LAKSHMI GOPALKRISHNAN LIVES in a Tudor-style house in Kirkland, right across the street from the lake. In her downstairs hallway, facing a wide carpeted staircase, hangs a photograph by Canadian artist Dianne Bos. The image depicts a long corridor at Chateau Chenonceau, a castle in northwest France. The floor in the photo is a checkerboard of tiles, not unlike the black-and-white marble floor in the hall where it hangs. Far down the castle corridor, near the right edge of the frame, is a ghostly figure, a sort of scarlet-hued blob. The photograph is black and white, the color added later. But if you look closely, Lakshmi Gopalkrishnan says, you can see the blob is actually a girl, and the red has been used to color her dress. So you look closely and, yes, there she is.
Lakshmi Gopalkrishnan’s divorce was finalized in 2008. Before that, in the headiest days of her now defunct marriage, she would sit here, on these plush steps, and contemplate the photograph. Disappearing into her mind she would move alongside the girl in the red dress, deeper and deeper into the blur. A veteran of slate.com and Microsoft, Gopalkrishnan freelances now, and she’s building her own lifestyle consulting business. But she’s also reinventing her home, turning the showplace she once shared into a place that is uniquely hers. “My art, fashion, cooking—you name it—are inspired by passionate discovery,” says Gopalkrishnan. “It’s that spirit I want to have flow through my home. Pretty things are great, but I want to put it together in a way that speaks to me.”
The house is a very large house, and Lakshmi Gopalkrishnan is a very small person. When she and her former husband bought it in 2000, their parents would visit from India every few years, staying for months at a time. Now it’s all her. The main floor, with its Viking stove and its dining room where the table is often set—a grass-green napkin rolled up in front of each chair—is the Lakshmi that the world sees. Hints of her taste for the macabre appear here and there, in a bowl full of African ram’s horns (“Feel them” she says. “They have such an interesting texture.”), and in the front entrance and library, where three small paintings present a girl either dancing with a rope or preparing to hang herself with it.
She has transformed the upstairs rooms, however, into a sanctuary that is entirely Lakshmi. On a wall near the top of a stairwell is the door to nowhere, an exquisite slab of wood plucked from a Japanese treasure house. She bought it from one of her favorite local dealers, Galen Lowe (galen lowe.com), who also sold her the two jet-black bear-fur sword covers on a nearby chest of drawers. The upstairs sitting room has white sofas and brown-and-fuchsia cushion covers boldly patterned like a Pucci dress. On the wall above is a quadrant of portraits by local artist Bev Sparks (dogphotography.com), starring Gopalkrishnan’s two wire-haired miniature dachshunds. When she writes or knits in her studio, Gopalkrishnan faces a black oil on canvas by Bratsa Bonifacho. It is row after row of squares, each housing an individual glyph, like the symbol box that pops up in Microsoft Word. The glyphs in the painting are the same ones Bonifacho’s computer spat out when it was infected with a virus. Gopalkrishnan sees symbolism in the symbols. “I lived this ordered—I don’t want to say repressed—life. I built my box. It was a beautiful box, but it was a box. I lived a structured life, but I had this confusion inside.” Like the virus language that found its way onto Bonifacho’s canvas, she says, “stuff was trying to come out.”
In every way this studio, with its collection of massive knitting needles and its wasp-waisted dress forms and its design books stacked on a corrugated steel shelf held up by antique wooden corbels (the paint on them chipped just so), is the unmistakable creation of Lakshmi Gopalkrishnan.
But you can feel the full zealotry of her curatorial instincts in the master bathroom, too, created with Patricia Quigley of Fenestra Design (fenestradesign.net) and Svein Ollestad (206-992-1537), her general contractor. A large Tufenkian carpet with repeating squares covers the tiles; meticulously positioned soaps and lotions line up like museum pieces along one wall. When she brushes her teeth at night, she sees a haunting David Burdeny photograph of a rusty shipwreck reflected in the mirror.
Next door in the bedroom, she has hung a print by Izima Kaoru, one in a series of photos of famous Japanese actresses and models wearing couture clothing and posing as corpses. The woman in the image is dressed in a Louis Vuitton raincoat and she’s propped up against a tree. Her eyes are open, but unfocused. Gopalkrishnan has a book with all the photos in the series, and when you see the others—an expired bride with a river of blood streaming from her head, two wan goth chicks bound and gagged on a bed—you see Gopalkrishnan has picked the most ambiguous piece in the bunch. An optimistic sort of a person might not even see death here at all. Perhaps its subject has just survived some scary ordeal and has paused underneath the tree to recover. There’s still a chance that the woman in the photo is only temporarily lost and might wake up at any moment to find her way home.