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Wood you like it?

Furniture designers do not create chairs and tables. They are artists who worry about integrity, purity of construction and respect the material they work with.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:52 IST
Vandana Ramnani

You cannot do without them — you sit, work, eat and even sleep on them. Yes, we’re talking about that essential component of comfort living — furniture. Designing furniture, therefore, is not only a challenging profession but a highly fulfilling one because the designer needs it as much as the potential customer. As Saleem Bhatri, a Mumbai-based furniture designer points out, there is a huge untapped opportunity to create one’s niche in this profession. According to him, an independent furniture designer can work simultaneously across various networks — with architects, interior designers, entrepreneurs, medium and small scale industries, craft organisations, large industries, design studios, retail, media, etc. Most importantly, this profession is a “super blend of technology and the arts”.

Furniture design is a “rare” profession that he encountered when he was looking to further his architectural education with postgraduation. “Architecture itself is a vast field and there are several approaches to dealing with space. However, the object/ furniture which shares/inhabits a particular space is not in the architect’s scope but is still vital especially since it provides the user with a tactile experience,” he says. For him, studying furniture design was a natural extension to his earlier education. It related to the series/ systems of objects that exist within the architectural space. “While typical household carpentry is directly associated with interior design, furniture design is linked to an industrial approach of producing objects,” he points out.

After graduating from the Academy of Architecture, Mumbai, Bhatri did his postgraduation from the National Institute of Design (NID). During his studies there, he went on a student exchange programme to Paris where he completed a one-year postgraduate course at ENSAD (École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs).

As far as work is concerned, Bhatri works across mediums/ environs. “I collaborate with architects; work with entrepreneurs and with industries. My studio includes a metal – and wood-working workshop. I involve myself in designing, prototyping and manufacturing. For me, innovation is not a guiding “word”, but a reaction to the very process of evolving each project,” he explains.

His advice to youngsters wanting to take up furniture design as a career is that it is a highly specialised profession, with limited job openings. Also, just being a ‘furniture’ designer may not be enough. One may need to expand one’s core competency in response to each project. For example, new design shops retail all kinds of interior ware, from lamps to smaller objects, and if you are working on a collection it may include all of that.

Furniture design as a profession has very few exponents and even fewer mentors so “you will need to learn mainly from your own experiences. Be prepared to tread across new territories on your own,” he advises.

Ayush Kasliwal, too, is a furniture design graduate from NID and runs his outfit called Ayush Kasliwal Design Private Ltd. or AKDPL in Jaipur. AKDPL is committed to development of ideas using local crafts that have evolved over centuries. Kasliwal always enjoyed working “with my hands, and in understanding how things work, in structures and why they stand up in the first place.”

Furniture design for him is a very demanding job, but once you get a hang of different materials and how they behave, it is not that difficult. One needs to have a very logical mind, but at the same time, be open to possibilities of magic! Structural integrity, purity of construction, respect of the material that one is working with, all these are things that one develops after long and hard practice. Constant innovation — at material, construction, use, cultural and aesthetic levels is very important.

What's it about?
There are many many aspects to furniture design. It touches on several industries — from interiors and hospital equipment to aviation and even design for crafts. There is phenomenal scope as this is still a very nascent industry in India and there is a lot of work to be done. At the same time, it is a constantly evolving industry, and one has to continue learning. Innovation is the key to success.

Clock Work
10 am: Start work which involves sketching and work on prototypes and installations. Continue working till 3 pm
4 pm Visit different workshops or manufacturing locations
8 pm: Return home

The Payoff
Trainee apprentice: Rs8000 to Rs10000 Junior designer: Rs15000
Designer in a firm: Rs25000 Design director: Rs75000 Independent designer: Rs80000

Skills
. An eye for detail and a mind for ideas
. Creativity
. Ability to work with one’s hands
. Knowledge of industrial production systems and/or of craft systems, including thorough knowledge of materials and finishes.
. An understanding of architectural/ interior spaces

How do i get there?
One needs to complete one’s graduation in architecture and then go on to specialise in furniture design

Institutes & urls
There are several institutes, mostly offering undergraduate programmes. Both NID and IDC- IIT (Mumbai) offer PG degrees/diplomas in India
. NID, Ahmedabad
www.nid.edu
. Srishti, Bangalore,
www.srishti.ac.in
. Milan polytechnic
www.english.polimi.it
. Konstfack, Sweden
www.konstfack.se
. Rhode Island School of Design
www.risd.edu

Pros & cons


.

Flexible scale of production


.

Quick turnaround of projects


.

Allows for individual expression


.

Recognition is not easy to come by


.

Unorganised industry


.

Unawareness of the industry


.

Not many people to pay for this service


.

India’s furniture industry is in the process of maturing. It will be a while before it draws upon indigenous design. Retail entrepreneurs prefer importing furniture, rather than nurturing indigenous


systems of design and production

Innovation is the way to get ahead

Furniture designing is an emotionally, intellectually and professionally satisfying endeavour

How big is the furniture industry in India?
India has a very large furniture industry — comprising both organised, unorganised and the crafts sectors. It is estimated that the size of the domestic industry is as big as R35,000 crore with up to 80 per cent in the unorganised and craft sector. In spite of the large domestic industry, it is surprising that India is one of the largest furniture importing countries. Trained designers can provide the necessary competitive edge to the domestic sector in terms of quality, reliability and consumer satisfaction.

What is the number of furniture designers in India?
In terms of qualified designers, there are somewhere around 300 to 500 in the specialised area. However, a lot of designers from allied fields like industrial design, architecture, applied arts, interior design, engineering (in the industrial furniture segment) and craft design also offer professional design services in furniture design.

What are the basic skills and qualifications required to become a furniture designer?
Knowledge and experience in materials and their properties, an ability to visualise in three dimensions, and a keen sense of aesthetics and structural design apart from a keen interest to offer solutions that can improve the quality of the immediate human environment.

Is it important to have an architecture/ interior decoration qualification?
Having an architectural and interior design qualification is helpful but the field of furniture design is also open for others who have the above-mentioned skills and aptitude along with the other requisite qualifications.

What are the pros and cons of being a furniture designer?
The organised furniture industry in India is still in a nascent stage, if we compare it to the global scenario. This leaves a lot of work to be done and offers enormous scope for new designers.

What’s your advice to students wanting to become furniture designers?
One must be ready to give one’s career some time. Innovation and enterprise are the only way to get ahead in this field.

P Ramakrishna Rao, coordinator, furniture and interior design, NID Interviewed by Vandana Ramnani