Six Indian designers show us why the chair need not be a boring piece of furniture but a work of art, says SUJATHA SHANKAR KUMAR

It is the 21st century and the zeitgeist is Pluralism. Quirky, funky and sassy or sedate, stiff and unfussy do not have to prove their mettle. I recall the words of an instructor in 1996 at the Art Institute of Chicago. “The best part is - everything has been done. You don’t have to worry whether you are doing something new or different. Just do it!” The world has been through every kind of design revolution: Classical, art deco, art nouveau, craftsman, Prairie style, Bauhaus, Dada, pop art, modern, postmodern, retro and eclectic. Suddenly, nothing matters. The freedom is intoxicating.

In India, the history of furniture is entrenched in craft. The colonial style we formally adopted became the norm. Today’s Indian designers are seeking afresh to harvest other forms and sources to trace our roots. The yield is a rich art of the unexpected. A Cube’s Anuj and Anand Ambalal are driven by good, old-fashioned curiosity. Anuj draws his Indian palette from architectural elements and traditional materials. A keen observer of human behaviour, there is a tactile sensitivity to his furniture. His Amby chair allows you to sit cross-legged encouraging informality. The Bouncer Chair lets you slip into slumber as a baby bouncer does. The Flexion’s support straps can be tightened like shoelaces. Farzin Adenwalla’s Winnow Stool is a worthy tribute to the simple husk-shaker. The elegant Handi derives from the traditional copper or earthenware pot. The furniture at Farzin’s studio Bombay Atelier is made with the best of materials. Their speciality is in delightful, minimal forms reflecting traditional Indian concepts brought to the modern zone. It used to be that furniture designers were given the litmus test: If you can design a comfortable chair, you have passed. You will find that sweet spot in Lekha Washington’s space-saving Red Dot which hangs from the wall. This actor-designer’s love for cinema and Bombay has squeezed drama into small spaces. A steel frame stretched across with Lycra, the Red Dot for some is mesmerizing, like Raza’s paintings of the bindi. For others it is the Rising Sun of Japan. Trendsetter Ajay Verma shuttles between Jaipur and LA expanding his furniture line from The Alankrit. His family foundry for metal casting gave him a rich background in wrought iron and carved furniture. Verma often uses a rustic slant that wins him eager admirers. His latest designs capture the mood of enduring symbols for a world audience in ‘Denim Trunk’ and ‘Bistro Stool’. In a Coca-Cola franchise, finding a discarded logo in the shape of a bottle cap, he visualized a series of products that people loved. The funky Bistro Stool has a wooden seat complete with wavy edges on a vintage metal base.

Nagpur architect and designer Asad Firdosy’s Palm Leaf Stool is a synergetic form that swoops out in precision. Firdosy reaps from nature’s rich bounty but takes no shortcuts. His patiently researched Ergo-Chair, designed for good lumbar support, simulates the spinal column, the short armrests allowing you to get closer to the table. The serrated backrest allows air circulation.

A playful chair made of lacquered turned-wood modules from Chennapatna takes prominent place in Sandeep Sangaru’s studio in Bangalore. The Kashmiri-carved laminated wooden chairs are as disarming. Sanguru’s furniture is a triumph of technology aiding craftsmanship in seamless finish. Sustainability for the artisan and conserving traditional knowledge form the core of Sangaru’s practice. By renewing forms for the contemporary milieu, these designs continually adapt to the rapidly changing market and new expectations.

Designers avoid replicating the old. A pride in craftsmanship and small batch production shapes their unique formulae. Forms are functional and the finish superior. The ultimate tag - Made in India.

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