep… I suspect the landlady was alone or had been at the Snow Queen when she snaffled up these bargain drapes for the bedroom.

On a foreign assignment we get a privileged insight into how the locals really live in cities across the globe. Most serviced apartments from Seoul to Seattle appear to have been furnished by one interior designer whose favourite colour was beige. But if you step out and rent from a thrusting landlady on your own recognisances, you are in for a treat.

My company-sponsored pad at Fraser Suites in Seoul, Korea couldn’t have been more cookie-cutter. The soft furnishings were so bland and uniform that one day the maid hid the ochre-coloured lacquer tray I had scored at Namdaemun, obviously believing the décor police would lock us both up.

But, like most Natal South Coast holiday houses of yore, it seems everything that didn’t actually fit at home can be given pride of place in a short-term rental in, say, Akmola, the grungy old town dormitory of very new-town Astana, the Kazakh Lego/Meccano capital on the steppe.

Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t have dared… the tangerine accented bathroom in Akmola, complete with ghostly reflection from tasteful mirror. (Note: the tasteful chocolate brown bath mat was my contribution!)
Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t have dared… the tangerine accented bathroom in Akmola, complete with ghostly reflection from tasteful mirror. (Note: the tasteful chocolate brown bath mat was my contribution!)

On a modest budget of about US$1,500 a month for digs while writing a hagiography for a dictator, I recently landed the Armani Casa meets Borat’s sister on tik pied-a-terre score of the century.

Never did Giorgio dream you could pair a tangerine accented bathroom with a turquoise infused kitchen, or a beige living room with Gommagomma impersonations for chairs with a boudoir of sheer lavender curtains, a lilac lampshade (Barbara Cartland discarded this fascinator because it wasn’t pink) and a puce bedspread. This wasn’t Quadropphenia. It was 2pm on a cold Kazakh spring day

I know the landlady wasn’t blind because the moment I produced my wad of US$100 bills her eyes lit up. Through my interpreter I congratulated her on the amazing tonal and texture “contrasts” and got free wi-fi.

.Keeping up with the Joneskis, Akmola style… note the Boratian wisp of smoke and the scabrous Lada in the suburban Akmola, Astana yard.
.Keeping up with the Joneskis, Akmola style… note the Boratian wisp of smoke and the scabrous Lada in the suburban Akmola, Astana yard.

The panoramic view from half-way up the 20-storey condo monstrosity comprised a funny old house, one of many still found in the neighbourhood, complete with scabrous Lada in the yard, wisps of smoke from the charming chimney and the afternoon shadow of Akmola’s pride and joy, the strutting King Hotel in all its post-Soviet glory.

Most of the condo buildings are ugly, charmless and of the Less is More scale. Beton brut meets Miami on a bad day.

Nothing like coming home to an electric Kool-Aid acid inspired kitchen after a hard day’s work at the gulag.
Nothing like coming home to an electric Kool-Aid acid inspired kitchen after a hard day’s work at the gulag.

The balcony, with its broken tiles fractured by the minus 50-degree winter temperatures, was bereft and forlorn. Plants can’t grow. Sitting out to behold the parking lot and the slum is not an option and the air is so dusty hanging out your whites to dry is a mistake.

It was snowing on the late April morning when I noticed the central heating, which had been sauna temperature, was off. When I checked I was informed, this was summer and it was off for six months.

The crockery and cooking pots in the turquoise kitchen had clearly come from a yard sale in Bishkek. No doubt the cracked cups and blue glass plates had been a babushka’s pride and joy.

The Russian washing machine was a Luddite’s challenge personified. The instructions were in Russian, the manual same and even hunting online produced only a Turkic translation. Oh, for the joys of Sandton.