Monday, April 12, 2021
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Made in India: How Covid-19 is changing the luxe living room

A pop chair, covered in brass ‘fur’ and nautical resin ‘wood grains’, was to be one of the highlights of Scarlet Splendour’s newest collection — a collaboration with Italian designer Marcantonio, the man behind some of Seletti’s and Qeeboo’s iconic designs. The line didn’t get its due with Milan’s popular annual furniture fair, Salone del Mobile, getting cancelled. But Ashish Bajoria, co-founder of the Kolkata-based luxury brand, isn’t despondent; he’s actually in high spirits. “Since the lockdown started, in just 20 days we closed orders equal to our last year’s turnover!” he tells me over the phone.

This “big boom” is a reaction to the ground reality in countries like Italy, the capital of luxury furniture, where factories are just reopening, and also anticipating possible hardships in importing goods. The uber wealthy have traditionally looked westward for their interiors, with brands like B&B Italia, Poliform, Flos, Fontana Arte, Fendi, Baxter and Poltrona Frau being firm favourites. But today’s new normal means that many interior designers and clients are looking homeward. “This is the best time for [luxury furniture and accessories brands] in India,” adds Bajoria. “It is the ideal time to step up our game, bring out the best quality, and show customers that they aren’t missing out on anything by buying local.”

Interior designer Vinita Chaitanya
 

The time is now

This is not a new trend, of course. In the last few years, there has been an increased appreciation among well-travelled, internationally-minded designers like Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Ashiesh Shah, Tarun Tahiliani and Vikram Phadke for Indian brands that are upping their quality standards, showcasing at top global fairs and catering to international expectations. Bengaluru-based interior designer Vinita Chaitanya, whose plush penthouses and bungalows for clients like actor Deepika Padukone and entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar have always incorporated Indian accents, recalls a recent project for a city-based billionaire. “[A purveyor of European luxury] he was blown away by the Indian designs I introduced him to, from brands like Viya Home, Taanaaz and Jaipur Trunks Company. He took his guests around, boasting how well they blended with his Italian furnishing,” she says.

With visits to Italy and France, once a prerequisite for any new project, now on hold indefinitely — and the usual three-month wait for imports [sofas, kitchens, wardrobes] getting “pushed by another three months or more” — Chaitanya adds that clients are more open in the current scenario to looking at pieces made locally. “This is our time; and people in my fraternity are realising it. Italy may be ahead in terms of technique — they have generations of expertise — but what we can be proud of is our craft.”

The Ring Sofa by Bengaluru-based designer, Sandeep Sangaru

The Ring Sofa by Bengaluru-based designer, Sandeep Sangaru
 

All about scale

The need of the hour is for local brands to pull up their socks and understand what customers are used to in terms of luxury. “It is a great opportunity for designers to be seen,” says Mumbai-based interior and product designer Rooshad Shroff, whose hand carved marble tube lights — launched last November at Raw Collaborative — is now finding more luxury homes. A challenge, however, is that, except for a few brands like luxury furniture makes alsorg, many still struggle with manufacturing capabilities. “This, coupled with the fact that we produce at a smaller scale, hinders us from making the same quality and quantity as the Italians,” he adds. This is what we need to pay attention to in the days to come.

“The biggest advantage Italy has is that their luxury manufacturing started hundreds of years ago; they’ve already perfected the art. In India, we’ve only got into it in the last 10-15 years. But over the next 10 years or so, I think we will see more homegrown brands that will reach the heights of the Italians, French, Germans or Scandinavians,” says Yogesh Chaudhary, director of Jaipur Rugs Group.

Another positive: the renewed interest in sustainability, meaningful purchases and support of all things local, in the wake of the pandemic and its far-reaching ripples. “A lot of things we thought of as luxurious will now become frivolous. There will be more thought applied to what one buys — handcrafted, labour-intensive,” says Chaitanya. But at the same time, she wonders if we will quickly forget all that has happened. “Maybe a few months from now, my clients will say ‘let’s go to Italy and explore’,” she laughs. “But at least there is a move towards local at the moment. And for a lot of us, that’s heart-warming.”

With inputs from Susanna Myrtle Lazarus and Nidhi Adlakha

Clockwise from top left: Copacabana Cocktail Table, Sakura Coffee Table, and co-founder Vikram Goyal

Clockwise from top left: Copacabana Cocktail Table, Sakura Coffee Table, and co-founder Vikram Goyal
 

Viya Home, New Delhi

With a global, India agnostic aesthetic — and collaborations with top interior designers like Christian Louboutin (France) and Kelly Hoppen (the UK) in its portfolio — Viya Home mixes genres, inspirations and techniques. Think a Tree of Life with both Oriental and Mughal references: traditional borders filled with scenes from Japanese and Chinese textiles. “The pendulum has swung to maximalism now. Everyone is celebrating spaces that are luxurious and glamorous,” says co-founder Vikram Goyal, adding that in the last few weeks they’ve been “seeing an increase in inquiries from people [who may not have looked at us earlier] with projects near completion”. He believes more thoughtful purchasing — a desire for individuality and an effort to look distinct from “the man across the street” — is also behind this trend. Something Viya Home has been delivering for years. “Our new collection, Earth, takes inspiration from flora and fauna [drawn from old botanical prints and etchings], and works with them in a modern way, using semi-precious materials in their raw forms,” he says. The Sakura Coffee Table is a stunning example, with its Brutalist style and use of raw agate. Going forward, Goyal would love to collaborate with someone outside the interior design and architecture fields. “I would love to work with a jewellery designer like Viren Bhagat or a Rahul Jain, who is doing amazing work with textiles.” Prices from ₹1.5 lakh. Details: viyahome.com

Clockwise from left: The Moonshadow Vase (made using Manipur’s Longpi pottery technique), Ashiesh Shah, and Channapatna stools

Clockwise from left: The Moonshadow Vase (made using Manipur’s Longpi pottery technique), Ashiesh Shah, and Channapatna stools
 

The India Design Fund

  • One hundred products are being curated by Ashiesh Shah for The India Design Fund’s collaborative online sale with StoryLtd by Saffronart. The funds (and patron donations) will be directed towards charities working on ground with artisan communities who have been severely impacted by Covid-19 — to help improve life and safety standards, and nurture indigenous design and craftsmanship. The names featured include designer-sculptor Dashrath Patel, furniture designer Gunjan Gupta, designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, and brands such as Raw Mango, Klove, Scarlet Splendour and Trunks Company. From May 14 to 20, on storyltd.com.

Atelier Ashiesh Shah, Mumbai

The two and a half-year-old Mumbai atelier works with craft villages across India to create high-end luxury products. “We’ve used bidri from Karnataka, Jaipur blue pottery and marble work, white pottery from Kutch, among others, to make objects such as sofas, stools, lights and plates. “This is the future of Indian design — working inherently and cohesively with our craft and artisans,” says Ashiesh Shah. Highlights include Channapatna and Longpi stools and the Blue Totem showcased at the AD Design Fair. Prices from ₹5,000 to ₹4 lakh. Details: ashieshshah.com

Clockwise from top left: The Gorilla Chair by Marcantonio, Elena Salmistraro’s Chhau Cabinet, Marcantonio’s Forest Chair, and co-founder Ashish Bajoria

Clockwise from top left: The Gorilla Chair by Marcantonio, Elena Salmistraro’s Chhau Cabinet, Marcantonio’s Forest Chair, and co-founder Ashish Bajoria
 

Scarlet Splendour, Kolkata

The craft-led contemporary brand treasures each of its pieces like jewellery. Even a scratch isn’t permissible. “We walk the shop floor with a hammer and break anything that’s flawed. It is painful, but with it comes results,” says co-founder Ashish Bajoria. This attention to detail — and collabs with renowned designers like Matteo Cibic (Italy) and Nika Zupanc (Slovenia) — has given it a contemporary, often whimsical, expression. “In two weeks, we will be launching a line by Milanese designer Elena Salmistraro, who took inspiration from Indian dance forms like Chhau and Bharatanatyam to make her pieces.” Also expect a new series of faux marble surfaces. Prices from ₹1 lakh. Details: scarletsplendour.com

Clockwise from left: Baori, Royal Treasure, and Yogesh Chaudhary

Clockwise from left: Baori, Royal Treasure, and Yogesh Chaudhary
 

Jaipur Rugs, Jaipur

Four days ago, they launched their latest collection, Concoction — a 12-piece collab with Shantanu Garg that “includes graphical inspirations from the Bauhaus movement” — digitally. Also available is Kolam, a line by architect Sandeep Khosla and partner Tania Singh Khosla. “We are anticipating even more conscious and sustainable buying practices now,” says director Yogesh Chaudhary. “Our artisans, who work from home, are busy hand-knotting and weaving both old and new collections.” Prices from₹50,000. Details: jaipurrugs.com

Founders Gautam Seth and Prateek Jain, and Protection (handblown glass and metal) from the Totems Over Time collection

Founders Gautam Seth and Prateek Jain, and Protection (handblown glass and metal) from the Totems Over Time collection
 

Klove, New Delhi

“Through the lockdown, there has been a sudden spike of enquiries from India, especially for bigger projects like hotels,” says co-founder Prateek Jain, adding that Italian brands and plagiarised products from China have been their biggest competition so far. While they aren’t planning new launches — “celebrating something new in a market where sentiments are unsure is not right” — they are consolidating their business. “Our factories in Haryana have started operating in a controlled manner since last Monday,” he adds. Check out their Goa and Totem collections. Prices from ₹5 lakh. Details: klovestudio.com

Vincent Roy and a few examples of his Scandinavian, mid-century furniture

Vincent Roy and a few examples of his Scandinavian, mid-century furniture
 

Wood’n Design, Puducherry

Known for their Scandinavian, mid-century furniture, founder Vincent Roy says “people are still placing orders”. He expects customers to look for affordable pieces because most are mindful of finances now. “They will go for minimal, ergonomic designs. The aesthetic will have to be light.” Expect a new line of furniture inspired by tools. “It won’t be obvious, but a professional furniture maker will understand the link,” he says, adding that, going forward, he will be doing more mini collections. Prices from ₹10,000. Details: woodndesign.in

From left: Taannaz 27” Trinity-chased Escutcheon, the Tiger Eye collection, and Mahesh Tanna

From left: Taannaz 27” Trinity-chased Escutcheon, the Tiger Eye collection, and Mahesh Tanna
 

Taannaz Bronzze, Mumbai

Door frames and handles, those ‘invisible’ elements, take on a life of their own with Taannaz. “We work with bronze and hand carving is our speciality,” says co-founder Mahesh Tanna, whose artisans are fifth generation gem and stone carvers from Aligarh, Moradabad and Jaipur. A stand-out piece: an engraved handle inspired by a piece of Tiffany jewellery that they created for architect Nozer Wadia. “For a recent project, we made bronze door frames [bordered with rock crystal] and a contemporary base for a marble dining table.” Prices from ₹75,000. Details: taannaz.in

Semul pillows, Akanksha Himatsingka and Shivalik bed sheets

Semul pillows, Akanksha Himatsingka and Shivalik bed sheets
 

Himêya, Bengaluru

“Thread counts are a myth,” Akanksha Himatsingka tells me. Who knew! “Higher thread counts mean doubling the yarn, which makes it thicker and heavier. Bedding is supposed to be light and breathable,” adds the CEO. The year-old brand, which prides itself on its “everyday luxury”, is also expanding on its culture of sustainability. Himêya is one of the most advanced in the world in terms of conscious manufacturing — with global DNA technology for cotton track and trade (they spray their cotton with an eco-friendly molecular tag that can track its movement from the farm to the shelf). They also use plant seed oil finishes, which have 10 times lesser carbon footprint and enhance the products with every wash. “I wanted to create a brand that is very natural-feeling. We also use sateen, which is slightly heaver, has a more refined construction and is great for cooler climes.”

Himatsingka doesn’t believe in traditional collections. “We create emotion-led collections. Our first was with Rina Singh of Eka and the second with Runaway Bicycle. Our third [to be launched soon] is Vitamin D, in collaboration with Nimish Shah of Shift,” she says. Expect cotton-linen jacquard with tone-on-tone nature impressions, and a twist on the gamcha (with a terry back). Prices from ₹1,099. Details: himeyalife.com

Clockwise from top left: God, the Monolith Family and Nikhil Paul

Clockwise from top left: God, the Monolith Family and Nikhil Paul
 

Paul Matter, New Delhi

Stocked at galleries such as The Gard in LA and Bazar Noir in Berlin, this handmade lighting brand’s attention to detail is beyond compare. “We have a thorough quality check at every stage and our artisans know even a piece that goes inside [and can’t be seen] has to be finished,” says designer-founder Nikhil Paul. Using natural materials like glass, copper and stone, they employ age-old craft techniques to create a contemporary aesthetic. “Expect new iterations of Monolith — a symbolic line inspired by the lingam — in terracotta.” Prices from ₹60,000. Details: paulmatter.com

Clockwise from top left: Leaf Platters, Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar, the Bamboo Round Sofa and accessories

Clockwise from top left: Leaf Platters, Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar, the Bamboo Round Sofa and accessories
 

Koy Store, Pune

Architect and product designer Kunaal Kyhaan Seolekar is known for his contemporary take on Indian materiality. “I use wood, marble, fibre, etc, and many of my designs evolve from iconic Indian forms like the matka or lingam,” he says, adding that his artisans also inspire his work. “One of my teams of marble carvers used to make balustrades. So I incorporated that into my Cosmos Table, with its multiple legs crafted from the various coloured marbles you find in India.” Prices from ₹20,000 to ₹1 lakh. Details: koy.store

Rooshad Shroff and his handcarved Makrana marble tube light and bulb

Rooshad Shroff and his handcarved Makrana marble tube light and bulb
 

Rooshad Shroff, Mumbai

Board games are on Shroff’s mind. “I’ve designed a series of three — a chess board, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders — and even found someone with a 3D printer set up in his bedroom, to help me understand how it will look,” he says. Some of his artisans are already sampling it in marble and wood. The designer is also using this time to press blooms (for his pressed flower furniture) so that he has a library ready for production. Meanwhile, place orders for his carved marble tube lights (from ₹58,000). Details: rooshadshroff.com

Made in India: How Covid-19 is changing the luxe living room

The Carpet Cellar, New Delhi

With seven new collections every year, the brand is championing a mission to revive old natural dyeing, spinning and weaving processes. “At the moment, we are working on recreating 17th century Persian Safavid carpets. We’ve innovated a relief work technique with silk and wool, which gives it a 3D effect,” explains co-founder Nishant Chandra. “I see the trend going towards the artisanal, handmade, locally-sourced products.” Prices from ₹15,000. Details: carpetcellar.com

Clockwise from top: The Oracle, Wing Sofa and founder Sandeep Sangaru

Clockwise from top: The Oracle, Wing Sofa and founder Sandeep Sangaru
 

Sandeep Sangaru, Bengaluru

Sangaru’s minimal style finds expression in furniture and products that use traditional Indian techniques, such as walnut wood carving, Khatumband from Kashmir, turned wood from Channapatna, and bamboo craft from Tripura. “Each technique comes with its own style of expression inherent to its process and the cultural context of the practice,” he explains. While the studio and workshop is in Bengaluru — with artisans from Tripura, Bihar and the city — he has also collaborated with various outfits, such as Maya Organic, an NGO working with women. “With Covid-19, finding new methods to collaborate remotely will be an experiment. I hope we build on these collabs and avoid migrations to cities,” he says, adding, “I am working on a few bespoke projects now, where I am exploring other crafts, including leather puppetry from Andhra Pradesh, papier-mâché, and Kashmir’s boat making craft.” Sangaru is also developing a new furniture collection with larger, more sculptural designs. Prices from ₹12,000 (lights). Details: sangaru.com

Made in India: How Covid-19 is changing the luxe living room

LiGHT Fish, Auroville

“From doing just furniture and lighting, now we’re being asked to add elements like bookshelves, so that the work is finished,” says founder Samvit Blass, known for his sustainable lighting fixtures and furniture made of everything from acacia wood to wine bottles. As for people shopping indigenous brands, he says this is the time for small makers like himself to shine. “I hope more interior designers and customers explore what is available locally. Not only will artisans get more work, but craft will also be maintained.” Prices from ₹2,500. Details: light-fish.com

For Indian brands and product designers, the next step is to get scale. Twenty five years ago, there were hardly any designers, then [what was missing was] production capabilities. Now, in the past 10 years, they have established themselves and there’s great quality, but unless there’s scale, and more Indians buying, how can they grow? Priya Paul, Chairperson, The Park Hotels

I am a big proponent of ‘Made in India’. We have a rich art and craft heritage, and the most amazing fabrics and accessories manufactured here and exported. We work with hospitality groups such as The Oberoi, Leela and Taj Hotels that have always looked at Indian brands for furniture. While we don’t expect that to change, they will definitely be more price conscious now. [As for high-end residences] clients like to look at European vendors for kitchens, wardrobes and lighting. But, going forward, that may change.
Deepa Sama, Design Director, Juneja Associates.

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