Go on an antique treasure hunt at Mani’s and Co.
A garland of roses creeps up on either side of a rosewood cupboard. An elephant and a laughing Buddha crown it, while peacocks dance on a carved panel above. I’m at Mani’s and Co, the antique furniture shop tucked away in Royapettah, admiring an 80-year-old cupboard, probably made in Kerala. Well-known as the place to look for hidden gems, the store (around since 1969) is packed to the rafters with cupboards, chairs, tables, beds and swings. Housed in a building that’s over a century old, with its peaked and sloping roof held up by four lofty pillars, Mani’s and Co was, until 12 years ago, also an auction house. “My grandfather H.T. Subramanian started the shop,” says N. Muthukumar, partner. “Now, we retail antique furniture that our dealers source from across Tamil Nadu. We restore and sell them.”
As we speak, a beautiful sofa-cum-swing, the carved wood of its backrest inset with Karaikudi tiles, is sandpapered and carefully varnished. “We have several cupboards inset with original Karaikudi tiles,” says D.F. Nathan, store manager. “This one,” he says, opening a handsome cupboard, “is made of rosewood, with pigeonholes inside. The mirror even has the name of the owner etched in Tamil. The piece costs Rs.45,000.”
I walk through the rabbit warren like passages that connect the rooms. Everywhere I turn, something catches the eye; a cupboard with an interesting red elephant handle in one room, a wooden dresser in another. In one corner stands a large, two-door glass and wooden bookshelf and next to it a lovely roll-top desk. “Older furniture had wooden nails, the wood was thicker, and the carpentry highly skilled,” says Nathan. Of course, wood prices have steadily risen over time.
A wooden stool that cost Rs.3 in 1970 now sells for Rs.700. Cupboards have jumped from Rs.180 to Rs.6,500. Muthukumar says they customise furniture for customers, besides selling antique reproductions and replicas. Clearly, a whole new generation has discovered the charm of good wood and antique designs. Find it at New No.31, Royapettah 2nd Road, Ph: 044 28133078.