What is Madhulika Khaitans secret? Could it be that shes more than just the buyer-in-chief for Hugli, her stylish home accessories store? She still travels extensively to bring back unique pieces from far-flung corners of India and countries like Indonesia and Thailand. More importantly, she works with the craftsmen, specifying designs and watching over them as they execute the final product.
Khaitan didnt start out as a businesswoman. She studied literature and for over a decade was involved in alternative education — she taught small groups of children after school hours.
But she had always been interested in art, design and interiors and often picked up pieces on her travels abroad. She decided to open Hugli, fed up with the fact that there were no such stores in the city that could make a happy shopper out of her.
Hugli bears her unmistakable sense of style. And she not only handpicks each product on sale, but you might even walk in on her doing the flower arrangements around them!
In the store, you are likely to find designs from all over India, Southeast Asia and the Far East. But many items in the store have been custom-made for it. Thats why youll find objects like the stunning batik-on-wood tableware, or the exquisite knathas as you walk around.
You can expect to pick up tableware, lamps and sundry objets dart, not to mention knatha stitch embroidery quilts, saris, stoles and more. Khaitan designs most of her knathas and natural weaves, though her daughter Shambhavi is the greater artiste when it comes to weaves, she says. The in-house design is a strong part of Huglis range.
Hugli is more than a one-stop-shop for home décor. It also acts as a cultural forum and one of its recent projects is the ongoing digital archiving of lectures on art forms like dance, music and theatre. These lectures have been given by exponents in diverse artistic fields. Hugli also hosts talks and theatre performances at the store every once in a while.
Khaitan feels that three trends currently influence Indian interiors. The first is the safe choice of branded home accessories like Daum, Lladro or Swarovski. Its difficult to make a style faux pas with these, though she says: I personally steer clear of brands and want to break away from branded designer products.
Natural materials like cane, jute or bamboo are a close second, though the contemporary minimalist accessories in metal and glass are climbing steadily up the popularity charts simultaneously.
Natural products are Khaitans favourite and they have struck the chord with her clientele too. When she first started, she used to give away write-ups with each product, providing details on how they were made, where they were sourced from and so on.
Khaitan continues to source some of her cane and rattan products from abroad as theres more variety and finesse in the final products without compromising on their utility. Indian products of cane and rattan take a beating when it comes to the finish, she points out.
However, she rues the fact that in their quest for picture-perfect homes, people are going with what the interior designers say. Their individualism gets lost if a designer is roped in to decorate their homes, she says.
Hugli has a huge range of home and fashion accessories — from tableware, table linen, to desktop knick-knacks, lamps, bags and even cushions and figurines.
An eye-catcher is an all-wood dinner service for eight with batik printing (price on request). Also vying for attention are the chip-and-dip bowls and votives made with seashells in coral pink. The prices range between Rs 295 and Rs 600.
Little teacups (complete with saucers and spoons) with colourful ceramic butterflies as their handles cost Rs 1,050 each. A set of eight place-mats and a runner in dark olive are priced at Rs 4,000 for the mats and Rs 3,500 for the runner.
Brocade and silk potli-bags jostle for space on the shelves, with the price tags anywhere between Rs 1,800 and Rs 4,500. The pick of the lot however, is the black velvet bag with seed pearl embellishments.
If youre shopping for lamps, youll be spoilt for choice at Hugli what with the shades made with handmade paper, silk and even tiny metal plates that are joined together. The price range is upwards of Rs 5,655. The showstopper is the set of fairy lights made of twine, shaped into vines complete with leaves and flowers (price on request).
In the home furnishing section you can check out Shambhavi Khaitans range of woven and digitally printed cushions and napkins (price on request).
Photographs by Rashbehari Das