Tales in wood
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- Published 27.02.10
His cross-legged stools were part of the Great Hall of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Hollywood stars Bruce Willis and Kevin Costner use a bed and dresser respectively that he designed. But it’s all in a day’s work for city designer Amitabh Bachhawat.
Bachhawat has business ties with the New York-based furniture firm, British Khaki, which boasts a roster of glitzy Hollywood clients. He gives shape to their designs in his Kankurgachi workshop and that is how his furniture finds its way into the homes of the Hollywood biggies.
“I often see pictures of my furniture in American interior design magazines under the brand of British Khaki. I feel kind of a distant pride for them,” says the shy 52-year-old with a smile.
Growing up in a creative environment — his mother is a painter and his father is an architect and a poet — Bachhawat always nurtured a passion for antique furniture. He studied accountancy but decided to follow his heart at the age of 27. “I started learning about and making furniture in our garage with two karigars. I not only had to learn Bengali but also the bhasha (language) of the workmen as well as about tools and implements. I learnt on the job and also read a lot of design books,” he reminisces.
Bachhawat evolved his own designs and started retailing from his Esplanade showroom, Konark Collectibles. In 1987 he tied up with an English furniture firm, Ian Smith, which supplied his furniture to Harrods in London. He also sold his creations to stores in other parts of England, Germany, Paris and Australia. His biggest break came in 1995 when Robert Lighton’s British Khaki signed a deal with him and he has been with them ever since.
Another turning point came when an acquaintance in England introduced him to the makers of the 2005 Harry Potter blockbuster. He supplied them with the 250 stools that decked the Hogwarts Great Hall.
Bachhawat now has some 20 karigars working for him along with a couple of designers and he plans to open another workshop soon. He also wants to start his own store in Calcutta by 2011 and retail through franchises in other cities under the brand name, Chisel Arts. “I’m developing a new line of furniture influenced by mid-century modern, Hollywood Regency (the style of furniture used by Hollywood stars) and Art Deco styles,” Bachhawat says.
Bachhawat also buys furniture from old houses and restores them. “Restoration is a tricky job and very challenging. The patina — or the surface that develops on the wood through ageing and use — of the furniture is very important and must be retained while restoring,” he says.
He is also a master interior designer. Apart from doing up the homes of his friends, Bachhawat designed Jongs, the fine dining restaurant on Chowringhee in 1992, and the Emami Chisel Art Gallery two years ago. “I designed the gallery like an industrial studio with space frames to give it a factory look,” he says. In 2005 he designed Aakriti Art Gallery that was established by his younger brother, Vikram Bachhawat. He also keeps busy writing a monthly column on furniture for Art – news & views, a magazine brought out by Aakriti Art Gallery.
India doesn’t have a distinctive trend in furniture and has always adapted Western styles, says Bachhawat. “Unlike in the West, in India furniture is not acquired as an inheritance — like jewellery or property. We follow a haphazard style and furniture is not considered important. We don’t have a counterpart of Hollywood Regency here,” he rues. It’s his mission to give a direction to Indian tastes.
According to Bachhawat, furniture should reflect the owner’s personality apart from combining good taste with comfort. And inheritance is a significant part of it. “Aesthetics is acquired through generations, and it plays a major role in your choice of furniture. Also, we should learn to attach more value to old furniture,” he says.
Bachhawat works mostly with mahogany and black shishir and keeps his products modestly priced. His chairs come in a variety of styles.
The exquisitely carved Chinese Chippendale triple chair finished in black is a showstopper. Expect to shell out Rs 45,000 for it. The empire-styled chair is regal with its handles carved in the shape of an eagle’s wings and is priced at Rs 15,000. A modern-styled ottoman will come for Rs 6,000.
The Hollywood Regency nesting tables are sets of three differently sized tables that can be stashed under one another when not in use. They are ideal for those short on space. Pick a triangular set for Rs 25,000. The rectangular ones are priced between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000, depending upon the size.
A 42-in long Chinese-style coffee table finished in red comes for Rs 25,000. An eye-catcher for Rs 8,000 is the cool side-table with alternating semi-circular tops jutting out from the centre stem.
Photographs by Rashbehari Das