Walk into home décor store Minnoli and you are likely to be hit by a strong wave of nostalgia. The store, on the ground floor of Calcuttas Karnani Estate, has an exotic collection of furniture, curios and artefacts that have either been restored or are replicas of antiques.
Minnoli is the brainchild of 42-year-old designer, Sharad Narula, who got into the business of restoration about 15 years ago. Inspired by a friend who restored old furniture, what started as a hobby turned into an obsession with all things old and forgotten.
He quit his job in the sales division of Voltas and dedicated himself to learning everything about antique wooden furniture. Completely self-taught, Narula did heaps of research before taking up his first assignments. Ive grown with this profession, he says.
His first assignment was his own home — he designed the interiors largely with old furniture picked up from Calcutta markets which he painstakingly restored.
In time, Narula began to design interiors for his friends and eventually moved on to designing homes for big industrialists and businessmen. His work attracted the attention of some English antique dealers, who hired him to restore and replicate old furniture for export. Hes still in business with them, but it was this association that turned him into a full-time designer and restorer.
With so much happening, Narula decided to launch Minnoli in early 2005. Presently, he has a staff of about 24 people at his factory, three of whom he has trained in restoration.
All the products at Minnoli are inspired by French and colonial art (he draws inspiration from Classicism and Romanticism). Narulas fans include Rituparno Ghosh and Moon Moon Sen in Calcutta and other clients who fly down from Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi. He also holds periodic workshops to educate his clients about old furniture.
Narula continues to design interiors and restore old furniture. If a particular piece is rare, then he works on it himself. He recently turned product designer, having created products in wood that are high on practicality, comfort and luxury.
The philosophy behind Narulas store is simple — blend the traditional with the modern. He says, I believe in going modern without compromising on old sensibilities.
According to Narula, minimalism is losing its popularity, because just straight, clean lines dont really make the cut. Just one decorative piece can brighten up a dull corner, adding to the beauty of a house, he adds.
But he has no room for those who walk into his store looking for whats in or whats hot. Homes should reflect personal tastes, so he values clients who handpick each piece of furniture or decorative product. I have turned away several people whove come to Minnoli and asked for stuff thats in. I tell them that I only keep old stuff, he says.
Most of Minnolis curios like lamps, figurines, chandeliers, mirrors, bowls and vases are imported from Italy, though Narula is cagey about the craftsmen whove made them. The glass bowls and vases, replicas of the works of Émile Gallé (the French glass-artist), come with floral motifs etched on opaque glass. Special mention should be made of the vermillion glass vase with bright green leaves engraved on it. Price on request.
If you want to do up your home with masterpieces in wood, look no further than Minnoli. From delightful chairs, tables and beds to quirky but practical stuff like folding wheeler-trays and revolving chairs, theres a huge collection to choose from.
You can take home the five-in-one round mahogany table that costs Rs 8,000. Designed by Narula, the table comes with a fixed round table-top and four separate smaller tables stashed under that, all of which can also be used as standalone corner tables.
At Rs 28,000, another beauty is a bar cabinet, again designed by Narula. Divided into three lockable sections, the topmost section can house glasses, the revolving middle section is for liquor bottles and the bottom drawers are for wine bottles.
Then there are products that have made it to the big screen. Worth mentioning are the old iron clock (price on request), a small car, fashioned out of wood, complete with a spare tyre strapped to its back (Rs 1,200) and a porcelain bowl gilded in gold dust, with two cherubs on two ends (Rs 8,000) — all of which youll see in the upcoming Rituparno Ghosh film, Nauka Dubi.
Minnoli has a lovely collection of stained glass lamps in myriad colours that range from Rs 12,000 to Rs 25,000. But one product that caught our eye was a quirky wooden clothes rack for men that Narula has designed himself. At Rs 5,500, the rack has a wide hanger (for draping your coat), several rods (to hang your ties, shirts and trousers on), a couple of tiny drawers where you can store cufflinks, a wallet and the like and a shoe rack at the bottom.
Photographs by Rashbehari Das