What goes into the making of a simple piece of furniture? Sujatha Shankar Kumar talks to two designers with different philosophies at the heart of their work

Project Beeja, Ghaziabad

“Frankly, I was not thinking of making a chair”, says designer Meghna Ajit, to my intrigue. “The chair was an outcome of a process we followed to identify products that could be made by the local community, useful for their lifestyle.” Meghna belongs to an increasing group of designers engaged in community and livelihood development.

In villages around Ghaziabad, Meghna’s start-up Project Beeja identified existing crafts and skills and with materials available locally, groomed a way of sustenance for the villagers. “We narrowed down to nine basic skills which included wood carving, block making, papier-mache, henna, tie-and-dye, needlework and rope making. Next, we tried to see how a naturally available resource like bamboo could support our program.” Her survey indicated that seating was a prime consideration for the residents.

“Fairly simple seating but with a classic appeal that could fit in many settings. We first came up with a chauki – a small stool.” The villagers rejected this, wanting something more hardy and comfortable. “So we designed a chair. While I was tempted to make beautiful forms and multiple bends, the chair had to be simple to fabricate. The final design along fairly straight lines holds 100 kgs!” Furniture sets for schools were developed and Project Beeja generated a reasonable market. Meghna hopes many craftsmen adopt the design and flourish.

The main frame is made of 1”-round Dendrocalamus strictus commonly used in a lathi. Tenon-and-mortise joints are easily fabricated from this solid bamboo. Wood craftsmen are adept at making dowels to fasten the joint.

The chair seat and back are of Assam bamboo locally available from which strips are similarly sized for ease in mass production. Artisans hold the pattis down with both feet while blowing a torch flame to heat and bend them to the desired curve. For shipping, the chair is placed within the table.

Key Concerns:

Mass production engaging artisans

Cost effectiveness

Simplicity of production aimed at local schools - government/public/private/

Using locally available materials

Using bamboo, a renewable resource

Quetzel Designs India, Bangalore

When designers Sandeep Mukherjee and Sarita Fernandes started Quetzel in Bangalore in 1999, they did not have a factory. “We outsourced production and it was very difficult to get products made to quality and finish of our expectations,” says Mukherjee. Frustrated with the vendor set-up, they plunged into manufacturing. Quetzel’s factory today is spread out over 85,000 sq. ft. With a preference for solid wood, a sustainable resource, they import boards of oak, beech and pine for a competitive price. Quetzel specialises in complete interiors for the building industry and also retail their readymade furniture from stores. When I ask him if mass-production limits him to a particular kind of product, Mukherjee tells me, “It actually gives me more freedom to do exactly what I want. This country really needs change by design and it’s important to get it across to a large section of society. High volume cuts costs.” Quetzel recalls creative passion named after a bird of brilliant plumage and Mukherjee is every inch committed to delivering outstanding design. His focus? “A designer must give the customer exactly what he wants.” In Head Start, a school that encourages holistic learning, Quetzel found their ideal client. They gave the designers an articulate brief that shaped direction but was open to exploration. The founders wanted furniture for classrooms where children could cluster in groups of two, three or eight.

The tables evolved as modular units - laminated yellow rectangles, green circles and orange quarters with the main framework in rubber-wood.

The chair structure is of tubular metal. For the seat and back, Quetzel tied up with a company that specialized in molded ply construction, modifying existing elements to suit their requirements. Chairs and tables were all knockdown, transported flat and assembled at site. Quetzel’s designs are patented.

Key Concerns:

Flexibility for classroom layout

Creating a cheerful atmosphere

Interactive workshop and classes

Well-defined but softly finished furniture

Three sizes from second to tenth grade

Dismantable for transport