From India's love for antiques and caring for textiles to new products in the market, here's all you need to know about furniture and fabrics
The 1950s, a period immediately after Independence, marks a critical time for design in India. It covers a spectrum, from the simple yet powerful aesthetics of form and function, to the long-thriving indigenous traditions of India’s folk and tribal art.
ART DECO LEFT A MARK
Art Deco characterised by clean, geometric designs, is devoid of ornate embellishments. Flora, fauna, nautical and cosmological motifs acquired an indigenous flavour in the hands of Indian craftsmen. Art Deco designs that were all the rage among influential families were recreated in the Indian context using locally available teak and rosewood. The influence of Art Deco can be seen to this day in some of Mumbai’s most iconic buildings and furniture.
Soon after India’s independence, the country had to build its economic and social infrastructure. Jawaharlal Nehru invited architects and designers from around the world. Architect Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret trained local carpenters and furniture makers in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad, to achieve the finesse and attention to detail that was essential to their design. Corbusier famously remarked, “chairs are architecture,” and this approach translated seamlessly across their designs.
THE AMERICAN ANGLE
In April 1958, American architects and designers Charles and Ray Eames wrote the India Report, making a significant intervention in the field. The Eames identified problems of design within India and made recommendations for a training programme that married interdisciplinary approaches. Their findings were the basis for the pedagogy adopted by the National Institute of Design (NID), set up in Ahmedabad in 1961. American architect and woodworker George Nakashima was another important figure. Nakashima first arrived in India in the late 1930s, when he worked on a dorm at Auroville in Pondicherry, and in the 1960s was invited to teach a workshop at the NID. The chairs he made in India were exquisitely crafted from locally available materials. Underlying his designs was a desire to combine inner consciousness with the material world.
PAST MEETS PRESENT
Corbusier, Jeanneret and Nakashima designed architecture and furniture formed a part of India’s tryst with modernity. However in parallel, India’s indigenous art traditions, sidetracked during the British Raj, were also being revived in the 1960s. Textiles, woodworking, paintings, pottery and other local arts and crafts were encouraged by the government and individuals who believed that this knowledge must not be lost. Today, collectors looking to bring the elegance of the 20th century into their homes are adopting a holistic approach by seeking out furniture as well as folk and tribal art that form India’s living traditions. As buyers are becoming increasingly aware of India’s history of cultural exchanges and indigenous legacies, the future of design appears promising.