Tradition makes a comeback in Indian furniture market

July 20th, 2008 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, July 20 (IANS) Tradition is making a comeback in the Indian furniture market to make a luxury lifestyle statement. The old ‘charpais’ (string beds), ornate ‘jhulas’ (swings), inlaid ‘door jambs’, handcrafted ‘almaris’ (cupboards) and grandfather’s wooden ‘kursi’ (chair), wooden ‘takht’ (divans), old-fashioned round tables with bloated legs and ornamented master beds are back in furniture stores - and in homes as well.

What’s more, traditional Indian furniture modelled on the late 18th, 19th and 20th century royal home furnishings are also travelling abroad. They are a huge hit in countries like Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands, as also in the Middle East, industry sources say.

The wood is often recycled, culled from old discarded furniture and crumbling ‘havelis’ (traditional Indian mansions) in the villages and former princely fiefs that are being pulled down by real estate developers to make way for high rises.

The furniture industry, which has been hit by the sustained war against felling of trees by the anti-timber trade and green lobbies, is recycling old wood and discarded furniture to tide over the hardwood crunch.

Till a year ago, modern utility furniture with spartan designs in glass, wrought iron, steel and even wood was the in thing in yuppie homes in urban India. The theme was functional, subdued, minimal and contemporary, which suited the lifestyle and outlook of working couples stretched for time and aesthetics. They were in a rush to make money.

Now, the moolah is piling up and there is time and the resources to splurge on elaborate home furniture.

“Recycled wood and ethnic furniture are very much in demand,” furniture designer Bharat Vadhera, owner of Ethnic Overseas, an antique furniture boutique in Noida that crafts furniture from recycled wood, told IANS.

“People are looking for designs and models dating back to the Mughal era. Old fashioned Rajasthani jharokhas, Barmeri tables, wooden arches, mehrab, gilt and wooden mirrors and the old ornate wooden seats, cupboards, bedsteads, bookshelves with traditional carvings from Patan in Gujarat and Renukunta and Mahabalipuram in south India are very popular both in India and abroad,” he added.

According to Vadhera, high-end homes in cities like Jeddah and Kuwait, as also in the US, look for old Indian colonial furniture made of solid wood.

“Globally, there is a big demand for Indian solid and recycled wood like acacia, sesham, teak and rare mahogany, jackfruit, sal and deodar,” said Vadhera, whose factory-cum-boutique in Noida churns out one of the most authentic period furniture in the country.

He also uses old railway sleepers to fashion rough beds and garden seats with antique designs and then hand paints them with basic colours to create an ethnic look.

“Fresh hardwood is not available any longer and so I make it a point to recycle old wood,” the designer pointed out.

His factory in Noida is stacked with handcrafted antique furniture made of recycled wood and discards.

The prices of Vadhera’s furniture range from Rs.5,000 to Rs.50,000. He sources his old wooden furniture from villages and royal estates in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Sidhant Lamba, the owner of Strot, a high-end furniture boutique in the heart of the capital, balances traditional with contemporary designs.

“Due to increased levels of exposure to the global standards of furniture design and its relative availability, the Indian homemaker is more aware of what completes the perfect modern home without running the risk of being too different,” Lamba said.

Consequently, he aims to create furniture with a balanced look that fuses proportions of the traditional with the modern.

The signature style of Strot’s revolutionary furniture is visible at the recently revamped Diplomat boutique hotel owned and managed by the Lamba family in the swanky Chanakyapuri neighbourhood of south Delhi.

The wooden doors and beds with mother of pearl inlay in dark wood are the hallmarks of the rooms - which have a traditional Indian look to them.

Strot’s coffee tables, which adorn the homes of its elite clients comprising leading business families of the country, are an assortment of decorated marble, exquisitely finished granite on accented wood.

“Indians still like their furniture heavy and ornamented, despite the entry of big global utility brands in the last few years. And the preferred material is wood,” said Rachpal Singh, a furniture shop owner in Amar Market, one of the oldest in the capital for recycled wooden furniture.

The market, outlying a residential area in the capital, is a cluster of carpenter and furniture shops that recycle early 20th century furniture and wood.

“We often touch up old furniture, especially beds procured from the impoverished gentry and sell them to our customers because they demand ornate headboards, old high-beds and solid wood,” the shop owner said.

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